Bahrain is now increasingly turning to France, with a view to diversifying its partnerships.
President Sarkozy, together with the French Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, made an official visit to Manama on 11 February 2009. This was the first visit by a French President to Bahrain since 1990.
The King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, was received three times by the President of the French Republic at the Elysée Palace on 23 July 2012, 28 August 2014 and 8 September 2015. The foundations for a “high joint coordination committee” to deepen the bilateral relationship were laid on that occasion. The new Committee first met on 28 November 2013 and was co-chaired by the Head of the North Africa and Middle East Directorate at the French Foreign Ministry, and the Undersecretary of the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The second meeting of the Committee took place on 20 November 2015 in Paris. In addition, Ms Samira Rajab, Minister for Information Affairs and Spokesperson of the Bahraini government, paid a one-week visit to France on 8-11 February 2014 during which she was received by the Minister of Women’s rights.
Trade between France and Bahrain is traditionally subject to extreme variations linked to the supply of aircraft to Gulf Air, Bahrain’s national airline. This was largely proved so in 2014, as the delivery of two Airbus A321 helped increase the volume of our exports by 70% in 2014, compared to 2013. Our imports consist mainly of refined oil and aluminium.
The renewal of the Gulf Air fleet was announced in January 2016 during the Bahrain International Airshow when an order was placed for 29 Airbus aircraft.
The development of our economic potential remains closely linked to our participation in major capital projects: construction of a waste incineration and power generation plant, doubling the capacity of the waste water treatment plant, extension/upgrading of Bahrain Airport facilities (US$1 billion), construction of a sixth production line at the Alba Bahrain aluminium plant (US$3 billion). With the signing in September 2015 of a US$57 million contract with the Bahrain-based company Gulf Aluminium Rolling Mill (GARMCO) specialized in aluminium processing, the French Fives Group wants to adopt a competitive offensive position on other projects. A contract was also signed in January 2016 with Expertise France for the planning of the Manama ring road.
Our cultural cooperation with Bahrain presents opportunities for France to forge partnerships, especially in the fields of science and technology, management, the French language, and medicine. An agreement between the Arabian Gulf University and ESSEC Business School enabled the creation in December 2011 of the French-Arabian Business School (FABS), which created an MBA October 2012.
Moreover, French language teaching is being introduced in Bahraini public education. Restricted up to now to the last two years of secondary education, it will now be taught in all years up to the Baccalaureate as a compulsory second foreign language.
In terms of culture, France has a favourable image in Bahrain. Our embassy in Manama is involved with the main actors in the local cultural scene and the Bahrain Authority for Culture & Antiquities is developing ambitious collaboration with renowned French partners. Our cooperation is also active in the fields of archaeology and heritage.
Temporarily suspended following the events of spring 2011, our military cooperation today involves naval stopovers (the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle berthed for a week in Manama in February 2014, and on 31 December 2015) and training for the Royal Guard of Bahrain. A military cooperation agreement is being finalized.