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French PM Philippe seeks more Gulf investment on UAE trip

media French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe speaks during the World Government Summit in Dubai REUTERS/Christopher Pike

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe boasted of his government's measures to attract foreign investors on Sunday during a three-visit to the United Arab Emirates. Culture was a key weapon in his soft-power offensive to strengthen France's already strong ties to the Gulf monarchies.

"We are involved in a huge transformation and the aim of this transformation is to fix our country and prepare the future," Phlippe told the World Government Summit, known as the "Davos of the Gulf", in Dubai.

A key part of that process is to create a "favourable context for investment and for companies", he said, pointing to the "coherent, gradual, inevitable, irreversible reduction of the taxation that weighs on companies" and changes to labour law.

At 1.13 billion euros in 2015, the UAE is the second-largest Gulf investor in France after Qatar but Paris hopes it will put more money into productive industry, rather than property, which is its principal interest at the moment.

France's diplomatic role

France is been seen positively in the region for more than just economic and cultural reasons, Moncef Cheikh Rouhou, of the HEC business school in Paris, told RFI.

President Emmanuel Macron's recent visit to Abu Dhabi set the tone for Paris's   aspiration to promote dialogue and peace in the region, he said, pointing to the French role in calming the crisis that followed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation, a move that many believe was made under pressure from Saudi Arabia.

Investment deals already announced

Philippe will this weekend meet the heads of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) and Mubadala Investment Company, French government officials say.

During Macron's visit, Mubadala signed an agreement with French state-backed bodies CDC International Capital and Bpifrance to invest up to one billion euros in the French economy.

The first part of the plan involves raising the size and scope of an existing coinvestment partnership, known as FEF, which was launched in 2014.

The second, dedicated to technology and innovation in France, will see Bpifrance and Mubadala investing up to 500 million euros in startups and more mature technology companies through direct investment and venture capital funds.

Cultural dialogue in Abu Dhabi

In Abu Dhabi on Saturday Philippe joined UAE Culture Minister Noura Bint Mohammed Al-Kaabi to inaugurate the UAE-France Cultural Dialogue 2018 at the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum.

Featuring a series of themed concerts and festivals, the inititiative will run from February to July and builds on a cultural programme announced in 2016.

After a decade of preparation and some holdups, the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its doors to the public in November 2017.

The name is on loan for 30 years and six months under a one-billion-euro contract as part of an inter-governmental agreement.

For the next 10 years, 13 of France’s top museums will lend works to the UAE at their discretion and for a maximum of two years each.

The French prime minister also talked about expanding mutual cultural collaboration in line with the UAE’s Year of Zayed in 2018, named after the country’s first president Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan.

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