The French capital of Paris received this Sunday the recently appointed president of the United Arab Emirates and emir of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahayan, who has chosen the European country as the destination of his first official trip abroad since he officially came to power last May. In addition to representing a "symbolic gesture" that "confirms the strong ties" that unite the two countries, the Elysee said, this three-day visit is also expected to serve as a framework for the signing of several agreements. The most eagerly awaited: the energy agreement.
"For the two heads of state, it will be a matter of continuing to deepen the strategic partnership that unites the two countries, particularly in terms of security and defence, and the energy and technologies of the future," explained the French presidency. It is expected to "strengthen already dense bilateral relations" and address "responses to the global energy crisis", motivating "joint efforts for regional stability and security", it added.
With these aims in mind, Mohammed bin Zayed walked the red carpet in the courtyard of the Elysée Palace at midday on Monday to be officially welcomed by his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, and his wife, Brigitte Macron. This welcome was followed by a meeting between the two leaders, and a prestigious state dinner at the Grand Trianon Palace, built by order of the monarch Louis XIV in the park of the Palace of Versailles.
According to tradition, Mohammed bin Zayed himself will receive from Macron the insignia of the Grand Cross of the National Order of the Legion of Honour and a 1535 edition of the map of the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf by the German geographer Lorenz Fries.
In addition, for the remainder of his stay, the Emirati President's agenda also includes meetings with several senior French officials, such as Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne at the Matignon, and with other members of the government and parliamentary chambers, in the Senate and the National Assembly.
In this scenario, energy negotiations have emerged as the main protagonists of the meeting. As reported last week, Bin Zayed and Macron will announce "the Emirati guarantees on the quantities of hydrocarbons (only diesel) supplied to France", an Elysée advisor told the AFP news agency, although the details of the quantities and the frequency of the shipments have not yet been made public to the media. The leaders are also expected to sign other agreements on transport and waste treatment.
I was pleased to arrive in France, a close strategic ally of the UAE, and meet my friend President Emmanuel Macron. Our countries enjoy longstanding partnerships across many fields. We look forward to further collaborations and strengthening ties towards a prosperous future. pic.twitter.com/6V99L8CCF2— محمد بن زايد (@MohamedBinZayed) July 18, 2022
The Russian Federation is by far the largest energy supplier to the European community. In 2021 alone, 54.4% of Brussels' energy imports came from Moscow. And this includes diesel supplies.
France, with diesel consumption accounting for almost 75 per cent of total fossil fuel consumption, is one of the European powers most sensitive to the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. For this reason, its energy rapprochement with the United Arab Emirates represents one more step on the road towards "diversification of its sources of energy supply", sources from the EFE news agency explained to the EFE news agency.
As fuel prices continue to rise, the Western powers are increasing their pressure on the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia with the intention of getting them to distribute greater quantities of oil. In fact, Mohammed bin Zayed's visit to Paris comes just a few days after Joe Biden's Middle East tour, which the US president tried, unsuccessfully, to unblock the situation.
"This visit has, of course, a very symbolic dimension; it illustrates the strategic partnership between France and the Emirates (...). Obviously, the trip will be marked by energy issues in a context in which European countries are concerned about rising inflation due to high energy prices," said Anne Gadel, an expert on the Gulf and member of the Observatory of North Africa and the Middle East of the Jean Jaurès Foundation, to AFP. But "it is also a signal sent to the United States (...) that means: we are not in a hurry to satisfy American demands at all costs".
Ties between Paris and Abu Dhabi, already favourable, have clearly improved under Macron and Bin Zayed (who has held 'de facto' power since his half-brother on his father's side, Khalifa bin Zayed, suffered a stroke in 2014), thanks to their good personal relationship. This is evidenced by their energy trade relations, which in 2019 reached an all-time high of nearly €1.5 billion in Emirati hydrocarbon exports to France. However, this supply does not include diesel.
In the same vein, visits between the two heads of state, and the agreements reached during them, have also multiplied in recent years. In 2021, the United Arab Emirates hosted the French president during Expo 2020 in Dubai, while signing the sale of 80 Rafale fighter jets and 12 Caracal military helicopters for nearly 17 billion euros. The largest international arms sale in the history of the Elysée. In 2022, Macron flew to Abu Dhabi to pay tribute to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Emirati president who died on 13 May. In the meantime, the two powers are cooperating in the fight against organised crime and working together on the Houthi war through the joint defence cooperation agreement.