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Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Macron’s Visit To India Is A Signal For World Powers

Let me start shaking my pen by first and foremost pointing out most emphatically that India and France have traditionally shared very good equations and chemistry with each other not since last few decades but in last few hundred years. We all know fully well how Tipu Sultan and his father Haider Ali took help from France in boosting their forces and defence more than two hundred years ago! France has always been India’s most trusted ally like Russia but still it has not been given much prominence in media unlike Russia which has enjoyed maximum media publicity in this respect!

                                         As it turned out, the French President Emmanuel Macron paid a state visit to India on March 9 which continued till March 12, 2018. It may be recalled here that the last visit of French President to India was in January 2016 when the President of France had come to India as Chief Guest in the Republic day festival. It may also be recalled here that immediately after Emmanuel Macron became the President of France, India’s PM Narendra Modi had gone to France on a tour in June 2017.

                            Be it noted, PM Modi broke all protocols to receive French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife in the airport. It cannot be downplayed that when India had tested nuclear weapons in 1998, it was France alone among all the European countries which had refused flatly to impose any bilateral sanctions on India! Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron met with each other at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. Both leaders met each other very warmly and vowed to take the cooperation and bilateral relations between the two countries to a new height never witnessed before.

                                            It is most heartening to note that the barbs exchanged between the Opposition parties and the Government over the off-the-shelf purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft had just no impact of any kind on their bilateral talks. Macron was accompanied by a 40-member business delegation to India. Deals worth $ 16 billion were signed. These include a contract for France’s Safran to supply engines to SpiceJet, a water system modernisation project by Suez in Davangere in Karnataka and a contract between Air Liquide and Sterlite.

                                 Truth be told, the French President President Emmanuel Macron minced no words in stating it most explicitly that he considered India its strategic partner in South Asia and wanted to be its partner in Europe. Macron also praised the ‘Make in India’ initiative of PM Modi. Nearly 1000 French companies have invested about $ 7 billion in India till now. French research and development institutions were working in high-tech areas, including space and nuclear programmes.

                                             It is noteworthy that both sides also announced a vision document on cooperation on a number of space-research related issues, including space security. The space agreement is designed to support joint maritime operations as it will help in maritime surveillance for the Indian Ocean region.  The French Development Agency (AFD) is helping India finance a semi high-speed railway line between New Delhi and Chandigarh.

                                            Before proceeding ahead, let us now discuss the 14 agreements/MoUs (Memorandum of Understandings) that have been signed between India and France. It will help us understand better as to what all has been worked out between the two countries that has been inked also. Those 14 pacts or agreements/MoUs that have been signed are as follows: -  

1.  Agreement on the Prevention of Illicit Consumption and Reduction of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Chemical Precursors and Related Offences. It will also impact the financing of terrorism and therefore is very crucial.

2.  India-France Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement which will certainly facilitate temporary circular migration based on mobility and encourage return of skills to the home country.

3.  Agreement to facilitate mutual recognition of academic qualifications. This again is very landmark and will help the students of both the countries immensely as recognition enables one to get any job of his/her liking in either India or France.

4.  MoU between Ministry of Railways and SNCF Motilities France on technical cooperation in Railways. This will help deepen the cooperation and focus on high speed and semi-high speed rail; station renovation modernization of current operations and infrastructure; and suburban trains.

5.  Letter of Intent (LoI) for creation of a permanent Indo-French Railways Forum.

6.  Agreement regarding the provision of reciprocal logistics support between their Armed Forces.

7.  MoU on Cooperation in the field of Environment.

8.  Agreement in the field of Sustainable Urban Development to allow exchange of information on smart city development, development of urban mass transportation systems, urban settlements and utilities.

9.  MoU between National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE), Ministry of New & Renewable Energy and the National Solar Energy Institute (INES), France. Both countries to work on projects in International Solar Alliance (ISA) member countries in areas of solar energy through transfer of technology and collaborative activities.

10.                   Industrial Way Forward Agreement between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and EDF France. It prescribes a way forward for the proper implementation of the Jaitapur nuclear power project.

11.                   Agreement between ISRO and Central National D’ Etudes Spatiales (CNES) for pre-formulation studies of a Maritime Awareness Mission. To provide end-to-end solution for detection, identification and monitoring of vessels in the regions of interest for France and India.

12.                   Credit Facility Agreement of Euros 100 million for funding of the Smart City Projects through a Challenge Process.

