140,000 annual tourists, shared history, growing political ties bring Spain, UAE closer: Spanish Envoy

140,000 annual tourists, shared history, growing political ties bring Spain, UAE closer: Spanish Envoy

By Binsal Abdulkader

ABU DHABI, 23rd August, 2022 (WAM) -- About 140,000 annual two-way tourist traffic between Spain and the UAE, presence of the region’s second largest Spanish community in the Emirates, a shared history and culture, and growing political ties have brought the two countries closer, a top Spanish diplomat told the Emirates News Agency (WAM).

"Our human relationships are solid, because there is a mutual attraction anchored on perceptions about shared history and culture with the Arab world. The Spanish community in the UAE is one of our greatest assets more than 10,000 nationals make the second largest expatriate community in the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] and Asia regions, after the one in Morocco," said Iñigo de Palacio España, the Spanish Ambassador to the UAE.

"They enjoy a hospitable setting, and their children grow in a fascinating multicultural environment. They are delighted to live here," he said in an exclusive interview with WAM at the Spanish Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Shared history, culture

The envoy has found a natural attraction towards the shared history and culture that link the image of ancient Al-Andalus with the UAE. Al-Andalus, also called Muslim Spain, Muslim kingdom that occupied much of the Iberian Peninsula from 711 CE until the collapse of the Spanish Umayyad dynasty in the early 11th century.

"I believe that, besides all the cultural manifestations that we might present together, we are still to conceive together of a big project that might highlight this shared past, which is to be seen across Spain. Emirati visitors are amazed to see these cultural manifestations, World Heritage sites of UNESCO, so well preserved and appreciated."

Tourism helps boosts ties Tourism has enormous potential for the development of bilateral relations; and post-COVID relaxation in travel restrictions has helped recover the tourist traffic, he pointed out "We are practically back to the figures of 120,000 UAE tourists in Spain every year. The Spanish visa exemption for Emiratis is clearly a great facilitator for UAE tourists," España explained.

Around 20,000 visitors from Spain used to visit the UAE before the pandemic and they started coming back increasingly thanks to the excellent air connectivity offered by Etihad and Emirates Airlines, he said.

Valuable insights of UAE leadership

"On current affairs, we value the insights and views of the UAE, whose leadership has given ample proof of experience and a constructive approach to regional and world issues. Our relations are well consolidated, as proven by the joint communique that was approved during the visit of our head of government, Pedro Sánchez, on 2nd February this year," the diplomat said.

The Expo 2020 Dubai has represented a wonderful opportunity for both countries to delineate the bilateral agenda, thanks to the fruitful visits of Sánchez, six cabinet ministers, various presidents of autonomous communities and more than a dozen other delegations representing the most varied groups of interest, España noted.

Spain aims at further developing mutual investment relations, economic and trade ties, cooperation in health, energy and climate action, security and the fight against crime, cybersecurity, education, and sharing experiences in good governance in the public sector, among others, he explained.

Joint efforts for successful COP28

"We aim at working together with a view to ensuring a successful outcome for the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Abu Dhabi in 2023, when Spain will hold the Presidency of the European Union," the ambassador underscored.

In that context, Spain has committed to mobilise the necessary climate diplomacy to galvanise global efforts to ensure that the results of COP28 in UAE provide appropriate inputs to increase the ambition of Parties’ nationally determined contributions. "We want to show leadership together with EU members and institutions to contribute to UAE’s success during COP28," España stressed.

As climate action is a most relevant issue, both countries stress the urgent need to step up global climate change ambition to limit global warming to 1.5ºC, especially considering the outcome of COP26 in Glasgow. "We look forward to the outcome of COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh in November this year and to preparing for COP28 at Dubai Expo City in 2023," he said.

Quantum computer project highlights educational ties

Spain values the ongoing cooperation through the UAE’s Technological Innovation Institute (TII) in the project to build the first quantum computer in the country, the ambassador said. It is the best expression of joint potential in innovative, cutting-edge technologies, and their future impact on areas such as precision medicine, smart technologies, and artificial intelligence etc., he added.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the UAE Ministry of Education for cooperation in higher education and scientific research helps make direct links between institutions of both countries. It also supports joint research, exchanges and programmes, sharing information on national legislation and the standards for the licencing of institutions and for the adoption of their educational programmes to provide mutual recognition of scientific degrees, academic titles and diplomas of higher education, the diplomat noted.

Organised community

Elaborating on the Spanish community in the UAE, España said they are in various professional sectors, working with Spanish and foreign companies, in universities and the UAE public administration. There are doctors, owners of SMEs, lawyers, employees in the hospitality, finance and many varied sectors.

The Spanish Residents Council (CRE) is an independent body, elected directly by the Spanish community, which helps ensure adequate communication among them and cater for their needs.

The Spanish Business Council is a vibrant institution. The Association of Spanish Professors in the UAE has more than one hundred members, and the Spanish Association of Scientists and Researchers in the UAE has over eighty members, the envoy said.