By Sarkaritel March 15, 2018 10:45

French Connection


By Dr D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Politics, JMI) 

French President Emmanuel Macron has reinforced the strategic partnership his country signed with India in 1998. During his four-day visit he boldly asserted: “India is the strategic partner of France in Europe as well as in the West.” Twenty years later the partnership was just updated and deepened with greater defence cooperation.

Both France and India need each other, perhaps, more than before for respective interests. France always wanted to build a countervailing force to the US. It had hoped to do so through the European Union, With Brexit, and the financial crises afflicting many EU member States, Germany, the biggest economy of Europe running into politically shaky terrain following the general elections, European Union Project ran into rough weather.

France for the sake of sharing multi-polarity in the world needed to “align” with emerging powers with political values that will be accepted world over. India, an old and time-tested friend of France fits the bill. On the Indian part, New Delhi needs a foot-hold in Europe, again as an alternative source of support. Germany is caught in its internal problems, does not have much interest beyond Europe. Italy has been taken over by new right-wing five star party; Britain after its exit from EU, is busy re-organising its international priorities and partners, which leaves the other major power, France, an industrialised country, with a strong political system at home, a robust foreign policy, and a permanent member of the Security Council which could come in handy for India as a formidable ally.

Evidently, New Delhi and Paris have, of late, come closer, with good-will visits regularly. All recent French Presidents have been to India, the last being Francois Hollande as the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebration in 2016. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been twice to France in his premiership. India did not withdraw from the Paris climate change Agreement despite US walking out of it. What is more, India became the Head of International Solar Alliance.

During Macron’s visit, and the meeting of International Solar Alliance, in New Delhi, the quest for solar energy was taken forward by Macron and Modi. They got together 61 countries to commit to the solar mission, and fixed a budget of $1 trillion to advance it. New Delhi pledged US $1.4 billion as Paris did US$1.3 billion. As perhaps a demonstration project, to make up for India’s energy deficit, a huge solar plant, built by French Company ENGIE, was inaugurated at Dadar Kalan, Mirza Pur, Uttar Pradesh. It is one of the big projects, internationally, of 75 MW capacity, deploying 1.8 lakh solar panels, generating 15.6 crore units of electricity annually. It is a success story, if the plant runs without any impediment.

Despite the joint efforts of France and India, solar power remains less competitive with fossil fuel which is produced with less complication. The unit cost of production of solar energy is Rs. 2.40 which is still higher than thermal power. New Delhi and Paris signed 14 pacts covering railways, environment, aerospace, solar energy, trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and nuclear energy. Out of these agreements, the work is supposed to start right away for the world’s biggest nuclear plant at Jaitapur, Madban village of Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. It should generate 9.9 gigawatts of electricity. The Agreement was signed on 6 December 2010 between French President Nicholas Sarkozy and the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A consortium of French financial companies was to extend the fund as a loan to India. This was indeed a good project, the protests against hazards of nuclear projects notwithstanding. But the progress has been disappointingly slow, so, one is sceptical of the new commitment as many deadlines have been missed in the past. What is more, such massive support for Indian infrastructure by France is marred by Macron’s promise to ‘lead’ the ‘belt and road initiative’ of China.

Be that as it may, some other agreements with deep strategic significance are worth noting. Mark the extension of “reciprocal logistics support” to each other’s armies. NaMo held this Agreement as a “golden step” towards strategic partnership between the two countries. Add to that, “Reciprocal protection of classified and protected information”. These will mean New Delhi and Paris would exchange useful and sensitive information on terrorism, intelligence on army and maritime operation etc. Also, both nations can aid respective armies in times of emergencies and conflicts.

Third area of cooperation is in the Indian Ocean with the signing of Joint Vision Statement. In fact, France has significant presence in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean as well. It has 6 million sq kms of Exclusive Economic Zones, six times bigger than India’s in the ocean areas. France has presence in Mozambique Channel, which impacts the island States of Mauritius, Seychelles, and Persian Gulf, where India has considerable interest. France has presence in Djibouti and UAE, again close to India’s concerns. India’s scorpene Submarines are of French origin and will benefit from ‘French connection’ on maritime operation.

In particular, French role in South China Sea, a disputed area is noteworthy. France had mooted the idea of intervening in South China Sea to the EU, which the latter ignored in the name of neutrality. Not to be deterred, France teamed up with UK to send patrols to South China Sea. This is a bold step in maintaining deterrence against the aggressive posturing of China.

In order to maintain the momentum, it was decided to have biennial summits between the heads of both countries, and an annual bilateral defence Dialogue. India has the scope of securing defence support from France, which it could not easily from the US. France provides an alternative to India–US growing axis, reducing India’s dependence on the US, also a supplement for India to the ‘Quadri’ coalition comprising US, Japan and Australia in addition to India.

On trade, both countries committed to increasing it to 15 billion euro by 2022. The EU was created essentially to build new trade and divert trade from existing partners. India could not benefit from growth in EU trade for various reasons accounting for less than one per cent of EU exports. It is just that India enhances bilateral trade with countries like France and Germany. Modi had visited individual EU countries for such purposes. Macron in his presentation called upon SMEs and mid-cap companies to play a greater role in economic and commercial exchanges.

Finally, one aspect that has not been tapped in the visit is a common concern on ‘secularlism’. France had a Minister of ‘cabinet rank’, Jean Bianco’ to run the ‘secularism’ project in its country, redefining and repositioning secularism in French politics. India is facing a similar challenge. Both countries face the twin challenge of radicalisation and terrorism, and Macron made it more specific, Muslim ‘terrorism’.

Although the social-political contexts obtaining in both countries are starkly different, the challenge they face is similar. Hence, close cooperation in meeting this challenge is called for. One hopes, New Delhi and Paris would exchange experience in dealing with this huge social and cultural problem. Totally ignoring it may upset the applecart in both countries. —INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

By Sarkaritel March 15, 2018 10:45