13.                   Bilateral agreement on cooperation in the matter of Hydrography and Maritime Cartography. To encourage cooperation in the field of hydrography, nautical documentation and maritime safety information.

14.                   Agreement regarding the exchange and reciprocal protection of classified or protected information.

                                 While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me also inform them that the focus of the visit was as much on building a personal rapport between the two leaders as it is on stepping up the Indo-French defence and security partnership. Modi spoke about the warm reception Macron gave him when he travelled to Paris last year. Modi said that, “You welcomed me in Paris last year with an open heart and a lot of warmth. I am happy that I have got an opportunity to welcome you in India.”

                                    For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that Macron was just 39 when he became President in 2017, making him the youngest French leader since Napolean Bonaparte. He spoke about his “very good chemistry” with Modi. PM Modi also said confidently after his meeting with Macron that, “I consider today’s agreement of the reciprocal logistics support between our armies as a golden step in the history of our close defence cooperation”.   

                              Truly speaking, while underlining the “long standing relationship” between France and India, human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar termed the “mutual recognition of educational qualifications” between France and India as historic. He said that, “It is historic…for the first time, a government to government MoU (memorandum of understanding) has been signed to mutually recognize academic qualifications. It will help the student community. There used to be only bilateral arrangements between institutions to institutions.” He also expressed hope that, “I hope more and more countries, like France, will come forward for mutual recognition of academic qualifications so that the mobility of students and professionals improves.”

                                          Of course, Frederique Vidal who is French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation too said that France is eager to attract more Indian students to study there. In 2017, 5,000 Indian students went to France to pursue higher education which is a 60% jump over the previous year. France wishes to take this number to 10,000 by 2020. If France succeeds in attracting that many students, it may be placed among top five countries for Indian students seeking foreign degrees and may become a key challenger to UK as an abroad educational destination for Indians. I have not even an iota of doubt in my mind that France is more trustworthy than UK which is known always to harbour Indian absconders like Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya etc and is always known for its biased approach against India which is not hidden from anyone!

                           Needless to say, the move to mutually recognize educational qualifications between India and France will also allow better professional mobility meaning more doctors, lawyers, researchers, scientists and other skilled professionals from both the countries may move to practice or stay in each other countries. Both countries realize the tremendous benefits from it. This alone explains why it has been made operational now finally! No doubt, this is one of the best “icing on the cake” that has emerged from Macron’s visit to India.

                                To say the least, the visit by Macron to India ensured that both India and France joined hands in ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region. Both sides also announced a new phase of cooperation in space security focused on the maritime domain and a fresh logistics agreement that will allow their defence forces to closely cooperate on mutually agreed operations. PM Narendra Modi while announcing the initiative that will open up vast French maritime domain in the Indian Ocean region to India said that, “Whether it is the environment or maritime security, or marine resources, or the freedom of navigation and over flight, we are committed to strengthening our cooperation in all these areas. And, therefore, today, we are releasing a Joint Strategic Vision for our cooperation in the Indian Ocean area.”

                                      Simply put, a joint statement issued at the end of the official talks said that, “The Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region stated that India and France share common concerns on freedom of navigation in the region and will tackle challenges to over-flight and threat of weapons of mass destruction. The agreement has a vast scope stretching from ‘countering maritime terrorism and piracy’ to ‘building maritime domain awareness’.” The statement also said that it would support “greater coordination in regional/international for a in the region”. This is the second major maritime agreement India has signed in the last six months following the Quadrilateral agreement with Australia, Japan and the US in October 2017.

                                           It must be underscored that the agreement provides for the reciprocal provision of logistics support, supplies and services between the armed forces of the two countries during authorized port visits, joint exercises, joint training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. Under the terms of the agreement, Indian warships will have access to French naval bases in the Indian Ocean. The agreement will help India expand its footprint in the region. From Reunion Island to the naval base Heron in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. France has key naval bases.

                                Bluntly put, while presenting the French perspective on maritime and military cooperation, French President Emmanuel Macron in an apparent reference to China said that, “The Pacific and the Indian Oceans cannot become zones for hegemonic power and we are, therefore, building a strategic partnership. The same is true for our defence cooperation signed a while ago.” The logistics support agreement is likely to extend both Indian and French ability to respond to common challenges. A statement said categorically that, “The agreement seeks to extend logistical support on reciprocal access to respective facilities for Indian and French armed forces.” Sources indicate that while reviewing the ongoing military contracts and discussing the commissioning of INS Kalvari which is the first Scorpene submarine made in India, Macron suggested extending the bilateral contract for the supply of more of these conventional submarines.    

