Ahead of his visit to Europe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it plain that among India’s friends in the continent, New Delhi’s ties with France were at a higher level.
In a statement before he boarded the flight for Germany, PM Modi singled out newly re-elected French President Emmanuel Macron as “my friend”.
“During my return journey, I will stopover in Paris to meet my friend, President Macron,” Modi said. He stressed that “my visit just ten days after the result (of the French elections) will not only allow me to convey my personal congratulations in-person, but also reaffirm the close friendship between the two countries.”
Given the special relations between the two countries, it was not surprising that the Prime Minister identified setting the “tone” of the “next phase of the India-France Strategic Partnership” as his prime objective during his meeting with Macron, with whom Modi enjoys a warm personal chemistry.
India has developed a strong bond with France, because Paris has provided unambiguous and cutting-edge support, including highly advanced technology, which provides muscle to bolster New Delhi’s aspirational rise in the global system.
During India’s standoff with China in Ladakh, France transferred state-of-the art Rafale fighter jets to India—a move which added to New Delhi’s conventional deterrence vis-à-vis Beijing.
Already special partners in the tech sphere, Modi’s visit to France is likely to impart urgency to transfer to India Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology, which allows conventional submarines to stay underwater for a long duration, greatly enhancing their lethality. The transfers will be part of India’s refurbished 30-year plan for modernising its submarine fleet.
The key to updated deterrence is the changes that have been made to the 30-year submarine plan, which was first approved in July 1999 under the leadership of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The original plan approved in July 1999, had envisaged induction of 24 diesel attack submarines.
But in view of China's military rise and aggressive posturing, the India navy, instead, now wants to induct 18 conventional diesel attack submarines including those with AIP technology, of which, France is arguably a market leader.
France is also expected to build high thrust aircraft engines in India apart from working with New Delhi on mapping the Indian Ocean bed.
On nuclear technology, French energy group EDF intends to build six, third-generation EPR reactors in Jaitapur, western India. Once complete they will generate 10 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, sufficient to light up 70 million households.
In the geopolitical space, France is already helping India to extend its reach in the Indian Ocean.
In 2018 the two countries signed an agreement to provide reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities. The document is similar to the LEMOA accord that New Delhi had signed with Washington. Following the Indo-French agreement, the India Navy could extend its reach in the western Indian Ocean. India can potentially take advantage of French military facilities at the island of La Réunion, Mayotte, and even the French Southern and Atlantic Lands.
“President Macron and I will share assessments on various regional and global issues and will take stock of ongoing bilateral cooperation. It is my firm belief that two countries that share such similar vision and values for the global order, must work in close cooperation with each other,” Modi in his statement said.
India’s visit to Germany and to Copenhagen, where not only bilateral talks will be held, but the second India-Nordic summit will also take place. These meetings will focus on collaboration in green energy and tapping the vast resources of the Arctic, apart from seeking European investments in India. PM Modi will also hold separate one-on-one meetings with his counterparts from Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Norway on the side-lines of the summit. “The Summit will focus on subjects like post-pandemic economic recovery, climate change, innovation and technology, renewable energy, the evolving global security scenario and India-Nordic cooperation in the Arctic region,” the statement said.
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