Saturday, June 29, 2013

François Hollande cosies up to Qatar with his principles in his pocket

What price French socialism? That's the question President François Hollande is being asked as he tries to reconcile his "Mr Normal" image with his unashamed courting of the multibillionaires of Qatar.

Before coming to power last year, Hollande admitted: "I don't like the rich," and pledged a top income tax rate of 75%. That, like so many of his much-vaunted plans, hasn't quite worked (the legislation is still in the pipeline) but his antipathy towards the wealthy has already seen some flee the country, mainly to more liberal tax regimes including the UK and Russia.

In which case, those who remain ask, why on earth did Hollande look so gleeful last week on a visit to Qatar's outgoing emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, and his Harrow-educated son Sheikh Tamim? Hollande appeared to have shed all reservations about high-end, trans-border capitalism as he highlighted the "mutual respect and understanding" between France and Qatar, encouraging the liquid gas-rich emirate to pour its petrodollars into everything from prestige Paris real estate to the city's troubled immigrant suburbs. The equivalent of some £10bn has arrived over the last five years, with Qatari investors given every incentive to keep the cash coming, including the waiving of stamp duty on their property purchases in France.

Qatar is, of course, casting its asset net across the world. You can see its influence all over the UK – from Harrods to major sporting events such as the horse racing at Ascot, through almost every new luxury development in Knightsbridge and Chelsea – but there is something extremely peculiar about the most overtly leftwing head of state in Europe becoming so reliant on the Gulf state's largesse. While in Doha, Hollande even praised his detested conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy for doing so much towards strengthening Franco-Qatari relations, portraying him as some kind of economic visionary.

The reality, however, is that there's nothing astute about cosying up to the super-rich. It's just something that comes easily to the French political establishment, whether right or left. When I asked a senior Hollande aide how the president could square his once outspoken socialism with the financial clout of absolute and hereditary rule there was the predictable huffing and puffing about "knowing who our friends are" and "the need to be realistic".

This "realism" extends to the French supplying up to three-quarters of Qatar's armaments. One of the main reasons for Hollande's trip to Doha was to try to persuade the Qataris to replace their ageing Mirage fighters with Rafale ones, so signing military contracts that will be as lucrative as the ones Sarkozy wanted Muammar Gaddafi to sign for the same planes (Sarkozy failed, perhaps hastening his decision to destroy the colonel's Libyan dictatorship). It's all about realpolitik – something that invariably persuades politicians to betray their principles.

France is certainly in crisis too, with the cost of living spiralling along with the unemployment rate. Domestic recession has combined with the eurozone slump to send Hollande's approval rating into freefall, making him one of the most unpopular presidents in French history.

But just as Sarkozy – a man once laughably dubbed the "Gallic Margaret Thatcher" – achieved next to nothing during his single term in office, apart from a kind of showbiz ignominy (the Paris home he shares with his pop singer wife, Carla Bruni, was raided by anti-corruption police within a few days of him losing presidential immunity from prosecution), so Hollande appears set on a course of unprincipled mediocrity. His relations with Qatar do not necessarily rule out his claim to be a socialist, but they certainly suggest he's prepared to overlook it if the price is right.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Qatar Rail awards $8.2bn in Doha Metro contracts

Qatar Rail awarded four design and build contracts worth approximately $8.2 billion for the first phase  of the Doha metro.

The Doha Metro project will include four rail lines and an underground section in the center of the capital Doha. The lines will link stadiums for the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament to be held in the tiny Gulf state.

The Red Line North project has been awarded to a consortium led by Italian construction firm Impregilo S.P.A. and including South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction and Qatar’s Galfar al-Misnad Engineering and Contracting, it said.

The Red Line South project went to a consortium led by QDVC, a joint venture between Qatari Diar and France’s Vinci Construction Grands Projets, and including South Korea’s GS Engineering and Construction Corp and Qatar’s Al-Darwish Engineering, it said.

The Green Line project was awarded to a consortium led by PORR Bau GmbH and including Saudi Binladin Group and Qatar’s Hamad Bin Khalid Contracting.

A consortium led by South Korean construction firm Samsung C&T Corp and including Spain’s Obrascon Huarte LainS.A. (OHL) and Qatar Building Company was selected to design and build the metro’s major stations.

Qatar Rail did not provide values for each individual contract.

Expected to employ more than 20,000 workers at its peak, construction is scheduled to begin later this year for completion by 2019, it said.

Qatar and UK to promote cultural, educational links

HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), yesterday met with the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle in the UK to foster new avenues of collaboration and promote cultural and educational partnerships.
The visit underscores the importance of the cultural and educational relations between Qatar and the UK and reflects the close and historic ties between the two nations as they celebrate the Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture.
The meeting with the Prince of Wales is intended to further bolster relations, while providing a solid platform from which both countries can continue to pursue innovation in the fields of science, technology and education and build strategic alliances.
Through its involvement in Qatar UK 2013, QF is eager to continue promoting an awareness and appreciation of each nation’s culture, achievements and heritage. At the heart of its mission is the desire to develop the creative potential of youth and support their interests in a wide range of fields. By working with leading UK institutions to encourage greater cooperation in arts and culture, this mission can be further advanced.

During the meeting, HH Sheikha Moza shared several of QF’s forthcoming initiatives within the realms of education, science, research, arts and culture. Sheikha Moza also emphasised her commitment to dialogue and to the creation of fruitful agreements that can enhance the two-way flow of knowledge.
“Qatar greatly values its relationship with the UK as a long-term partner for mutual development, cultural partnerships and growth. Qatar Foundation is working to create a tangible legacy from the Year of Culture, by building strong bridges of co-operation with British institutions that can play a significant role in enhancing this legacy of common understanding.” said HH Sheikha Moza.

After the meeting, Dr Mohamed Fathy Saoud, president of QF, met with Andrew Wright, executive director of The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation and signed a memorandum of understanding that emphasised the importance of the working relationship between the two organisations in education, cultural awareness and community development.

Dr Saoud commended the Charitable Foundation for promoting understanding and fostering the exchange of knowledge between organisations with similar missions.

“Qatar Foundation is strongly committed to sharing knowledge and deeply appreciates the breadth of work that is being undertaken by institutions like the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation, which share common values for the advancement of quality education, culture, and community development,” he said.
“Qatar Foundation plays a fundamental role by building upon partnerships that have been identified as central to developing the skills of youth and achieving Qatar’s National Vision 2030.”

In the course of this flourishing bilateral relationship, both nations have reaped the rewards of advancements in multiple fields, such as information and computing technology, healthcare, and arts. Within the sphere of science and research, QF supports a large number of projects in collaboration with UK institutions and universities, which also serve Qatar’s needs in developing human capacity and earning recognition as an important generator of knowledge across the world. Both nations have a shared interest in developing excellence in a variety of fields, including museology and library and information studies.

A number of activities will be held in the coming months to further develop and build upon QF’s relationship with UK entities. In September, a series of UK-based lectures will be presented by scholars and senior researchers from Education City, who will discuss engaging topics that highlight advancements in the areas of computing, energy, environment, healthcare, medicine, architecture and urban planning.