An INDIAN insight into Europe


The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to India from 9-12 March 2018 provided an opportunity for stock taking of the two decade old strategic partnership. The need to enhance and reset the Indo-French Strategic Partnership 2.0 was necessary with the changing power equations at the regional and global level.

India and France have had a valued relationship that has grown to accommodate each other’s concerns. The current visit has produced major agreements that span the political, security, economic, trade, energy and civil society sectors. Unlike the seven day visit of the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February, PM Modi spent a substantial amount of time with President Macron and the contrast was very stark and optically visible.

The Modi treatment was also on display with numerous photo ops beginning with the Prime Minister personally receiving the guest at the airport. In 2017, Modi visited Paris shortly after Macron became President and there was a feeling of good chemistry between both leaders. While personal chemistry is important, translating that into a political output is crucial and this is where the current visit seeks to build on that rapport and scale up the bilateral engagement.

Enhancing the Political–Strategic Partnership

Modi wants France to invest in India's growth and development through his governments flagship initiatives - Make in India, Skill India and Smart Cities. Both sides agreed to hold biennial summits and also concluded an Agreement regarding the Exchange and Reciprocal Protection of Classified or Protected Information. Seen in the context of the fight against terrorism, this will be a useful instrument of bilateral cooperation.

Given that India wants to enhance and build the defence engagement, this aspect was given a boost with the starting of a ministerial level annual defence dialogue. This assumes importance as India has been especially looking for transfer of technology in defence sector. Modi will push for enhancing the India portfolio of France and to get Paris to stand with it on critical regional and international issues. PM Modi thanked France for enabling India’s accession to all critical regulatory bodies in the domain of nuclear non- proliferation- the MTCR in June 2016, to the Wassenaar Arrangement in December 2017 and to the Australia Group in January 2018.

A significant convergence of interests between Delhi and Paris was underlined by the Agreement that provides for reciprocal logistics support between the Armed Forces and regular joint military exercises. The intensification of joint exercises between all three defence sectors acknowledges that France is becoming a growing defence partner. The second Varuna naval exercise in India has begun in March and will continue till May 2018. This comes on the heels of the Varuna naval exercise held in France in April 2017 and the Shakti army exercise held in France in January 2018. The next Garuda air force exercise will take place in France in 2019. The French role in the indigenisation and manufacture of weapons systems and hardware acquisition has become even more important given the developments in South east Asia. INS Kalvari, the first Scorpene submarine made in India by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd. Was done in collaboration with the French shipbuilder Naval Group.

The political and strategic content of the partnership has seen a significant enhancement. India’s aversion to sharing military resources and in this instances the use of naval bases on both sides indicates the jettisoning of mindset in Delhi that had a strong aversion to overt alliance building. "Defence cooperation between the two countries now has a new significance," Macron said. "A strong part of our security and the world's stability is at stake in the Indian Ocean and ... The Indian Ocean, like the Pacific Ocean, cannot become a place of hegemony," he added in a obvious reference to China. Under the deal, India and France will open their naval bases to warships from each other, a move seen as an attempt to undermine China's territorial ambitions.

In a major shift, India is seeking to strengthen its presence in the Indian Ocean. This is of critical consequence to strengthen the Indian footprint and presence and counter the Chinese growing maritime influence in the Indian Ocean and strengthen the Indo-Pacific engagement through a framework of bilateral cooperation. Reconfiguring the bilateral relation to the changing geopolitical shift in the Indian Ocean signals a convergence of interest on both sides. The leaders reiterated the “safety of international sea lanes for unimpeded commerce and communications in accordance with the international law, for countering maritime terrorism and piracy, for building maritime domain awareness, for capacity building and for greater coordination in regional/international fora in the region”.

Climate Change and Clean Energy

Climate and environment has assumed priority in the expanding bilateral cooperation.  India has affirmed to stay in the Paris accord as attention has shifted to other countries since Trump pulled America out of climate regime. In this context the launch of the International Solar Alliance and the inauguration of a solar power plant in UP signalled not only clean energy but the Climate accord commitment of India. Strengthen the civil nuclear partnership in the power sector - Jaitapur project and strengthen space collaboration, were two other agenda items.

France and India seek to enhance the Partnership

The French President’s visit also had multiple objectives as evidenced by the meetings that had been lined up. Strengthen the strategic partnership, and bring projects and benefit from India's growing economic presence, but also partner it for the future. Enhance the business exposure on both sides and the business delegation coming with him is a signal of this intention through the CEO meeting. On the other hand getting the long awaited Rafale aircraft inducted into the air force gained more attention, but for President Macron this was disappointing as it did not translate into additional orders. France reiterated its support for  Macron was also looking to learn about India and engaged the youth through a town hall India’s candidature for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council meeting. At the civil society level, enabling a generation of students to benefit from studying in the other country through recognition of degrees will be an attempt to intensify the connection between both societies. On the final day of his visit, President Macron’s visited Modi’s constituency-Varanasi and took part in the Clean Ganga mission and both leaders also under took some river diplomacy. 


Taking the bilateral relation from a position of no- differences between New Delhi and Paris to seeking convergence of interests on certain strategic issues signals a maturing of the strategic partnership over two decades and building a bilateral platform in the face of growing disruptions coming from China, Russia and the US.


20. 03. 2018