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Macron's Trip to India: an Analysis by Christophe Jaffrelot

BLOG - 23 March 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron recently made a four-day visit to India, for the first time since he was elected. The purpose of his stay was mainly diplomatic, but other issues were discussed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, regarding security and energy issues. What lessons can be learned from this trip? How will the relationship between France and India evolve in the upcoming months? An analysis by Christophe Jaffrelot, Head of research at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS.

What main conclusions should we drawn from Emmanuel Macron's visit to India?

India and France have diversified and enhance their collaboration. Arms deals or other industrial contracts are not the sole purpose of their relationship anymore. Two new dimensions have been added. First, the Indian Ocean has become a focal point of their collaboration. While the latter will be military in the immediate future, it might become more economic character too in the long run. Secondly, India and France have inaugurated the International Solar Alliance during Macron's visit and they may continue to collaborate in their joint fight against global warming on the international scene.

Can (and will) France become India's main European partner, thus dethroning the UK?

France is already India's most important European strategic partner, at least in terms of military cooperation and possibly intelligence sharing. The next step should be about the economy: trade relations and investments are rather low, compared to Germany for instance (Germany is France’s real competitor here: the UK is not that important in this respect, in spite of - or perhaps because of - their history). The main challenge lies in the old problems that French Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) face when they try to expand their activities internationally: we have been contemplating the same difficulties for the past 30 years, but no conclusive initiative has yet been taken - and the government may not be as well placed as the economic players themselves to fix the issue.

Is Macron's strategy of focusing on India rather than China clearly stated? How can we interpret it?

I do not think Macron has chosen India over China. How could he run the risk of alienating the second largest world economy? Yet he has probably factored in two variables. First, China is expanding quickly, even territorially speaking, like in the Indian Ocean, where France needs to protect its strategic interests. The French government probably considers that India can help to contain China in Asia - this is also the conclusion Americans, Japanese and Australians have reached. Secondly, Macron probably believes that India and France share the same values: after all, both are democracy enthusiastes. However, these bonds may be affected by the rise of Hindu nationalism at the expense of the Indian traditions of multiculturalism. Macron may come to realize that the ethno-nationalist branch of populism he has had to fight during the French elections is challenging democracy in India too!

 

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