This is a story about two countries that, at first sight, seem quite different and remote from each other: Dissimilar geography, climate, culture, religion, history, size, governmental system. Also, their relationship is young. They don’t look back on centuries of contact and exchange. Yet, in little more than the last 50 years, they have formed a reliable and warm bond of friendship. And together, they are well placed to make major contributions to assure a happy future, not only for themselves but indeed for mankind. Together they can do great things. This is the story of the United Arab Emirates and Germany.
On 17 May 1972 the UAE and Germany established diplomatic relations - half a year after the foundation of the UAE. Since then, the ties have been growing from strength to strength. UAE and Germany signed a strategic partnership in 2004 and when HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed visited Berlin in 2019 this document was updated and upgraded.
The future is bright. There is a great complementarity between our countries. At this critical juncture for both of our countries, our visions and strategies provide so many opportunities for joint action, projects and co-operation that will contribute to a better life for ourselves and those around us.
So this will not be a look in the rear-view mirror. Rather, I would like to focus on the road ahead, “the next 50” and what we can and ought to be doing together.
A young relationship
Our shared history is relatively new. Before the end of the 19th century it was more academic than practical. In the 18th and 19th century German scholars took an interest in Arabic texts and Islam in order to understand and learn from what was then called “the Orient”. But the focus was more on the Levant and Persia than the Arabian Peninsula. Contacts were few and far between. A noteworthy early milestone was the visit of the German explorer Hermann Burchardt. He arrived on the Trucial Coast in February 1904 and took the first photographs of HH Sheikh Zayed the Great holding Majlis outside of Qasr al Hosn in Abu Dhabi.
Vice versa, we know that the people of this part of the world held Germany in esteem and that links grew vigorously since the 1960‘s. At the turn of 1964/65 the German company Siebert discovered enough water close to Al Ain to enable the construction of the first water pipeline from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi. In 1965 the Al Fahims imported the first four Mercedes automobiles to Abu Dhabi. By 1967/68 HH Sheikh Zayed placed the – at that time - largest order ever for 13 Mercedes 600 Pullman limousines and got them fitted with extra fat tires for the desert tracks that existed before roads in UAE. There are great photos of HH Sheikh Zayed at the wheel of his German car. Dubai’s first traffic light was made by Siemens and installed in 1973 at the Clocktower roundabout in Deira by Scientecnic, the Easa Saleh Al Gurg group’s company. In 1976 HH Sheikh Zayed instructed Mr. Salem Al Saman to purchase a wild bird sanctuary in Hellenthal, Germany, for breeding and training falcons. It is said that HH Sheikh Zayed had great respect for the falconer there, Horst Niesters.
In fact, an Emirati leader recently said: “We would not be where we are today without Germany”.
But today, we are in the middle of major changes in the world.
First, the system of international peace and security that was established after World War II, the rules-based-world-order, is being challenged, most brutally, but not exclusively by the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Moreover, we are in the middle of a sustainability and climate crisis. We are using our planet’s resources at a faster rate than they can replenish themselves. And, if we don’t emit less greenhouse gases, we will change the climate of our planet, pushing us out of the climate-range in which human civilization was able to flourish.
Germany and the UAE agree that these are top priorities guiding our policies and cooperation.
The rules-based world order established the principal that international law should govern international relations: “Rule of Law”, instead of “Might makes Right”.
We are both countries that thrive on economic openness, international co-operation and connectivity. We both have a very high foreign trade quota, i.e. the ratio of foreign trade to gross domestic product (Germany around 90%, UAE even 162%). That means we both rely on a stable and global network of relationships. Any disturbance to those relationships affects us more than countries that rely more on their domestic market.
We are also both committed to sustainability and in particular energy transition. Germany – already produces almost half of its electricity through wind and solar – aims to be climate neutral, also known as “net zero”, by 2045; the UAE by 2050.
