India, France Ink 14 pacts to boost cooperation

New Delhi: The India-France partnership is reaching new levels as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Emanuel Macron met in New Delhi to sign 14 agreements in areas that showcased the depth of confidence in each other.
Covering nuclear energy, defense production, maritime security, space and education, India and France are in the process of cementing a partnership that could soon eclipse the old trusted friend, Russia.
It would not be a stretch to say that the only other country with which India works on as many areas in is the US. For the first time with any G-7 country, India and France decided to recognize each other’s university degrees, which will be huge for students going to France for higher studies or for employment.
Modi met Macron at the airport on March 9 evening, making a break from protocol a benchmark for the “Indian welcome”. Addressing the media after discussions with Macron, Modi laid out three important areas where the two countries are working together. “We have intense and deep defence relations and we consider France as one of our most trusted defence partners… We welcome the commitment of France for Make in India in the defence sector. I consider today’s agreement of the reciprocal logistics support between our armed forces as a golden step … therefore today we are releasing a Joint Strategic Vision for our cooperation in the Indian Ocean area.
And third, today we have made two important agreements, one agreement is to recognize each other’s educational qualifications, and the second agreement is of our migration and mobility partnership.”
In an agreement that will have far-reaching implications for the global security equations in the increasingly contested, the two countries agreed to reciprocal logistics support between both armed forces including the navies — in the spirit of the LEMOA pact with the US, Indian and French forces would be able to access each other’s ports and bases in the Indian Ocean region. France is the second country, after the US, with which India has a “vision” document on the Indian Ocean. Seen together with another pact to protect classified information, the security agreement will open up the two sides to much closer cooperation in the strategic sphere. Clearly done with a view to countering growing Chinese power in the region, the agreement will be a force multiplier for India. Macron, in his remarks, asserted the sea lanes cannot be places for hegemonic power play.
Equally important is the pact on education, specified in a joint statement issued after the talks “for the mutual recognition of degrees, which will facilitate the pursuit of higher education by Indian students in France and French students in India and enhance their employability.” This is probably the first such agreement with G-8 country, with France aiming for over 10,000 Indian students studying in France by 2020. Macron wants to shift India’s gateway to Europe from the UK to itself. With Macron pushing for a greater French role in the EU and the world, the complementarities between India and France are increasing.
The summit also served to push along the deal for France’s EDF to build 6 nuclear reactors in Jaitapur, a deal that has been in the works for many years but stuck on pricing and liability issues. The two countries signed an “Industrial Way Forward Agreement” between NPCIL and EDF — the reactor with a promised 9.6 GW capacity will now look for “cost-effective localization efforts of manufacturing in India”. This is expected to bring down the cost that has kept French nuclear power at very expensive rates. But more significant, the agreement also cemented an “understanding” on the Indian liability rules, a possible breakthrough, which was one of the reasons for the delay in the project.
On the Rafale deal, Macron said, “India had made a sovereign decision in this respect (Rafale fighter jet) and we are monitoring the progress in the field. We very much want to continue the program. It is a long-term contract which is mutually beneficial. I personally consider it as the heart of the strategic partnership,” Macron said.
He said space agencies of both countries will build a joint monitoring mechanism for developments in the maritime space, while navies of the two nations will share intelligence and call their respective military bases for any requirement.
Macron also said effectively containing threats of terrorism and radicalization are going to be key elements in the strategic cooperation between the two countries. He particularly also talked about the threat of Islamist terrorism. “The trust that we share is protecting us as our interests are aligned,” said Macron. He further said, “We want India as our first strategic partner here, and we want to be India’s first strategic partner in Europe, and even in the western world.”

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