                                       It must be underlined here that over 90% of India’s trade by volume and 68% of trade by value is via the Indian Ocean, where China has been wooing littoral states in an attempt to increase its strategic footprint. The joint strategic vision for Indian Ocean calls for France and India committing “to utilizing every opportunity of their naval ships calling at each other’s ports for holding passage exercises. Absolutely right!

                             Going forward, the vision document said that, “In order to widen and deepen strategic naval cooperation, India and France will be open to inviting strategic partner countries in the region to participate in Indo-French exercises”. The vision document also while explaining the two countries mutual interest in the region said that, “India occupies a central position in the Indo-Pacific, given its coastline of 7500 kms, more than 1,380 islands and two million square km of Exclusive Economic Zone. It plays a pivotal role for the peace, security and prosperity of the region. France, a State of the Indian Ocean rim, is an important player in this region.”                         

                                       It cannot be lost on us that while pointing out the political acceptability of France across the Indian political spectrum and the historic role it has played in providing sensitive technologies for both space and military programmes, a senior military scientist said that, “These agreements will bring back the momentum”.  There can be no denying it. The two sides also signed a new protocol for the exchange of classified information between the two sides.  

                                        We also cannot be oblivious to the glaring fact that the two sides also agreed on the need for early conclusion of the ongoing discussions between DRDO and French firm Safran for combat engines for the indigenous Tejas fighters. They presently fly on GE manufactured American engines. The military scientist pointed out that, “If the M88 engines of Safran are to be produced in India with full ToT (transfer of technology) that might solve a lot of our concerns regarding the Tejas programme.” So India has a lot to gain by the agreement between both the countries!     

                                       Full attention must also be paid to the glaring fact that while marking the 20th anniversary of their strategic partnership, India and France stepped up their engagement to a new level by swiftly concluding the reciprocal logistics support between their armed forces. In contrast, India and the US took almost 15 years and still could conclude a curtailed version of it. A senior military officer said that, “India’s agreement with France does not suffer from the political sensitivities the way our agreement with the US does.”   

                                       It must be added here that France is the 9th biggest foreign investor in India. France has invested about $ 6 billion from 2000 to 2016. After that from April 2016 to March 2017 there was a $ 11 billion bilateral business between both the countries. About 1000 French companies are in India and about 120 Indian companies have invested in France. Indian companies have invested about Rs 8500 crore and given jobs to 7000 people. About 1.1 lakh people of Indian origin are employed in France.              

                                  It must be highlighted here that as victims of major terror attacks, both India and France on March 10 urged the international community to do more to stem terrorism financing even as the two nations resolved to launch a new cooperation effort to prevent and fight radicalization, particularly online. In their joint statement, PM Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron called upon all the countries to work towards rooting out terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting terrorist networks, ands halting cross-border movement of terrorists like al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, as well as other terrorist groups threatening peace in South Asia and the Sahel region.        

                              Going two steps forward, both the leaders also said that in addition to pursuing “excellent cooperation” between the elite intervention forces – India’s National Security Guards and its French counterpart GIGN – and the investigation agencies, they will enhance cooperation between the Indian and French counter-terrorism agencies. The two sides have also decided to intensify cooperation in cyber security and intelligence sharing.

                                     Most of all, the two sides agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism in multilateral for a such as UN, GCTF, FATF andG20 and called upon all United Nations member countries to implement the UNSC Resolution 1267 and other relevant resolutions designating terrorist entities. The leaders also agreed to work together on early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in the UN. Both sides fully and firmly reiterated their call for a global fight against radicalization, terrorism and safe havens for terrorists!          

                                     To put things in perspective, with regard to civil nuclear cooperation, an agreement for which was signed in 2008, the two leaders expressed satisfaction over the conclusion of the Industrial Way Forward Agreement between India’s NPCIL and French EDF for the implementation of six nuclear power reactor units at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. The two leaders reiterated the goal of commencing works at the Jaitapur site by the end of 2018 and encouraged NPCIL and EDF to accelerate the contractual discussions in that respect. Once installed, the Jaitapur project will be the largest nuclear power plant in the world, with a total capacity of 9.6 GW. One of the major sticking points of the project was India’s rules and regulations on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages applicable to the Jaitapur project on which the two sides have now reached an understanding.    

