Veronique Aulagnon, a distinguished professional with a Master’s from École Normale Supérieure, began an illustrious foreign affairs career in 2005 at the National School of Administration.
As a Conseillère des affaires étrangères hors classe, she showcased exceptional leadership at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, advancing from Economic and Financial Affairs to advising the EU Special Representative and contributing to global economic strategies.
Veronique Aulagnon held key diplomatic roles in Rabat, Washington, and as an advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. From 2016 to 2020, she played a crucial role in Beirut, enhancing cultural exchange and diplomatic ties.
Fluent in English, German, and Finnish, Aulagnon’s multilingual proficiency enriches global communication.
Given the significant presence of French companies in Oman and the burgeoning business opportunities, could you elaborate on your immediate priorities as the Ambassador of France to Oman, particularly regarding business relations, and the key sectors where French companies are actively seeking contracts and investments?
Veronique Aulagnon: As the Ambassador of France to Oman, I have three primary priorities. Firstly, to further strengthen our long-standing and robust political relationship. Secondly, to advance our business partnership. And thirdly, to enhance people-to-people connections, including academic exchange and cultural understanding.
As far as business is concerned, we have a strong foundation. While our bilateral trade remains limited, it is growing. Last year, our trade volume reached half a billion euros, and it is worth noting that it increased by almost 50% after a challenging period during the COVID-19 pandemic. The main element of our business relationship is investment. Over 40 French companies have established a presence in Oman, and 100 of them engage in trade with Oman, either from the region or directly from Paris.
While our bilateral trade remains limited, it is growingVeronique Aulagnon
To provide some insight into our footprint, French companies have a strong presence in key sectors such as energy, including oil and gas, electricity production, waste management, water desalination, and security. For example, Total Energy, a major French company, has a longstanding and substantial partnership with Oman LNG and PDO. Engie, together with Omani partners, is a major producer of the Sultanate’s electricity. Similarly, Veolia is a major player in the field of water production and waste management.
In addition, French companies excel in security, including military and broader security solutions, with prominent companies like Thales, Safran, MDBA, and Airbus, to name only a few. The luxury sector is another strong element of our presence, and we have excellent engineering, construction, tech, and advertising companies.
To address your question about where our companies are currently seeking contracts and investments, French companies are looking at the whole spectrum of Oman’s Vision 2040.
Energy remains a primary area of interest. This includes not only fossil fuels but also renewable energy and hydrogen. EDF Renewables, a major French energy producer, recently won a tender to build and operate the Manah 1 Solar Farm as part of a consortium. This marks EDF’s first entry into Oman, and they are keen on expanding their presence and exploring future opportunities. Engie also secured a tender for the production of green hydrogen in Duqm, being part of a consortium that includes South Korean and Thai companies. We anticipate further interest from French companies in upcoming tenders. They have world-renowned expertise on the whole value chain.
French companies are looking at the whole spectrum of Oman’s Vision 2040Veronique Aulagnon
Apart from energy, we are exploring opportunities in other sectors, such as space, with the project for Oman to acquire its own satellite, transportation, including the new railway project and the potential tramway project in the future, and high-value infrastructures.
I could mention many more areas of interest, but I would like to highlight the fishery industry. The port of Lorient in France was chosen as the main partner for Oman to build and operate the first industrial fishery port in Duqm, and the project is progressing well. An Omani delegation recently visited Brittany, France, and received strong interest from French companies to invest and establish themselves in Oman.
We actively encourage French companies to explore and engage in these sectors, and we provide support whenever there are requests.
The French-Omani Friendship Association plays a pivotal role in enhancing bilateral relations. Could you share your strategies for engaging more community members in this association, particularly in terms of supporting business opportunities and cultural exchanges?
Veronique Aulagnon: The French-Omani Friendship Association (OFA) was established a few years ago, and it is extremely dynamic thanks to a strongly committed Board. We have two main focuses. The first one is to strengthen our business relationship, through B2B (business-to-business) interactions, and the second is to foster people-to-people connections.
The OFA organizes monthly events, which are well-attended. Now, we are working with the Board to further reinforce the OFA in three areas.
We want to leverage our members to identify new opportunities and assist French companies looking to export and invest in OmanVeronique Aulagnon
The first one is to elevate the association’s profile as a platform for B2B connections between France and Oman. We want to leverage our members to identify new opportunities and assist French companies looking to export and invest in Oman, helping them establish valuable contacts.
Oman may not always appear as the first choice on the Gulf map, so we need to provide French companies with a better understanding of the opportunities here before they decide to travel to Oman.
our second priority is engaging with a broader audience. The OFA recently signed an MoU with Muscat University, through which our members will aim to provide internships to students. We also recently had our annual event on women’s leadership, once again very successful, where we explored the possibility of establishing a mentorship program.
So, it is not just about B2B contacts; we are also using our network and our members to play a role in the community. This is very important for us and a way to expand the association’s influence.
Our third element that I would like to emphasize is the Francophonie. We have many French speakers in our association, including Omanis who were born and raised in East Africa or non-Omanis residing in Oman. We aim to provide a platform for them to continue speaking French and maintain a link to French culture. Additionally, we are planning new activities for them in the future, including networking events.
We aim to provide a platform for them to continue speaking French and maintain a link to French cultureVeronique Aulagnon
Regarding business opportunities, let me highlight that France will host a major business forum targeting the GCC region on the 4th and 5th of June in Paris. This is the second edition of the forum, and we are working to ensure strong participation from the Omani business community to elevate the level of engagement between our two business communities.
