French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting the leader of the United Arab Emirates on Monday to ensure energy supplies from the oil-rich Gulf country as Europe prepares for the possibility of a total cutoff of Russian natural gas following sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is in Paris on the first state visit to France since he was appointed president of the Western-allied nation of seven sheikhdoms in May. Sheikh Mohammed has been the nation’s de facto leader since 2014 and has built new alliances across the Middle East and Europe. He met with U.S. President Joe Biden over the weekend.
France has particularly deep ties to the UAE, and the two leaders have developed a personal relationship in past years. The personal touch paid off during Macron’s official 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.
The two leaders will focus on the war in Ukraine and the resulting energy supply issues for France and Europe, according to a French presidency official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity in line with customary policy.
The official added that 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.
As the war in Ukraine rages into the sixth month and Europe is in the grip of a sweltering heat wave, the 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 – which keeps the industry running, generates electricity, and heats homes in the winter – to a dozen European countries. A major gas pipeline also closed for scheduled maintenance last week, and there are fears that the flow through Nord Stream 1 between Russia and Germany will not restart.
Leaders have been scrambling to fill underground storage by the beginning of fall in an effort to avert an economic and political crisis in 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.
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.”
French Finance Minister Bruno 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.” The UAE could provide a “temporary solution,” Le Maire told the French radio station Europe1.