President Macron made it clear during his visit to India from 9 to 12 March 2018 – a length of time comparable to that of his two predecessors – that he intended to keep his commitment to “work with India”, and to make it become “France’s first strategic partner in Asia”.
However, a number of elements threaten the Franco-Indian relationship, including the illiberal Hindu nationalist party in power in India, opposed to the narrative on political values that the French President has pledged to defend.
In accordance with his European ambitions, Emmanuel Macron could in the future further include Europe in his relations with India, something he failed to do during the March 2018 presidential visit.
3 june 2017
Interview followed by a lunch meeting with Narendra Modi in Paris
9 march 2018 - 12 march 2018
Emmanuel Macron visits India
For candidate Macron, France, as an independent power, must dialogue and act with all countries wishing to do so, particularly in Asia, which is now a key international player. In this context, France will work with India, its “first strategic partner” on the Asian continent.
The commitment made during the campaign “to work with India”, the “first strategic partner of France in Asia”, was held, as seem to demonstrate the numerous contracts signed in the field of aeronautics – the Safran group alone wins a contract worth €12 billion – and the announcements on reciprocal access to naval bases in both countries.
The March 2018 presidential visit enabled both countries to further their cooperation on a number of issues, though unevenly:
- military cooperation is expanding very significantly, particularly in terms of the exchange of classified information and in the Indian Ocean, as testified by the decision of both countries to offer reciprocal access to their naval bases – including those of Djibouti and Reunion Island;
- the inauguration of the International Solar Alliance (with 35 representatives of some 80 ASI stakeholders) gives a new dimension to the relationship between France and India, its two main proponents;
- industrial contracts were signed or discussed with varying chances of success. Among them, France’s project to construct six EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) nuclear reactors in Jaitapur, was launched in 2010. The Elysée Palace now hopes for a “final signature of the agreement before the end of the year”. Although such news was welcomed favorably by EDF, one should not forget that François Hollande had shared his hope “that within a year we will be able to conclude” in 2016, regarding the very same project.
Some of the encountered difficulties are old, others are unprecedented.
Among the former are the Indian administration’s slowness, which may threaten the ISA, and India’s poor financial resources, which hinder the EPR issue, delayed because of its cost and the fear of local populations and ecological groups regarding its environmental impact.
When it comes to the latter, it is necessary to emphasize the growing gap between India’s claim that it is “the world’s biggest democracy” and the illiberal nature of India’s ruling nationalist Hindu party. Ignoring Muslim minorities in India, who have been suffering from renewed human rights abuses in recent years, would lead President Macron to contradict the narrative on democratic values he has pledged to defend.
Until now, however, France and India seemed like partners in terms of democracy, which brought them closer in their opposition to China. Another objective factor of convergence: it is in both countries’ interest to work together on the “containment” of Chinese influence. As China expands its control over regional land and sea routes within the framework of its One Belt One Road Initiative, the French President reminded during his visit in March that “India is afraid of a Chinese hegemony and needs real security”.
In the context of Brexit, Emmanuel Macron also seeks to take advantage of the British economy’s difficulties, in order to bring his country closer to the Indian subcontinent. He was very transparent with his Indian interlocutors about the fact that he wanted “France to become [their] first strategic partner in Europe, and more widely in the West”. This laudable aspiration will nevertheless have to take into account the Germans’ similar ambitions, especially given that their economic relations with India exceed by far that of the French.
Besides the promotion of democratic values, the mention of Europe was clearly missing in the March 2018 presidential visit. President Macron presented France more as a privileged entry point in Europe for India than as one of its drivers, working to revive the European Union. He thus did not faithfully reflect his ambitions on this matter.
This phenomenon is all the more visible because it contrasts with the approach adopted by François Hollande during his February 2013 visit: “When Europe slows down, [India] also slows down”. François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy had each made two visits to India during their respective terms. If their successor perpetuates the tradition, perhaps Europe will be on the agenda of a second visit.