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Special Report: UAE-France relations

posted on 22/07/2006: 1662 views

The relations between the UAE and France have been gaining increasing momentum in the political, economic, cultural and military domains thanks to the deep, longstanding bonds of friendship and cooperation over decades. The strong, sincere political will and determination of the leaderships of the two countries have been the driving force behind strategic joint partnership.

Regular exchange of visits between the leaders of the two countries, and mainly since the establishment of diplomatic relations after the federation came into being in 1971, have been playing crucial role in pushing bilateral relations, friendship and cooperation forward.

A book issued by the Deputy Prime Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan titled: 'Khalifa-a Vision of International Cooperation ' said The UAE and France have had long-standing ties since 1971. The two countries have cooperated closely over the years on many issues and forged special understanding, thanks to the political will of the UAE and French leadership.

'The deeply rooted relationship between the two countries has always been augmented by the mutual respect, exchange of high-level visits and continued consultations and coordination.

Relations between France and modern UAE took a significant turn in August 1972 when H.H Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited France, a year after the formation of the federation.

Since 1970s, President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan paid several working trips to France, the last of which he made was in mid-June 2003. Sheikh Khalifa and French President Jacques Chirac held talks over the strategic bilateral relations and exchanged views on the regional and international issues of mutual interest including Palestine and Iraq. In remarks after the meeting, President Chirac described the UAE-French relations as strategic and should be used to the benefit of global peace and stability.

Chirac on his part, visited the UAE several times, the most important of them were the one in December 1997 during which he met the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Khalifa. In a press conference held on 17 December 1997, the French leaders praised the UAE-France relations as 'special, historic and unique.”

He said that Sheikh Zayed laid down the foundation of these ties since the era of General Charles de Gaulle. During the visit, Chirac also received General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces who announced after the talks the UAE had concluded a deal with France's Dassault to buy 30 Mirage 2000-9 combat aircraft and modernize 33 other Mirages.

The UAE signed a contract with France's Giat Industries in 1993 for 436 tanks and recovery vehicles worth 3.5 billion dollars.

Sheikh Mohammed announced the contract worth around US$ 2 billion. A number of contracts for the development of Bab gasfield, and expansion of the Fertil-Total chemical fertilizers plant and sea water desalination station were also struck.

Over the last five years, Sheikh Mohammed travelled to Paris several times. His latest was in January 2006 during which he and his host President Chirac discussed ways of further enhancing bilateral relations and took stock of the situation in the Middle East.

Sheikh Mohammed's visit was followed by a one made by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister on 13 January during which he held talks with President Chirac. Sheikh Hamdan said after the talks he relayed to the French leader the sincere desire of the UAE to expand the scope of joint strategic partnership in the fields of economy, trade and investment to be in par with the excellent political and military cooperation. He indicated that two-way trade exchange had reached Dh 15 billion. He expected the figure to go up under the new understanding.

Sheikh Hamdan singled out the oil, construction and industry as the most favourable sectors for French investment. Sheikh Hamdan noted that the economic delegation accompanied him and led by Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Planning and Economy Department, toured a number of major French companies to explore and attract investment to the new Abu Dhabi industrial cities. Apart from high profile visits, the French and UAE leadership maintained contacts via the phones or messages. When President Jacques Chirac won a second term, Sheikh Khalifa sent him a congratulatory cable, wishing him every success.

Apart from the trade and economic delegations, French ministers of foreign affairs, trade, industry, posts and telecommunications and defence visited the UAE. The two friendly countries have shared identical points of view on a host of issues concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict, Middle East peace process, independent, free Iraq and regional security and stability.

The Emarati-French relations were dated back to 1958 when Total Company was a partner to Abu Dhabi Oil Development Company.

Total was among the first firms exploring oil in the UAE, paving the way for France to become a major energy partner to the Gulf country. Jean Luc Thouvenel, First Vice President of the FBG said French corporate is not new to the country, as oil giant Total is the oldest French company which ventured in oil and gas exploration some 60-years ago, while other major companies are here since past three decades getting them a vital role in the economic growth and development. An official UAE report indicated that the UAE and France maintain viable economic and trade relations.

With a portfolio of over Dh 3 billion, French companies invested in key sectors of oil, banking, and UAE Offsets Group which has a diverse ventures in ship building, fisheries, flower farms, date palm cultivation and others. UAE investment in France concentrated on banking, real estate and hotels.

The recently established French Business Group in Abu Dhabi and the French Business Council in Dubai are working to boost economic links between French and Emarati businessmen and expand horizon of joint cooperation and investment. The Abu Dhabi-French Business Promotion Office was founded to encourage this mutual confidence to strengthen economic relations and attract private French investments to Abu Dhabi.

