On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with the leader of the United Arab Emirates to ensure energy supplies from the oil-rich Gulf country, as Europe prepares for the possibility of a total cutoff of Russian natural gas in retaliation for sanctions imposed in response to the Ukraine conflict.
Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is in Paris for the first time since being appointed president of the Western-allied nation of seven sheikhdoms in May. Since 2014, Sheikh Mohammed has served as the country’s de facto leader, forging new alliances in the Middle East and Europe. Over the weekend, he met with US Vice President Joe Biden.
France has strong ties with the UAE, and the two leaders have a personal relationship. It paid off last year during Macron’s visit to Abu Dhabi, which resulted in a 16 billion-euro ($18 billion) arms deal with the Gulf ally, the largest-ever French weapons contract for export.
According to a French presidency official who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity in accordance with customary policy, the leaders will focus on the war in Ukraine and the resulting energy supply issues for France and Europe.
Macron and Sheikh Mohammed are “working on the signing of a bilateral agreement on hydrocarbons and on guarantees for the supply of hydrocarbons” to France, according to the official.
As the Ukrainian conflict enters its sixth month and Europe is gripped by a sweltering heat wave, European Union countries are bracing for a potential Russian gas shutdown amid soaring energy prices, inflation, and a cost-of-living crisis across the 27-member bloc.
Russia has cut off or reduced natural gas supplies to a dozen European countries, which is used to power industry, generate electricity, and heat homes in the winter. A major gas pipeline also shut down for scheduled maintenance last week, raising concerns that flows between Russia and Germany via Nord Stream 1 will not resume.
Leaders have been rushing to fill underground storage by the beginning of fall in order to avoid a winter economic and political crisis. On Monday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will travel to Algeria to finalize agreements to increase natural gas supplies from the North African country to Italy.
Macron stated last week that his government would develop a “sobriety plan” to conserve energy and that France would continue to look for new gas sources. He advocated for a faster transition to offshore wind farms and increased European cross-border energy cooperation “as we prepare for the scenario in which we must go without all Russian gas.”
Last month, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire stated that the country has been in talks with the UAE about oil and diesel supplies in order to find “an alternative to Russian petrol.” According to Le Maire, the UAE could provide a “temporary solution.”
Last week, TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne stated in Parliament that the French energy company is “discussing an agreement to have access to diesel and fuel from the Emirates this winter.”
He stated that the company’s efforts are part of a French initiative to secure sufficient energy and compensate for Russian supply losses.
The UAE’s energy exports to France are dominated by refined petroleum products, and in 2019 they reached a new high of 1.5 billion euros.
According to the US Energy Information Agency, the UAE has the seventh-largest proven reserves of natural gas in the world, with over 215 trillion cubic feet. The country, which lies on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula along the Persian Gulf, is one of the world’s ten largest oil producers, with Abu Dhabi holding the majority of the country’s oil and gas wealth.
Human rights groups have urged Macron to remind his UAE counterpart of his country’s poor record on human rights.
“For years, the UAE has systematically crushed dissent,” Human Rights Watch said ahead of the visit on Monday. “Activists, lawyers, teachers, students, and critics are arrested, prosecuted, and detained, while women and LGBT people face discrimination.”
In an example of the ties between the nations, French warplanes and personnel are stationed in a major facility outside the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi, which is also the home of The Louvre museum and Sorbonne university outlets in the Gulf nation.