Could you provide more insights into the initiatives aimed at fostering these exchanges and academic partnerships?
Veronique Aulagnon: So, this aligns with our top three priorities at the embassy, which is enhancing people-to-people connections. This is crucial for any bilateral relationship. France is a major hub for international students, with over 400,000 students from foreign countries currently studying in France. We boast some of the world’s finest universities. We welcome around 100 Omani students, many of them benefiting from successful programs supported by the Omani government, particularly in medicine and vocational training. These programs are expanding, but there is still room for improvement.
Our ranking among European destinations is commendable, alongside Germany and the Netherlands. However, I believe that we can further enhance it, capitalizing on the presence of prominent French brands in the region. To name a few, we have institutions like Sorbonne Abu Dhabi in the Emirates and INSEAD and HEBC, among the world’s top business schools, in the Emirates and Qatar. We even have a coding school in the Emirates. I think we can leverage these resources more effectively.
To boost student mobility, we need better marketing, increased scholarships, and strengthened partnerships.
We welcome around 100 Omani students, many of them benefiting from successful programs supported by the Omani governmentVeronique Aulagnon
Marketing plays a pivotal role because many Omani students tend to gravitate toward English-speaking countries like the US and the UK, which is entirely reasonable. Thus, we need to step up our efforts to promote studying in France. It is worth noting that many of our master’s programs are taught in English. We take pride in having some of the world’s best universities, and we have taken significant steps to encourage international students to come to France. For example, we offer full fee waivers for PhD students and support up to 70% of master’s level fees, which is substantial.
We will be hosting a two-day student forum in Muscat in December to showcase the opportunities for studying in France. We will be welcoming both prospective students and their parents. Moreover, we are also launching a social media campaign to enhance our marketing efforts.
The second element is scholarships. To expand France as a destination, we are working with the Omani government and French companies to introduce additional scholarship schemes.
The third element is partnerships. Our experience has shown that to facilitate more student mobility, you need to establish stronger cooperation between universities. We are actively working to foster these connections. In December, back to back to our student forum, we will organize a meeting between French universities and “grandes écoles”, which are specific to the French higher education system, and their Omani counterparts. This initiative receives strong support from Her Excellency the Minister of Higher Education. Building partnerships also enables us to tap into European schemes like Erasmus+ for increased student mobility.
We have seen investments from Omani businesses in France, including the Sovereign FundVeronique Aulagnon
Could you elaborate on the key sectors or industries in France that offer significant potential for Omani businesses to expand or invest in? Are there specific programs or initiatives in place to encourage and support Omani entrepreneurs and investors looking to engage with the French market?
Veronique Aulagnon: We have seen investments from Omani businesses in France, including the Sovereign Fund. Historically, these investments have been primarily in the hospitality sector, but we are also exploring new areas. Omantel, for example, has made investments in France. We are actively running a robust campaign to attract investments in France.
For several years now, we have consistently been the number-one destination in Europe across various sectors. In addition to a number of reforms to improve the business environment, we offer numerous incentives, including subsidies to attract foreign companies. These initiatives have resulted in a significant uptick in investments and are led at the highest level. Every year, our President hosts a summit known as “Choose France”.
Our primary focus lies in innovative and emerging sectors. In France, we are committed to developing various elements of the new economy and relocating certain value chains in response to the vulnerabilities exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are particularly interested in digital transformation, nanotechnologies, and energy, in addition to our already robust sectors, including luxury, hospitality, pharmaceuticals, high-end industry, and the spatial industry. We have received a substantial amount of investment from the region, and I am optimistic that we will continue to attract more investments, including from Oman.
We are actively exploring win-win partnerships and are keen to learn from Oman’s experiencesVeronique Aulagnon
In this regard, we are actively exploring win-win partnerships and are keen to learn from Oman’s experiences, especially regarding bilateral funds where we believe there can be mutual benefits for both economies.
How does your strategy for the upcoming year aim to further promote the Sustainable Growth Initiative between France and Oman?
Veronique Aulagnon: First and foremost, I want to express our admiration for Oman’s strategy in this area. Oman’s target for carbon neutrality by 2050, as set by His Majesty, and the roadmap to scale up renewables, are impressive. The process for auctioning slots for green hydrogen production is well executed. French companies are highly interested.
His Excellency the Minister of Energy and Minerals Salim Al Aufi visited France last June to attend a meeting organized by the International Energy Agency for Energy and had an intense series of meetings with major French companies. Our Deputy Minister for Trade and Investment Olivier Becht recently met with Minister of Energy and Minerals Salim Al Aufi on October 10th to discuss how to further develop our strong business relationship in the field of energy.
Oman’s target for carbon neutrality by 2050, as set by His Majesty, and the roadmap to scale up renewables, are impressiveVeronique Aulagnon
In our work plan, we have upcoming events to look forward to. In addition to the Green Hydrogen Summit in Muscat in December, the COP 28in the Emirates presents a great opportunity for more business-to-business meetings. Additionally, in February 2024, French companies will be visiting Oman, led by Medef International, the French Business Confederation, that set up an Oman-France Business Council together with the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This mission in Oman will mainly focus on energy, renewables, and hydrogen.
We must continue this work, recognize the potential for greater engagement on both sides, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and maintain a strong level of dialogue regarding our strategies.