With French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to India, the India-France Strategic Partnership launched in 1998 seems finally to have come of age.
Background of Indo-French cooperation –
- Defence cooperation with France began in the 1950s when India acquired the Ouragan aircraft and continued with the Mystères, Jaguar (Anglo-French), Mirage 2000, Alizè planes and the Alouette helicopter. Joint naval exercises, later christened VARUNA, date back to 1983.
- Cooperation in the space sector has continued since the 1960s when France helped India set up the Sriharikota launch site, followed by liquid engine development and hosting of payloads.
- After the Cold War, France decided that its preferred partner in the Indian Ocean Region would be India.
- In January 1998, President Jacques Chirac declared that India’s exclusion from the global nuclear order was an anomaly that needed to be rectified. After the nuclear tests in May 1998 France was the first major power to open dialogue and displayed a far greater understanding of India’s security compulsions compared to other countries.
- It was the first P-5 country to support India’s claim for a permanent seat in an expanded and reformed UN Security Council.
A journey to Indo-France partnership –
- An agreement for building six Scorpène submarines in India with French help was signed in 2005. Similarly, technology sharing and acquisitions of short range missiles and radar equipment were concluded.
- Joint exercises between the air forces and the armies were instituted in 2003 and 2011, respectively.
- The government-to-government agreement for 36 Rafale aircraft, salvaged out of the prolonged negotiations for the original 126 which were at an impasse, was as much driven by technical requirements as by political considerations. The ambitious offset target of 50% (nearly ₹25,000 crore), properly implemented, can help in building up India’s budding aerospace industry.
- In the nuclear field, an agreement was signed about a decade ago for building six EPR nuclear power reactors with a total capacity of 9.6 GW.
- Climate change and renewable energy resources, particularly solar, soon emerged as a new plank, reflected in the multilateral initiative of the International Solar Alliance.
- Another area identified was urban planning and management of services like housing, transport, water, sanitation, etc using the public private partnership model which the French have employed successfully.
Maritime security cooperation –
- Like India, France has expressed concern about China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean Region.
- French overseas territories in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans provide it with the second largest exclusive economic zone globally. It has long maintained bases in Reunion Islands and Djibouti and established one in Abu Dhabi in 2009. This regional dimension is reflected in the Vision Statement on cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.
- The signing of MoUs regarding the provision of reciprocal logistics support to each other’s armed forces, exchange and reciprocal protection of classified information and developing shared space studies and assets for maritime awareness provide the basis on which to strengthen joint naval exercises.
Growth in trade –
- Trade has grown in recent years but at $10 billion is half of the trade with Germany. The signing of nearly $16 billion worth of agreements at the business summit indicates that private sectors in both countries are beginning to take notice.
- In the past, Indian companies saw the U.K. as the entry point for Europe; now with Brexit approaching, Mr. Macron has cleverly pitched that India should look at France as its entry point for Europe.
Educational links –
- Potentially, the most significant was the focus on youth and student exchanges. Currently about 2,500 Indians go to France annually to pursue higher education, compared to more than 250,000 from China.
- A target has been set to raise it to 10,000 by 2020. The agreement on mutual recognition of academic degrees and the follow-on Knowledge Summit, where 14 MoUs between educational and scientific institutions were signed, is a welcome move.
- Tourism is another area that has received attention. A target of a million Indian tourists and 335,000 French tourists has been set for 2020.
- It is important to note that while there are only about 20 flights a week between India and France, there are four times as many to Germany and 10 times as many to the U.K.
The Strategic Partnership has already created a solid foundation; other aspects have now received the much needed focus and with proper implementation, it can add to the growing strategic convergence that draws India and France together.