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Macron in India

19 March 2018

By Ariane Combal-Weiss, Research Assistant, EU-Asia Centre

Against the backdrop of a packed domestic reform agenda, French President Emmanuel Macron paid a State visit to India on 9-12 March 2018. The visit boosted the 20-year-old strategic partnership, as the leaders signed 14 agreements in very diverse areas. Highlights of the visit included a major step forward on cooperation on solar power and nuclear energy, a key maritime security agreement and closer defence cooperation, amidst shared concerns over China’s growing assertiveness in the Indian Ocean. 

As strong defenders of the Paris Agreement, President Macron and Prime Minister Modi co-chaired the first summit of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), a joint Indian-French initiative launched in the margins of the COP21 in 2015. The international organisation, headquartered in India, will centralize calls for tenders to reduce the prices of solar energy.

The visit also boosted cooperation on nuclear energy, as India tries to reduce its high dependence on fossil fuel.[1] The French electricity company EDF expects to deliver six European Pressurized Reactors (EPR) in Jaitapur, Uttar Pradesh. Yet, the planned nuclear plant raised numerous safety concerns, as it is located in a seismically active area.  

Security Cooperation

In a bid to diversify France’s partnerships in Asia, Macron pledged to make France India’s key partner in the Indian Ocean region and its gateway to the European Union. The Indian Ocean has regained currency in France’s Asia policy in recent years, as revealed in the 2016 France and Security in the Asia Pacific guidance paper. Enhanced engagement in the Indian Ocean is seen as key to safeguard its security and economic interests in a region home to two million of its citizens.

The Macron visit comes at a particular juncture, just a few months after the revival of the Quad by India, Australia, Japan and the United States - a loose cooperation arrangement to counter China’s growing naval presence in the Indo-Pacific. France’s territorial and military presence in the region makes it a reliable partner for India, which shares the French commitment to fight piracy, climate change, safeguard freedom of navigation and regional stability.[2] In addition, France’s permanent seat on the UNSC, its innovation and economic growth makes it a credible interlocutor within the EU. While Macron did not speak on behalf of the EU, both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the EU-India strategic partnership and to relaunching the talks on an EU-India Broad Based Strategic and Investment Treaty.

Both leaders agreed on a joint strategic vision for cooperation in the Indian Ocean. Defence ministers from both countries will hold annual dialogues and there will be joint naval training and exercises. France and India will open their naval bases in the Indian Ocean to warships from each other. To safeguard maritime security, the countries will also build on their long-standing outer space cooperation, especially the joint monitoring space mechanisms for developments in maritime sphere and exchange of intelligence between navies. Paris and Delhi also pledged to enhance intelligence sharing, in particular to allow reciprocal protection and exchange of classified or protected information.

Dubbed a “golden step” in the bilateral defence ties by Modi, the new arrangements will prevent the Indian Ocean from becoming “a place of hegemony” (Macron) – hinting at the elephant in the room, China. India is known to be concerned at China’s growing naval capabilities, the establishment of a naval base in Djibouti, as well as some aspects of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).Concerns over China’s BRI featured prominently in the Joint Statement, as it emphasises connectivity initiatives based on international law, environmental and social standards, reciprocity and transparency. It also echoed India’s worries over “sovereignty and territorial integrity” issues with Pakistan.

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Which accounts for 75% of its primary energy. Dénes Csala, “India wants to become a solar superpower, but its dependence on toxic coal says otherwise”, Quartz, 13/11/2016. URL: https://qz.com/835612/india-wants-to-become-a-solar-superpower-but-its-dependence-on-toxic-coal-says-otherwise/

[2] Manoj Joshi, “Macron’s visit to India takes place at an important juncture in regional geopolitics”, Observer Research Foundation, 12/03/2018. URL: http://www.orfonline.org/research/french-president-macron-visit-india-takes-place-important-juncture-in-regional-geopolitics/