Both priorities open up a window for deepened co-operation. Let’s look at three different areas: foreign policy, transition to a knowledge-driven sustainable economy and culture/society.
There has traditionally been a good and trustful exchange on all levels of foreign policy making. Our leaders have always had a good connection. From a German perspective the UAE is a significant actor that we need to consult and engage not only on all regional matters, ranging from Iran, Syria, Libya to Yemen and beyond, but also to defend international law as well as the multilateral approach and negotiations as means of conflict resolution. We both have only to gain from exchanging closely our regional perspectives and know-how on the issues at hand. We have always said that this is a partnership where we may not always agree on everything, but we can discuss anything in a productive and beneficial way. Germany and Europe alone can’t meet the challenges of a Russia that has taken the position of the outlaw. By the same token, the UAE needs strong global partners to get Iran to be a neighbour that does not interfere with the sovereignty of its neighbours. It was a landmark to the quality of our relations that HH Sheikh Abdullah, the UAE’s foreign minister, had his first official meeting with his Israeli counterpart in Berlin, in October 2020. On that occasion the foreign ministers of Germany, Israel and the UAE made an historic joint visit to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, opening new perspectives and opportunities.
Germany is one of UAE’s leading business partners and UAE is Germany’s most important economic partner in the Middle East. Our trade, however, is not balanced. 90 % are German imports to UAE, only 10% the other way. Germany – typically – exports machinery, aircraft, automobiles, electronic equipment and chemicals. The UAE sells mainly aluminium and petrochemical products. Germany does not import crude oil from the UAE.
I like to say, the trading relationship is “old school” – it will surely continue and both sides will benefit.
“New School”, however, is much more interesting. “New School” is that we invest together into technologies and businesses that will form the sustainable knowledge-based economy of the future and thereby create shared intellectual property and new revenues streams. For both of our countries those economic areas can be summarized as “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR). That means that all production processes are smart, digitalized, connected and make use of artificial intelligence. Germany is a global leader in manufacturing. We don’t only have the globally known household-name corporates. No, the back–bone of our industry are SME’s that often have market and technology leadership for their specific product segment. As the UAE seeks to transition further from a hydro-carbon oriented economy to a sustainable one, it will develop new economic sectors with deeper value-added chains at home.
For most of what the UAE wants to do, German companies can offer a cutting-edge, competitive solution. However, mutual market knowledge is far from perfect. During my tenure here, I noticed that we are not reaching our full joint potential. That is why from summer 2020 to summer 2021 I launched the “German Emirati Taskforce on 4IR”. Over 130 executives from 100 German and Emirati companies met in seven sectoral working groups for a year and identified over 60 projects that could be of interest. The sectors they looked at were: 1. Energy, Oil & Gas, Petrochem, 2. Health Care, 3. Aerospace, 4. Industry/Smart Factory, 5. Sustainability/Food & Water, 6. Data/Intelligence and 7. Human Resources.
I am delighted that work is going ahead to test the project ideas for commercial viability. Let me just take two sectors for closer examination.
One of the projects that came out of this initiative is the Green Falcon Project between Siemens Energy, Lufthansa, Masdar, Etihad and other partners. Green Falcon will set up a pilot production of green hydrogen in Abu Dhabi, and from that green hydrogen make synthetic (and CO2 free) fuel for the airline and shipping industry. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do together in this area. Since 2017 Germany and the UAE have engaged in a successful bilateral energy partnership. First we focused on grid integration of renewables, lately the focus has moved to hydrogen and its derivatives. In November 2021 we launched a bilateral “Hydrogen Taskforce”. Government officials, business representatives and energy experts from both countries are engaged in a continuous process of evaluating and preparing the export of hydrogen from the UAE to Germany. Germany will need to import several hundred terawatt hours worth of hydrogen and derivatives annually in order to reach climate neutrality. This includes upstream (e.g. joint projects for green kerosene production), midstream (e.g. transport of synthetic fuels) and downstream (e.g. technology cooperation for hydrogen use in industry). German companies can provide valuable expertise to support the cooperation and provide solutions across the hydrogen value chain. The UAE are well placed to produce large quantities of hydrogen. During the visit of the German Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action in March 2022 important MoUs were signed. One is to create the first hydrogen value chain between UAE and Germany, the other is between the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and the German Fraunhofer Institutes, a leading network of applied science research institutes with a focus on the interface between research and business. This cooperation will deepen our knowledge of hydrogen production, storage, transport and use.
