PARIS, France (AP) — France and the United Arab Emirates on Monday signed an agreement on energy cooperation to ensure oil and natural gas supplies from the Gulf country, as Europe prepares for the possibility of a total gas cutoff from Russia in retaliation for sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
The deal announced by the French economy ministry comes as President Emmanuel Macron is hosting UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Paris.
“The agreement we are signing with the United Arab Emirates is of double strategic importance: it allows us to address the pressing challenges of energy security in the short term, while preparing for a de-carbonized future,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in a statement.
The ministry did not provide details on the agreement or when it will be signed.
Other trade and energy agreements are expected to be signed during Sheikh Mohammed’s first state visit to France since he was appointed president of the Western-allied nation of seven sheikhdoms in May. They include an agreement between the French energy giant TotalEnergies and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company to ensure energy supply, the economy ministry said.
France has deep ties to the UAE, and the two leaders have developed a personal relationship. It paid off during Macron’s visit to Abu Dhabi last year resulting in a 16 billion-euro ($18 billion) arms deal with the Gulf ally, the largest-ever French weapons contract for export.
Their meeting Monday comes as the war in Ukraine rages into the sixth month and Europe is in the grip of a sweltering heat wave. European 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 — which keeps industry running, generates electricity, and heats homes in the winter — to a dozen European countries. A major gas pipeline was also closed for scheduled maintenance last week, and there are fears that, when reopened, the gas that usually flowed through Nord Stream 1 between Russia and Germany will no longer do so.
Leaders have been scrambling to fill underground storage by the beginning of fall, in an effort to avert an economic and political crisis in the winter. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is visiting Algeria on Monday to finalize deals boosting natural gas supplies from the North African country to Italy, while EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in Azerbaijan to clinch a deal with President Ilham Aliyev on increased gas supplies.
Macron said last week that his government would prepare a “sobriety plan” to conserve energy, and that France keeps looking to diversify gas sources. He called for a faster shift toward offshore windfarms and more European cross-border energy cooperation “as we prepare ourselves for the scenario where we have to go without all Russian gas.”
Le Maire said last month that the country has been in discussions with the UAE regarding supplies of oil and diesel to find “an alternative to Russian petrol.”
TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne said in Parliament last week that the French energy giant is “discussing an agreement to have access to diesel and fuel from the Emirates this winter.”
He said the company’s efforts are part of the French initiative to secure sufficient energy and make up for the loss of Russian supplies.
The UAE’s energy exports to France are dominated by refined petroleum products and reached the record sum of 1.5 billion euros in 2019.
The US Energy Information Agency cites figures estimating the UAE holds the seventh-largest proven reserves of natural gas in the world, at over 215 trillion cubic feet. The country, which lies on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula along the Persian Gulf, is among world’s 10 largest oil producers, with most of country’s oil and gas wealth concentrated in Abu Dhabi.
Human rights groups have called on Macron to remind his UAE counterpart of his country’s poor human rights record.
“For years, the UAE has systematically crushed dissent,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement ahead of Monday’s visit. “Activists, lawyers, teachers, students, and those deemed critics are arrested, prosecuted, and detained, women and LGBT people face discrimination.”