France and Saudi Arabia

Political relations

France’s relations with Saudi Arabia are based on common strategic interests: preserving security in a troubled region, a common commitment to combating terrorism, and a convergence of views on regional crises. The regularity of bilateral official visits demonstrates the robustness of the strategic partnership between France and Saudi Arabia. They help deepen our dialogue in these areas, and are an opportunity to stress the importance France attaches to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including those of women, and to unambiguously condemn the use of the death penalty.

Visits

  • The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, visited Riyadh on 24 January 2017, meeting with King Salman and his own counterpart, Mr Adel al-Jubeir.
  • The President of the French Republic met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef on 21 September 2016 on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly.
  • The visit of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Paris on 27-28 June 2016 was an opportunity to discuss major regional and bilateral issues.
  • On 4 March 2016, the President of the Republic received Crown Prince, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Mohammed bin Nayef. They discussed the major regional issues, including the Syrian crisis, and highlighted the need for the two countries to develop their counter-terrorism cooperation.
  • The French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development visited Riyadh on 19 January 2016 to discuss major regional and bilateral issues with the Saudi authorities.
  • The French Prime Minister visited Riyadh on 13 October 2015. The visit was an opportunity to confirm the solid partnership between France and Saudi Arabia and the convergence of views between our two countries on key regional issues. The second session of the France-Saudi Arabia Joint Committee was co-chaired by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development and HRH Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Minister of Defence and Chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs. It led to the signing of contracts worth almost €10 billion, particularly in the military, financial and agrifood sectors.
  • The Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, HRH Prince Mohammad bin Salman, visited Paris on 24 June 2015 to co-chair the first session of the France-Saudi Arabia Joint Committee with the French Foreign Minister and to sign agreements in many areas of cooperation.
  • The French President visited Riyadh on 4 and 5 May 2015, meeting with King Salman and being guest of honour at the Summit of Heads of State of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG).

Economic relations

Saudi Arabia is our leading trading partner in the Gulf region, with trade standing at €10 billion in 2014 and €8.5 billion in 2015 (the difference is down to the drop in our hydrocarbon imports). The country constitutes a growth market for French companies in most sectors, with exports of €3.1 billion in 2015 (a 6% year-on-year rise). Our trade balance has therefore improved considerably, with a deficit of €2.1 billion in 2015, down 47.5% on the previous year.

For France, the main opportunities beyond those in the oil and oil-related sectors lie in the sectors of urban and high-speed rail transport, civil nuclear energy and defence (Saudi Arabia is France’s leading customer in this sector and one of the world’s leading arms buyers). In addition, many sectors may be of interest to SMEs, particularly consumer goods (e.g. the luxury goods industry, cosmetics), agrifood and telecommunication equipment.

There is also considerable French investment in Saudi Arabia: France is the third-largest foreign investor in the country, behind the United States and Kuwait, with a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stock estimated at $15.3 billion.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 offers new prospects for French companies, particularly in the sustainable cities, renewable energy, tourism and investment fund sectors.

For more information, visit http://www.tresor.economie.gouv.fr/pays/arabie-saoudite (in French)

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

Our cooperation in Saudi Arabia is focused on three areas:

  • Academic and vocational training, and health.
  • Improving governance with a view to gradually establishing the rule of law.
  • Strengthening France’s influence through educational, linguistic and cultural cooperation.

Since the accession to the throne of King Abdullah, the budget for secondary school and university education has amounted to a quarter of public expenditure. Anglophone influence is greatly predominant, but France is now a recognized partner and our cooperation is gradually increasing, as shown by the signing of many university cooperation agreements since 2008.

Study in France is increasingly popular among Saudi students. Currently, 1,400 Saudi students are studying in France under King Abdullah’s scholarship programme which sponsors the sending of 130,000 students abroad.

In the health sector, a medical specialist training programme, based on an intergovernmental agreement signed in 2011, has made it possible to receive hundreds of doctors since 2006. Each year, 50 doctors are selected and attend a one-year language course before joining French university hospitals (CHU). Almost a third of these doctors are women.

In the area of research, the signature in 2016 of a scientific cooperation agreement between the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST, the equivalent of a Research Ministry and Academy of Sciences combined) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has already led to the implementation of high-level cooperation projects. A symposium involving some 40 scientists from the two countries was held in Riyadh from 21-24 November 2016.

The teaching of French

Our teaching establishments are well represented, with three schools: one in Riyadh, operated by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) and two in Jeddah and Khobar, run by Mission Laïque Française (MLF). They school almost 3,200 learners.

Saudi Arabia’s Alliance Française was established in October 2010 to supervise the three French language schools in the Kingdom, in Riyadh, Jeddah and Khobar. The Alliance Française was recognized by the Saudi authorities as a cultural centre in 2016: it can now therefore organize cultural events, so long as they are non-mixed.

French is also taught in Saudi private schools situated in Riyadh and Jeddah. These schools may offer the French curriculum (French diplomas sat at the French schools in Riyadh or Jeddah), or the teaching of French as a foreign language (DELF or DALF).

In the academic sphere, three universities in the country have French departments: King Saud University and Princess Nourah University in Riyadh and King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah all offer a BA in French and Translation. Alfaisal University and Prince Sultan University, in Riyadh, both recently opened French sections. More than 1,500 students are enrolled in the French sections of these universities. Moreover, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has decided to teach a vocational French course for the tourism sector. In total, almost 15,000 Saudi and foreign students are learning French in the country.

Cultural outreach and French archaeological missions in the country

In the cultural field, our activities are most often limited to diplomatic premises, given the local legislation. Cultural programming is varied, with concerts, exhibitions and conferences. There are several notable cultural events, including the Francophonie Month (March), the Europe Month (May) and the national holiday. Outside diplomatic premises, joint cultural activities (exhibitions, conferences, etc.) take place in Riyadh, organized by our diplomatic post with universities (Alfaisal, Al Yamamah), the King Faisal Foundation, the National Museum, and private galleries.

Our programmes to preserve and promote heritage, particularly in Jeddah and Riyadh, also contribute to consolidating our influence. Training was launched in January 2014 for staff from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, in partnership with the National Heritage Institute and the Louvre Museum.

There are also seven French archaeological missions in Saudi Arabia, covering all the country’s regions apart from Najran (mission relocated to the north-west opposite the Gulf of Aqaba) and studying the Saudi Arabia’s most emblematic sites (Nabatean tombs of Mada’in Saleh, ancient city of Thāj, Dumat al-Jundal oasis).

Updated: 11 May 2017

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