Bahrain is increasingly looking to France with a view to diversifying its partnerships. In 2012, our respective Heads of State laid the ground for a High-Level Coordination Commission, aimed at deepening our bilateral relationship, which has met in November 2013 and November 2015. The last session was held on 20 March 2018, making progress on cooperation projects.
France is attentive to the human rights situation in Bahrain, including that of political opponents, and raises the subject during bilateral meetings with the country’s authorities.
President Sarkozy made an official visit to Manama on 11 February 2009. This was the first visit by a French President to Bahrain since 1990. The French Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Mr Mathias Fekl, visited Bahrain on 21 January 2016.
The King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, was received several times by President Hollande at the Élysée Palace, on 23 July 2012, 28 August 2014 and 8 September 2015.
The King of Bahrain’s last visit to Paris, on 30 and 31 April 2019, gave new impetus to the bilateral relationship. The King met with the French President, while the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, met with his counterpart, Mr Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. Three cooperation agreements were signed during the visit, including one on the training of Bahraini doctors in France and two cooperation protocols, on basic and higher education.
Trade between France and Bahrain is traditionally subject to extreme fluctuations linked to the supply of aircraft to Gulf Air, Bahrain’s national airline. In 2018, bilateral trade between France and Bahrain stood at €443.3 million, down 7.2% compared to the previous year.
Almost 40 French companies are present in the country, primarily in the sectors of financial services (BNP Paribas), industry (Fives, VINCI Énergies), engineering (Setec, Egis, Paris Aéroports), infrastructure (Veolia, Engie, EDF), hospitality (Accor) and insurance (Axa).
Our imports mainly consist of refined oil and aluminium.
Our cultural cooperation with Bahrain offers 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 opened an MBA programme in October 2012.
Moreover, French teaching is being introduced to Bahraini state education. While it has hitherto been restricted to the last two years of secondary education in some public and private establishments, it will now be taught every year from the first year of secondary school to the end of high school as a compulsory second foreign language, in accordance with a 2010 royal decree.
In terms of culture, France has a good 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, as well as, more recently, fashion.