                                     As for cooperation in the field of Space, the two sides released a “Joint Vision” document which spells out the concrete areas of future cooperation in this area. Modi and Macron acknowledged, in particular, the ongoing cooperation between their space agencies to realize the third joint satellite mission – Trishna meant for eco-system stress and water use monitoring and also accommodation of French instrument on India’s OCEANSAT-3 satellite. Both sides reiterated to extend it even further.

                                       With regard to cooperation in educational, science and technology, cultural and people to people exchanges, both Modi and Macron welcomed the signing of a bilateral partnership agreement on migration and mobility which will facilitate student and professional mobility between France and India by simplifying the conditions for entry and long-term stay in the two countries. They underscored the necessity of greater youth exchange programmes for promotion of understanding of each other’s cultures and welcomed the launch of the “France-India Programme for the Future”, a French initiative aimed at fostering youth exchanges. The leaders also encouraged universities to increase the number of student exchanges, with the aim of reaching 10,000 students by 2020.

                                 It is heartening to learn that Modi and Macron also noted the strong upsurge in tourist exchanges between the two countries. A target of one million Indian tourists in France and 3,35,000 French tourists in France and 3,35,000 French tourists in India by 2020 has been set. With an already robust economic partnership between the two countries and growing bilateral trade, the two leaders felt that this momentum should be sustained with the aim of raising trade in goods to 15 billion Euros by 2022. As Strategic Partners, the two countries share converging views on key regional and global issues and continue to consult and coordinate closely with each other on matters of common interest.

                                It is of utmost significance that France which is itself a permanent member of UN Security Council has reaffirmed its support for India’s candidature for the same. Modi not just thanked Macron for this but also for the support that it had lent which led to India’s membership of the Wassenaar Arrangement and support for membership of the Australia Group. Macron also committed France’s support to building consensus among regimes members on the issue of India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to which China had earlier played spoilsport and prevented India’s entry to the elite NSG group. On global issues, the two leaders – Modi and Macron agreed that North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and its proliferation links poses a grave threat to international peace and security. They both called for the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which has been endorsed by DPRK. Both sides also stressed the need to hold accountable those who support or have supported DPRK’s nuclear and missile programmes.                  

                                     To sum up, the bilateral relations between India and France are now reaching new heights never witnessed before. Both countries are now working in tandem in different fields. Both sides agreed to create an annual defence dialogue at the ministerial level. The leaders also reiterated their support to the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and shared their commitment to proactively contribute towards the priorities of IORA. India now has reciprocal logistics support deal with two countries of the P-5, after having signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US in 2016and now with France!  

                                      Striking the right notes, PM Modi very rightly said that, “From the ground to the sky, there is no subject on which India and France are not working together.” Modi added that, “We want our young to know each other’s country, look at each other’s country, understand, work so that thousands of ambassadors are ready for our relationship”. Speaking in the same vein, Macron too reiterated that, “I want to double the number of Indian students coming to France. If you choose France you gain access to Europe”. It is true that although the two sides couldn’t reach a commercial agreement for a French assisted nuclear power plant at Jaitpur in Maharashtra but it is equally true that the two sides signed a pact that prescribes “a way forward for the implementation” of the project. It also cannot be denied that France is building 6 nuclear reactors in India at Jaitpur which was announced by the former French President Francois Hollande.

                                            It will certainly not amount to an exaggeration if I say that France is an ally which is more dependable than any other country and which has steadfastly stood by us through thick and thin! Macron’s landmark visit coupled with signing up of so many agreements and pacts is a clear signal to world powers that India has now a steadfast and committed ally apart from Russia on whom India can always bank upon and who is itself a world super power and a permanent member of UN Security Council who has reiterated unstinted support to India also for a permanent seat in UN Security Council! Before winding up, let me now borrow some words of wisdom put forth by none other than the eminent former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal who rightly pointed out in his enlightening editorial titled “Macron’s visit has been a success on many levels” in Hindustan Times newspaper dated March 14, 2018  that, “The joint statement strongly endorses the nuclear deal with Iran. On Syria, where the positions of the two countries differ, that the two sides were able to craft a suitable paragraph is a drafting achievement. In the context of the Trump’s trade-related broadsides and his decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, India and France have reaffirmed the centrality of rules based multilateral trading system. The launching of the International Solar Alliance jointly by Macron and Modi furthers the objectives of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and forges one more strategic bond  between India and France.”    

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,

s/o Col BPS Sirohi,

A 82, Defence Enclave,

Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,

Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.