As the UAE transitions to new economic sectors it must also assure that its work force is ready. The UAE is already running In-Country-Value programs that cover, among other things, employment of Emiratis. Now, investments into people, life-long learning and training at all qualification levels, including vocational training are part of the DNA of German companies. They believe in the saying: “If you think it is expensive to invest into your employees, just think about how expensive it is not to”.
Two wonderful initiatives came out of our Taskforce on 4IR, and we can build on other existing activities to make human resource qualification a focal area of UAE-German co-operation. The first program is called Tadreeb. 10 German companies have teamed up with the Technical University in Wildau, Germany, as well as Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi to offer initially 10 Emirati recent university graduates internship experiences in the German companies. The young Emiratis will be prepared for two weeks in UAE, then spend 8 weeks on internship in Germany, and in the end have a two week “de-briefing” experience back home. This program is going to be launched this year. The challenge has been to obtain UAE government financial support. Yet I am convinced that it will be so successful that it can be scaled up with new sources of finance already next year. Experience shows that the interns stand a good chance of finding employment with one of the participating companies, provided both sides are happy with each other.
The second initiative is called “Der Impuls”. It is a six month mentoring program by senior executives from German companies for Emiratis, either recent graduates or young professionals. We just celebrated the graduation of the first group of Emiratis from this program and they were all enthusiastic about the great first-hand, real-life learning experience. This is another initiative waiting to be scaled up and attracting more support.
In addition, in February 2022 Emirates National Schools in cooperation with Germany’s GIZ Ltd. launched Centers of Excellence for Technical and Vocational Training in order to enhance opportunities and better prepare the younger generation for the labor market. In this program, GIZ provides its vocational training expertise to lay the basis for Emirati girls and boys to learn to enjoy doing practical work in technical fields – frequently the basis for a highly qualified life-long career.
Finally, there is a growing contingent of Emiratis graduating from one of the three German schools in the UAE. I personally met the four most recent graduates. They are going on to study at German universities and will become the bridge builders between our two countries in the future. When the first Emirati graduated from the German International School in Abu Dhabi, an Emirati leader was quoted as saying: “The German secondary school graduation qualification is one of the best in the world, even including modules on critical thinking and creativity. Those Emiratis who study in Germany are the best of the country and will make a great contribution to our home land.”
Culture & Society
A final area where I believe there is untapped potential for mutually beneficial cooperation is culture and society. While there are evident differences in our governmental and societal systems, we are both multi-cultural, inclusive societies, that need to put all efforts into bringing forth or attracting the best talents in order to maintain their competitive position. The UAE’s policy of tolerance and its comparatively liberal attitude are noteworthy. Even more remarkable is the pace of change in the UAE.
Germany has learned the hard way that intolerance leads to great suffering, even catastrophe.
There is a very meaningful intersection between our respective experiences that we can build on to promote tolerance, prevent extremism, promote gender equality and foster happy societies everywhere. Perhaps our example can show that we can do even better than mere tolerance. Why can’t we celebrate diversity and perhaps even love our differences?
The first 50 years of our official relations have led to us being united by a strong bond of friendship. The next 50 offer great opportunities for the partnership between the UAE and Germany. Our distinct experiences, perspectives and capabilities complement each other. Together we can make significant contributions to a more peaceful and sustainable world. That is also our responsibility. This was the spirit of the meeting between German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the President of the UAE, HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, when they met on 16 May 2022 during the condolences for the passing of HH Sheikh Khalifa.