Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hollande and Indo-French Relations

With nearly 52% of the votes, François Hollande, the Socialist candidate defeated Nicolas Sarkozy, the ‘hyper’ outgoing President in the French presidential elections.
One of the main characteristics of this campaign was the total lack of interest in foreign affairs; perhaps because both candidates are not too apart as far as France’s foreign relations are concerned.
Take Afghanistan, both Hollande and Sarkozy agreed to withdraw the French troops. The difference was just a question of timing; Hollande promised the departure of the French forces before the end of current year, while Sarkozy preferred to wait one more year.
There are also some divergences on the integration of the French Army in NATO. The main difference remains Paris’ position vis-vis Berlin. Some adjustment will have to be made by both ‘partners’ if the French-German ‘couple’ is to continue to give a lead to Europe.
Let us remember that the President of the French Republic is the elected Head of State with extended powers in the fields of defence and foreign affairs and some control over a Prime Minister nonetheless answerable to the Parliament.
In the field of foreign affairs, a turning point occurred just a week before the first round, when Sarkozy fired his last ammunitions at a large meeting attended by 100,000 participants (according to the organizers) on the Concorde Square in Paris (some observers counted only 25,000 people). The ‘news’ was Sarkozy’s attack on European Central Bank (ECB); he asserted that the ECB should do more to revive the European economic growth: “On the question of the ECB’s role in boosting growth, we French are going to open the debate.”
He affirmed that there should be ‘no taboos’ in discussing the rules of the Eurozone, including a more growth-oriented role for the ECB.
The mention of the ECB was a U-turn on the President’s previous policy. There were reasons for this: his main opponent Francois Hollande was addressing another rally of sympathizers (guess how many, also 1,00,000) from the large esplanade of the Chateau de Vincennes, the royal castle in Paris, which was razed during the French Revolution. Hollande said he could feel the country was on the brink of change: “I feel a great hope mounting from the depths of our country. A calm, firm, lucid hope of a change for the better."
After Sunday’s election of François Hollande, the relations with Germany and the European Union are bound to change.
The Socialist candidate has often repeated that when he becomes President, he would put an end to “austerity everywhere, austerity that brought desperation to people throughout Europe".

Relations with India
Many in India ask the question: will the election of Francois Hollande as President of the French Republic change Indo-French relations?
The answer is, probably not.
The word ‘India’ did not appear a single time during the entire campaign.
But to understand Hollande’s probable position, it is worth quoting an article published in Le Monde on May 22, 1981 titled: “India chooses the Mirage 2000 to modernize its Air Force”.
A day earlier, Francois Mitterrand had become the first elected Socialist President of the 5th Republic. At that time, Pakistan was trying hard to acquire F-16 fighter planes from the US; India’s purchase of 150 Mirage 2000 from France on this historic day had a symbolic implication.
In April 1982, a few months before President Mitterrand’s first State visit to India, the final agreement was signed. Though eventually all the Mirages were not delivered, the collaboration between Dassault Aviation and India has continued till date and during his last visit to India in December 2010, President Sarkozy signed an agreement for the ‘refitting’ of some 52 Mirages for about 2 billion dollars.
Before President Mitterrand’s second visit to India in February 1989, France concluded a contract for the feasibility study of the construction of an aircraft-carrier in the dockyards of Cochin for the Indian Navy; this project never fructified, but the intention was good.
One can expect President Hollande to follow in the footsteps of his political guru (Mitterrand) and ensure that the contract for the 126 medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) will be concluded at the earliest. It is in the interest of both France and India.
The selection of the Rafales (meaning a 'gust of wind') and their induction in the IAF will certainly mark a new beginning in the long and trusted partnership, started in the 1950's, between France and India.
While President Mitterrand laid the foundation of a solid friendship; the regular dialogue was institutionalized during President Chirac’s visit in 1998 through a ‘strategic’ partnership. Practically, it meant:
  •  A Strategic Dialogue at the level of National Security Advisors (Sherpa) providing both sides an opportunity to review the evolution of the overall global security situation and emerging challenges in various parts of the world.
  •  A High Level Committee for Defence at the level of Defence Secretaries, works through its three specialized sub-committees, dealing with issues related to defence cooperation.
  •  A Joint Working Group on Terrorism has been established to cooperate in the fight against terrorism
  •  Annual consultations between the two foreign ministries are held at the level of Foreign Secretaries.
  •  A Joint Committee for Economic and Technical Cooperation at the level of Ministers of Commerce
  •  Joint Naval Exercises
  •  Aerial Exercises
  •  Joint Research and Development
Whoever becomes President Hollande’s Sherpa (equivalent to the Indian NSA), these institutionalized mechanisms will remain in place.

Civil Nuclear Cooperation
In September 2008, France was the first country to sign a civilian nuclear deal with India.
In December 2010, President Sarkozy visited India for a second time. The main feature of his visit was the decision of Delhi and Paris to build two European Pressurized Reactors (also known as Evolutionary Power Reactor or EPR) of 1650 MW each for an estimated cost of about 9.5 billion dollars. A ‘framework agreement’ was signed. Due to the complexity of the project between Areva and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), it will take some more time for the project to reach its final conclusion.
The Jaitapur site in Maharashtra will ultimately have six reactors and produce 10,000 MW of power, a boon for ‘developing’ India. The Joint Declaration rightly says that “the signing of the General Framework Agreement between NPCIL and Areva represents a significant milestone.”
Will President Hollande honour these agreements?
Let us have a look at Candidate Hollande’s electoral promises in the nuclear field? There are 3:
  • To reduce the share of the nuclear in electricity production from 75% to 50% by year 2025.
  • To close down the Fessenheim, the first French nuclear plant dating from the 1950’s
  • To pursue the construction of the EPR in Flamanville
No doubt that President Hollande will vigorously pursue the Indo-French collaboration in Jaitapur by giving all necessary assurances to the Indian authorities and public about the safety of the ‘evolutionary’ plants.

One domain where a lot needs to be done is the field of educational exchange.
Mrs. Valerie Pécresse, a former French Minister for Higher Education had announced in 2007 a target of 4000 Indian students going to France for higher studies. Two years later, when President Sarkozy visited India, the objective had not been reached.
At that time, collaboration between IIT Jodhpur and France was started with much fanfare. The scheme is today progressing at a slow pace. According to The Indian Express: “France has termed the IIT Jodhpur academic environment and faculty rather unimpressive and the IIT in turn has said what the French are offering them is far too little for an institute of its stature.”
There is a lot to be done in this field, which could a crucial element to lay a more sustainable foundation for the partnership.
Let us not forget that during the past 5 years, a large number of French companies such Michelin, Renault, Alstom, etc. have put up factories in India and they need to employ French-speaking Indian graduates.
President Hollande or his Education Minister will have to work hard on the issue.
As for cultural relations, they will go on regardless of who is at the helm of India or France.
There is however no doubt that a solid political relation with France could balance India’s foreign relations which have often tilted towards the United States or Russia.

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