Script: Prof. UMMU SALMA BAVA, Professor & Jean Monnet Chair, Centre for European Studies, JNU
French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, was on a 3-day visit to India this week. This was the 3rd high-level visit from France to India since bilateral Strategic Dialogue in January this year. Mr. Drian’s schedule included meetings with the External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar on bilateral, regional and international issues and participation in the MEA’s Annual flagship event – the Raisina Dialogue in online mode.
Since the 1998 Strategic Partnership between New Delhi and Paris, there has been a significant transformation in bilateral relations that has steadily grown in content and substance. Both India and France are looking at expanding the cooperation and collaboration in different sectors such as trade and investment, defence and security, health, education, research and innovation, energy and climate change.
France has long been a defence supplier to India and the recent Rafael aircraft deal that upgrades the firepower of the Indian Air Force comes at a crucial time as the geo-politics of the larger Indo-Pacific comes into even more prominence with changing power equations. With India as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for the next 2 years, having cooperation with France also brings value as New Delhi seeks to navigate a tight political balance in the UN between difficult issues and political partners on global challenges.
Prime Ministr Narendra Modi is expected to meet President Francoise Macron when Mr. Modi would be attending the India-EU Summit in Portugal next month. Prime Minister is also expected to visit Paris for a bilateral Summit.
Dr. Jaishankar and Minister Drain participated with Australian Foreign Minister Ms. Marisa Payne in avirtual meeting on multilateralism in the Indo-Pacific. France is an Indo Pacific power and articulated its strategy in 2019 and thus this trilateral assumes importance given Australia and India’s presence in the Quad. As interest and competition grows in the region, coordinating common positions becomes extremely critical and India and the Quad countries joined French-led maritime exercises in early April in the Bay of Bengal. Thus, discussions on Indo-Pacific at the bi and trilateral level assumes even more salience in this backdrop.
India welcomed the French decision to join the “maritime resources” pillar of India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiatives (IPOI) thereby adding more robustness to this effort. Apart from the Indo-Pacific, environment and climate change was also big on the agenda of bilateral exchange between Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Mr.Prakash Javadekar and Minister Drian.
Both Ministers took part in a panel discussion at the French Embassy which was also attended by the French Ambassador for Climate, Stephane Crouzat. This is important in light of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) scheduled in Glasgow in November 2021. In January 2021, both countries had launched the Indo-French Year of the Environment to focus and strengthen cooperation on major climate issues.
Bilateral trade with France has grown steadily. Both sides reiterated the need to fast track India-EU trade and investment agreement. Mr. Drian also recognised and appointed 15 former students as “Alumni Ambassadors” in order to give a new push to the academic exchange between France and India and to bring the youth of both countries closer. Minister Drain also addressed the Indo-French cooperation in cinema and the promotion of gender equality in the industry. On this occasion, he bestowed the French award of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres on Ms. Guneet Monga, an Indian producer for her contribution in the field of cinema. Mr. Drian visited Bengaluru to focus on the Indo-French cooperation on health and biological sciences at the Bangalore Life Sciences Cluster (BLiSc).
A new push was also given to space partnership between both countries. He also visited Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and in particular the Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC). Mr. Drain met with the French Tech Community and investors and businessmen to promote France as an investment destination. Minister Drian’s visit underlines that despite the impact of the pandemic, both countries are investing in their Strategic Partnership and finding opportunities to strengthen bilateral and multilateral efforts.