In mid-September, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the crown prince and de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (broadly often called MBZ), on the historic Chateau de Fontainbleu exterior Paris, lately restored with UAE funding. Over the previous variety of years, and regardless of some setbacks, Paris and Abu Dhabi have developed a multi-layered strategic partnership that encompasses political, safety, and financial dimensions.
Deeper French-Emirati engagement highlights a key pattern in Europe-Gulf relations. Regardless of years of engagement at a multilateral stage between the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Gulf and European nations have largely bypassed multilateral mechanisms and have opted to deepen their relationship at a bilateral stage. Each on account of structural and contingent elements, bilateralism has tended to prevail in EU-GCC relations with particular person nations on each side competing with one another within the development of their targets. The failure to determine a region-to-region free commerce settlement (FTA) in 2008 dealt a extreme blow to the EU-GCC multilateral framework, as did the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011 and the following battle and fragmentation within the Center East and North Africa (MENA) area. In a lately printed edited quantity titled “The European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council: In direction of a New Path”, we discover these traits, study the varied elements of EU-GCC relations and their trajectory shifting ahead.
L’ennemi de mon ennemi, est mon ami
It’s no shock that the UAE and France have moved to deepen their ties as they’re aligned on many points within the Center East and North Africa. In Libya, they’ve each supported Libyan Nationwide Military chief Khalifa Hifter over the federal government in Tripoli. Together with different exterior powers, each have contributed to perpetuating the nation’s civil warfare.
They’ve additionally had difficult relations with Turkey and its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They’ve supported Greece and Cyprus within the japanese Mediterranean, together with taking part in joint naval workout routines final 12 months. Whereas Turkey and the UAE have lately moved to settle a few of their variations amongst a rising regional détente, it stays to be seen if it is a everlasting de-escalation or a shorter-term strategic calculation.
Moreover, each Macron and MBZ share a mistrust of Islamist political events throughout the area. The UAE has been very energetic in recent times in fostering inter-faith dialogue initiatives to domesticate a picture as a average and welcoming Muslim nation. General, each Emirati and French leaders have proven a bent to deal with stability and the continuation of the established order ante within the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
The UAE: Searching for a bigger position
The previous few years have been a busy time for Emirati diplomacy. Beneath founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who dominated from 1971-2004, the UAE’s overseas coverage was grounded in a cautious method and the younger nation considered itself inside a Gulf, Arab, and Muslim world context. Over the previous years below MBZ and particularly after the Arab Spring, this has shifted and the nation has grown extra assertive and impressive within the area and the world over.
Along with increasing its ties to France, the UAE has been additionally deepening its engagement with China by signing a complete strategic partnership with Beijing. Based on one analyst, the UAE’s “mercantile grand technique of controlling entry to key maritime checkpoints within the Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa and the Crimson Sea, made Abu Dhabi an necessary companion for Beijing.”
The Abraham Accords and ensuing normalization with Israel had been additionally a boon for Emirati diplomacy. Having been cultivated by President Donald Trump in his early days, the deal was concluded in August 2020, giving Trump a “win” forward of the election. On the similar time, the accords highlighted the UAE’s significance and indispensability to Joe Biden’s workforce, offering Abu Dhabi with the wanted platform to diffuse potential challenges with what grew to become the brand new administration and making certain a much-coveted F-35 fighter jet deal went forward.
The U.S. response to the Arab Spring and subsequent developments within the area have highlighted to GCC and Emirati leaders particularly that the American dedication to the MENA area (and to their regimes) is just not as ironclad as that they had thought. The latest chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and continued indicators from the Biden administration that it needs to restrict its publicity to instability from the area, have strengthened that view. Whereas the U.S. at present underwrites Gulf safety, GCC leaders have to more and more think about and put together for an unpredictable regional safety setting and depend on themselves extra because the U.S. “pivots” to Asia.
The view from Paris: Enterprise and safety go hand-in-hand
Regardless of setbacks which have included calls to boycott French merchandise after inflammatory feedback by Macron, France has undoubtedly been probably the most energetic European nation within the MENA area over the previous few years. And the UAE has been the pivot of French activism each on safety points and in enterprise. Certainly, these symbolize two sides of the identical coin.
Bilateral commerce between Paris and Abu Dhabi has been thriving prior to now few years. This contains roughly $4 billion yearly of French items exported to the UAE, in addition to profitable arms offers price 8.3 billion euros in 2020. Conversely, imports to France (estimated at 1.1 billion euros) are dominated by hydrocarbons.
There are greater than 600 French firms working within the United Arab Emirates and their quantity has elevated by roughly 10% yearly in recent times. Among the many most energetic sectors of the cooperation, protection stands out, because of the presence of French everlasting army bases in Abu Dhabi, internet hosting greater than 700 troopers, since a 2009 joint protection settlement.
Nonetheless, French-Emirati bilateral relations will not be restricted to the military-industrial nexus. Within the period of Gulf “Visions” and of formidable plans to foster sustainable growth, investments in renewable vitality — in addition to the sharing of nuclear know-how — are gaining traction. Equally, cultural and educational cooperation is the area that has been developed probably the most and the one on which each the French authorities and Emirati rulers wager with a view to casting a constructive mutual picture and to attracting additional investments. From the Paris-Sorbonne College Abu Dhabi established again in 2006 and a part of the Abu Dhabi Financial Imaginative and prescient 2030 to the world-famous Louvre Abu Dhabi museum inaugurated in November 2017, French tradition and language are seen as a pillar of cooperation that may contribute to “constructing a extra open, united, tolerant and peaceable world.” On this context, it isn’t a coincidence that on the recently-opened Expo 2020 Dubai France occupies a central place, each bodily and symbolically.
However hydrocarbons, protection cooperation, and tradition will not be essentially the top targets in themselves for France vis-à-vis the UAE, the Gulf, and the broader Center East. They’re means to achieve higher safety and leverage in diplomatic phrases, each domestically and externally, by exploiting France’s added worth and skill to draw investments in enterprise and protection. From Beirut to Baghdad (and together with latest setbacks with Algiers), Macron has targeted on strengthening France’s position within the area to guard the human connections present between MENA populations and France as a result of presence of conspicuous diasporas, which translate into very developed safety, industrial, and people-to-people ties.
Bilateralism guidelines the day
The Qatar blockade, cooler relations with Oman, and disagreements with shut ally Saudi Arabia spotlight how the GCC as an establishment is much less necessary for the UAE, as Abu Dhabi seeks to play a bigger unbiased position that usually places it at odds with its neighbors. The identical is likely to be stated for France, which is commonly seen projecting its personal autonomous overseas coverage position within the Gulf and wider Center East past the contours of the EU’s multilateral engagement to the area. Having been lately blindsided by a few of its closest allies with the AUKUS safety pact between Australia, the U.Ok., and the U.S., it’s no shock that French policymakers will proceed to deepen their engagement with different companions within the MENA area and the world over.
As we’ve got argued in our quantity, with regards to the Gulf, particular person EU member states have relentlessly hedged between varied events to guard their very own pursuits and companies. This has, amongst different elements, contributed to weakening the EU’s widespread Gulf method and insurance policies. Regardless of this, the area nonetheless exists to work on the multilateral stage and leverage present alternatives and cooperation mechanisms to unlock the EU-GCC relationship’s full potential.
The latest go to of Josep Borrell, the EU overseas coverage chief, to Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia from September 30 to October 3 — his first official go to to the Gulf area within the position — might symbolize step one on this course. Expectations are excessive however till they’re met, bilateralism will rule the day.