The Abu Dhabi-French Business Promotion Office is a joint-venture between Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ADCCI) and the French Business Group (FBG) in Abu Dhabi. An agreement was signed in October 2000 between ADCCI, FBG and the French Business Enterprises Association (MEDEF International). The Office aims at: Ensuring and facilitating contacts, exchanging of information between French and Abu Dhabi businessmen, studying, preparing and recommending plans to boost economic relations between the two business communities, and identifying existing and potential projects in Abu Dhabi that can be looked at by French investors.

This form of cooperation is triggered by the excellent political and economic relationships between the two countries. This, essentially, signals the determination of the private sectors in both countries to work closely together.

The UAE and France inked a series of agreements to strengthen their bilateral relations and cooperation. They signed the agreement for avoidance of double taxation on 19 July 1989 in Abu Dhabi, two agreements for encouragement and protection of mutual investment and judicial cooperation on 9 September 1991 in Paris and memorandum of understanding on civil aviation services in September 2001.

The constructive defence cooperation is another shining chapter in the story of success in the UAE-France relations and partnership.

The two countries signed the joint defence cooperation pact on 18 January 1995 in Abu Dhabi. A statement issued after the signing ceremony said the agreement was a testimony of the close bilateral strategic alliance and cooperation in political and military fields.

In July 1999, General Sheikh Mohammed flew to Paris for talks with Chirac and French chief of staff over mechanisms to put the defence agreement in place. While there, Sheikh Mohammed inspected UAE troops undergoing training in southern France in preparations to take part in the international peace-keeping force in Kosovo under French command. The UAE troops took their position at Vucitrin on 31 July 1999. Apart from the peace-keeping missions and delivery of relief, the UAE troops were an active contributor and player in the reconstruction efforts, carrying out a host of health, educational, water, power and road projects.

Then French Defence Minister Alain Richard hailed the UAE standing in the international circles, saying that the firm principles on which the UAE foreign policy has been based have won the country a respect internationally.

He said the efforts of the UAE, along with those of NATO to bring peace to Kosovo has been met with tremendous respect internationally.

UAE concluded on 18 November 1998 a deal with France's Dassault to buy 30 Mirage 2000-9 combat aircraft and modernize 33 other Mirages. It also signed a contract with France's Giat Industries in 1993 for 436 tanks and recovery vehicles worth 3.5 billion dollars.

French defence manufacturers are regular exhibitors at the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) since its launch in 1993. The UAE is also taking part in the Eursatory exhibition in Paris. Multi-million deals and contracts were inked during these shows.

Joint military exercises involving land, air and naval forces of the UAE and France were staged. The war games are practical experience during which state-of-the-art defence equipment weapons are used. The drills are part of the cooperation, coordination and sharing of military expertise between the UAE and France under the joint defence agreement.

The French-UAE relations are poised towards greater vibrancy, thanks to the importance attached to these relations in military, political, cultural and economic spheres by President H.H Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

In remarks shortly after attending an agreement inked in February 2006 in Abu Dhabi between the UAE- and French ministries of higher education on establishment of a branch for the University of Sorbonne in the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed said the signing of the agreement underscored the depth of bilateral relations in the cultural domain.

Sheikh Mohammed pointed out that the opening of the Sorbonne University branch would add value to higher education infrastructure in Abu Dhabi in particular and UAE in general. Hailing the efforts exerted by the two sides to bring this agreement into being, Sheikh Mohammed said the presence of a prestigious academic institution like Sorbonne would enhance the educational and cultural status of the UAE.

The Abu Dhabi Sorbonne branch will start its academic year in October with a student population of 200. Students will be able transfer credits and degrees will be accredited in the two countries.

Students will enrol after undertaking a language course lasting for a period of between 6 to 12 months. The University will grant credentials according to French regulations and academic standards of the Paris Sorbonne University.

In May 2005, President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan decreed the establishment of the Abu Dhabi chapter for the Paris Sorbonne University. "The University shall contribute to promoting higher education opportunities within the UAE, GCC, and the Middle East in General," the decree reads.

The establishment of the University demonstrates the keenness of the UAE leadership to bring the quality of education in the country at par with the best international standards. The University will offer Licentiate, Master's and PhD. degrees under the European unified system of education, which allows students to transfer to any European university based on the European credit hours system. Instruction will be in French. Students will be enrolled in French language course for one or two semesters to prepare them for pursuing their studies. (Emirates News Agency, WAM)


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