Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France was on an official visit to India from April 13-15, 2021. During bilateral talks with India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar, hosted the visiting Foreign Minister for bilateral talks both Ministers recognised the immense opportunities for greater collaboration in diverse sectors such as trade and investments, defence and security, health, education, research and innovation, energy and climate change
- France has always been sympathetic to similar Indian claims based on its ancient civilisation.
- Defence cooperation with France began in the 1950s when India acquired the Ouragan aircraft and continued with the Mystères, Jaguar (Anglo-French), Mirage 2000.
- Both countries started joint naval exercises ‘Varuna’ in 1983.
- France has historically shown more understanding of our strategic programmes than others. It was the first western country with which we established a Strategic Partnership.
- France is the first country with which we initiated a Strategic Dialogue after our 1998 nuclear tests when France refused to impose bilateral any sanctions on us and displayed a far greater understanding of India’s security compulsions compared to other countries.
- France helped India set up the Sriharikota launch site assisted in engine development and hosting of payloads.
- After the Cold War, France decided that its preferred partner in the Indian Ocean Region would be India.
- It was the first P-5 country to support India’s claim for a permanent seat in an expanded and reformed UN Security Council.
- Indo-French naval cooperation is aimed at securing the critical sea lanes, the need to effectively combat security threats piracy, trans-national crime and terrorism and also to build security capacities in the Indian Ocean.
- The more substantive pay-off of a nautical pact with France for India is a potential expansion of the Indian Navy’s operational footprint across the Indo-Pacific region.
- Future discussions might result in the signing of a reciprocal agreement granting French naval vessels access to Indian ports for repair and resupply, and Indian vessels the right to routinely use France’s Indian Ocean military bases like Djibouti where china has a base.
- French facilities are likely to add to India’s network of nautical outposts in the IOR, including in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Seychelles, where India plans to build and operate a military base.
- French companies, such as Dassault Aviation etc are extremely competitive and the country’s defence industry has a reliable record of production and supply with firms having particular expertise in navigating India’s defence market for instance the contracts for the Rafale aircraft and Scorpene submarines (Project-75).
- A nautical pact with France sends a strong message to India’s geopolitical antagonists in maritime Asia. India will be hoping for a closer engagement in the Western Indian Ocean, where France has one of the most forward-deployed armed forces in the world.
- India’s naval leadership would be keen to expand the scope and complexity of the Indo-French bilateral naval exercise VARUNA
- A partnership with the French navy in littoral South-East Asia would allow the Indian Navy to influence the security-dynamic of the Pacific, even extending operations to the Southern Pacific Islands.
India – France strategic 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 (Garuda series) and the armies (Shakti) were instituted in 2003 and 2011, respectively.
- The government-to-government agreement for 36 Rafale aircrafts has taken place. The ambitious offset target of 50% (nearly ₹25,000 crore), properly implemented, can help in building up India’s budding aerospace industry.
- An agreement was signed about a decade ago for building six EPR (European Pressurized Reactors) nuclear power reactors with a total capacity of 9.6 GW for which negotiations have been on-going between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and Areva.
- On green energy, the International Solar Alliance is set in motion jointly by India and France.
- France offered an extra $861.5 million by 2022 for solar projects in developing countries.
- The agreement on the industrial way forward between NPCIL and EdF(Areva) affirms that work at Jaitapur will commence before the end of 2018.
- 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.
- Strengthening cooperation with France, particularly in the western Indian Ocean Region makes eminent strategic sense even as India develops its presence in Oman (Duqm) and Seychelles (Assumption Island).
- More synergy between the two navies in the Gulf area where France has a base (in Abu Dhabi) and better mutual understanding of the implications of a Chinese base in Gwadar is important for India.
Trade between two countries:
- Trade has grown in recent years but at $10 billion is half of the trade with Germany.
- Nearly $16 billion worth of agreements at the business summit were signed. There are nearly 1,000 French companies present in while over a hundred Indian businesses have established a presence in France.
- In the past, Indian companies saw the U.K. as the entry point for Europe; now with Brexit approaching, India can also look at France as its entry point for Europe.
- Earlier France assisted India to setup Sriharikota launch site.
- Today, it is a relationship of near equals and the ‘vision statement’ refers to world class joint missions for space situational awareness, high resolution earth observation missions with applications in meteorology, oceanography and cartography.
- Inter-planetary exploration and space transportation systems are cutting edge science and technology areas that have also been identified.
- Another area identified was urban planning and management of services like housing, transport, water, sanitation using the public private partnership model which the French have employed successfully.
- The flagship programme of Smart Cities in which France is focussing on Chandigarh, Nagpur and Puducherry is taking shape as more than half the business agreements signed related to electric mobility, water supply, waste management and smart grids.
- The most significant agreement 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.
- The agreement on mutual recognition of academic degrees and the follow-on Knowledge Summit, where 14 MoUs between educational and scientific institutions were signed.
- 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. So no of flights between India and France has to be increased.
- While the governments share a robust relationship, the business relationships are weak. Bilateral trade is less than half of India’s trade with Germany. The target of €12 billion set in 2008 remains elusive.
- French FDI has picked up in recent years, but hardly does justice to the fact that there are more than 800 French enterprises in India.
French social security laws, long-term student visas, and the facility to work for two-three years to pay off student loans are some of the areas that need to be worked out so that more effective cooperation can take place between the two countries.