Defence, business ties in focus as French president Macron begins India visit

Defence, business ties in focus as French president Macron begins India visit

French President Emmanuel Macron, who will attend the 75th Republic Day celebrations as chief guest, will arrive in Jaipur on Thursday and hold in-depth talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to further bilateral cooperation and finalise new initiatives in a variety of key areas, the French embassy in Delhi said in a statement on the eve of the visit.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AP)

The talks will cover defence cooperation, collaborating in the vast Indo-Pacific region, charting the course to respond to challenges such as the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and poverty eradication, strengthening business ties, and cross-investments, the statement said.

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Macron’s visit comes at a time when India is looking at buying 26 Rafale M fighters from France for the navy’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, the 45,000-tonne INS Vikrant. The country is also planning to build three more Scorpene-class submarines with technology from France to enhance the Indian Navy’s undersea capabilities. The two deals are estimated to have a combined value of €9 billion to €10 billion.

President Macron’s visit will consolidate the ambitious renewal of the France-India strategic partnership that the two leaders decided on in Paris on July 14 through the Horizon 2047 Roadmap, the statement said.

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“Twenty-five years after the launch of their Strategic Partnership, France and India have embarked on new common goals for the next 25 years. Accordingly, President Macron’s talks with Prime Minister Modi will seek to advance our cooperation and finalise new initiatives under the three pillars of the road map.”

The three pillars are “partnership for security and sovereignty, partnership for the planet, and partnership for the people”.

Macron will be accompanied by a ministerial delegation consisting of Europe and foreign affairs minister Stéphane Sejourné, defence minister Sébastien Lecornu, and culture minister Rachida Dati, a C-level business delegation of French majors, small and medium enterprises and midcaps, and other eminent personalities including European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

The statement highlighted the robust ties between the two countries in several areas including defence and space.

“France and India have developed a trust-based cooperation aimed at strengthening strategic autonomy, illustrated by close cooperation in the defence sector, including advanced platforms and technologies. The two countries are also key partners in contributing to international peace and security, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, where we implement a joint strategy. They also have a long-standing cooperation of over 60 years on space spanning launchers, space exploration, crewed flights, climate monitoring satellites, and maritime surveillance,” it said.

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Delving into the agenda for the talks, the French statement said Macron’s visit will seek to advance common initiatives to respond to key challenges “including climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty eradication, and the changes wrought by new technologies”.

“This cooperation is in line with the spirit of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ and builds on the successful results of India’s G20 Presidency and the Paris Pact for People and the Planet. It is exemplified by joint initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance.”

The visit will stress France’s commitment to creating more opportunities for Indian students, artists, investors and tourists.

“Special focus will be given to initiatives fostering student mobility, in support of President Macron’s announcement that France seeks to welcome 30,000 Indian students by 2030. Business ties and cross-investments will also be promoted during the visit, under the banner of France’s ‘Make it Iconic’ nation-branding campaign, which has targeted India as a priority country,” the statement said.

Macron’s visit marks a French leader’s participation in the Republic Day celebrations for the sixth time, the highest for any country. It also comes months after Modi’s visit to France last July as the guest of honour at the Bastille Day parade.

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“This reciprocal invitation to national day celebrations is unprecedented and shows the deep mutual trust and unwavering friendship underpinning Indo-French ties,” the French statement added.

In Jaipur, Macron will tour the Amber Fort, Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal, and interact with artisans, stakeholders of Indo-French cultural projects and students.

Apart from the parade, his engagements in Delhi on January 26 include an At Home reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and a state banquet hosted by President Droupadi Murmu. The French leader was earlier in India on a state visit in March 2018 followed by an official visit in September 2023 for the G20 Summit.

Six Indian soldiers from the French Foreign Legion, an elite cadre consisting of foreign volunteers in the pay of France, will be a part of the 95-member French military contingent taking part in the parade. Two Rafale fighters and an Airbus A330 MRTT (multi-role tanker transport) of the French air force will take part in the flypast, which will involve 56 Indian military aircraft including 29 fighter jets. A 33-member band contingent from France will also take part in the parade.

Foreign soldiers took part in the parade for the first time in 2016 when a French army contingent of 130 soldiers marched down Rajpath (now Kartavya Path). Then French President Francois Hollande was the chief guest that year.

“President Macron’s visit is enormously symbolic as it comes soon after PM Modi visited France for the Bastille Day parade. It demonstrates two things: France’s unconditional commitment to the strategic partnership between the two countries and magnanimity on Macron’s part as it was a last-minute invitation to attend the Republic Day parade as chief guest,” said Mohan Kumar, a former Indian ambassador to France.

The transactional relationship in defence is expected to evolve into the Make in India framework, and there will be enhanced cooperation between the two countries in the Indo-Pacific region, he added.

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