Friends to partners

Macron needs to implement domestic reforms for Indo-French ties to flourish.

Written by Miniya Chatterji | Published: March 13, 2018 12:06 am
Emmanuel Macron, Emmanuel Macron India visit, Indo-French ties, india france relations, Narendra Modi, Indian express Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron before their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Saturday. (Express photo/Amit Mehra)

While working in Paris in the office of Jacques Chirac, the President of the French Republic of that time, I travelled to India to gather talking points for an upcoming presidential visit. During a bilateral meeting for this, Ratan Tata told me, “Indians generally like the French. Amongst the French businessmen I deal with, many are my friends. We are easily able to understand and be appreciative about each other but we have not succeeded in transforming these friendships into business.”

Not much has changed. There have been rich cultural exchanges and expressions of mutual appreciation between India and France in the past decade while the per cent change (YOY) in total trade between India and France has plunged from +30.07 per cent in 2006 to a dismal +0.37 per cent in 2016.

In 2017, around 5,500 Indian students and scientists found it worth their while to study in France. Whereas almost 15,000 students went to the UK during the same period. Many of France’s top universities, including the one I studied and now teach at, offer courses in English but perhaps few Indians know this. An education in France is also several times cheaper than a degree in the UK or the US but ultimately Indian students go where they get more jobs for their buck.

Tata had said to me in 2005, “The French often lack the will to give the final push towards concretising deals. It is necessary to act because things move quickly. But with the French, things get diverted.” In 2007, Chirac’s lacklustre presidency ended, but France had little respite even after. The country suffered a decade of subsequent obscure political leadership, with a GDP growth rate that hardly budged above one per cent. Any attempted reform by the government only led to the French going on strike, hindering the roll out of any substantial changes.

For instance in 2018, after a year-and-a- half of to and fro with the French government authorities in Paris to pick up my “talent passport” visa — a French green card, so to speak, to enable me to incorporate a company in France — that the French embassy in New Delhi had generously offered me and even processed (it took six months), I am yet to set my eyes on it. The French authorities in Paris recently told their colleagues at the Embassy in New Delhi that their challenge for granting me the visa was that I was not residing in France. It is a baffling chicken and egg situation.

France was the first country in the West with which India established a strategic partnership and the first with which India initiated a strategic dialogue after our 1998 nuclear tests when France refrained from imposing sanctions on us. It has ceased arming Pakistan many moons ago. Leaders from no other country have been honoured as many times as chief guests at India’s Republic Day celebrations. Besides education and culture, France and India have also built a long-standing cooperation in nuclear, defence and space. More recently, the vision for the International Solar Alliance was established jointly by the two countries.

President Emmanuel Macron’s March 2018 visit to India was much awaited precisely because there is so much for him to do. Political understanding is good to nurture, but how can he transform that into greater opportunities for the people of India and France? I had met him a few years ago when he was still Minister of Economy of France, and he seemed to me to be the ideal candidate for this task.

For example, climate change has emerged — and rightfully so — as a new cornerstone of the relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Macron. Both countries now need to leverage this political alignment towards creating meaningful joint ventures, and develop technology and knowledge exchanges in this field for all to benefit.

France is ahead on the curve of developing technologies that minimise the environmental impact of manufacturing processes. These are technologies that the Indian manufacturing industry can learn and adopt as the latter gets subjected to strict emission limits and stringent compliances by the current Indian government. Moreover, the climate change industry is estimated to reach a value of $1 trillion by 2020, presenting an opportunity for France and India.

The protectionist stance of Brexit and Donald Trump also presents an opportunity to France. French universities can attract the best of Indian talent. In the realm of literature too, why not make greater collaborations? This will boost the publishing industry and also foster a rich exchange of ideas across the two countries that are both known for great literary writing.

Most importantly, Macron also needs to make reforms on his home turf in order to transform friendships into greater economic opportunity for all. The heavy bureaucracy in France must be loosened so it doesn’t stifle the life out of potential incoming investments. French labour laws need to be reformed such that corporations are more agile when doing business abroad. And diplomatic agencies can be more confident of India’s friendship and appreciation for France, so that more efforts can instead be directed towards joint action.

Chatterji is author of ‘Indian Instincts: Essays on Freedom and Equality in India,’ and CEO Sustain Labs Paris LLP

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  1. Employ Ment
    Mar 13, 2018 at 9:01 pm
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    1. Rohit Chandavarker
      Mar 13, 2018 at 7:04 pm
      At the height of the French elections, there were expectations that Macron would beat the far rightist Let Pen's National Front amidst fears of Euroscepticism engulfing Europe. Macron was considered somewhat a saviour by the pro EU lobby. Having secured the Presidency, Macron has an unenviable task of economic, political social reform together with a strong anti terrorism agenda. Labour reform,a prerequisite for economic growth,is a red rag for the strong unions. Fortunately, demise of ISIS has given Macron breathing space. For a workforce considered lazy, Macron will have to improve productivity and efficiency. Macron has expressed interest in Indian students, much to Boris Johnson's displeasure. Strategic content has deepened with maritime cooperation. Hence one expects an elevated relationship going forward.
      1. DILIP
        Mar 13, 2018 at 4:17 pm
        It is misinformation to state that under Macron's Presidentship that France is not REFORMING. If any one can reform France it is Macron, he has the energy, vision and the drive to Reform France for the better. The process has started already, unemployment has already dropped below 8 per cent and falling, consequences of changing LabouR Laws, a flexible one, where the employer can hire and fire, reducing national health insurance contribution costs and unemployment subsidy, Macron is pushing through many new progressive legislations in the Assembly that enable France to become more compe ive economically, unit labour costs and productivity, compared to Germany. France's productivity and technological advancement is rapidly closing the gap with Germany. France is the 3 rd most productive country among the major industrial nation and its GDP growth is increasing steadily, in 2018 GDP will grow by 1.8 per cent. FRANCE I SON THE MOVE.
        1. Krishna Bhagawan
          Mar 13, 2018 at 1:29 pm
          Actually both French and the Indians are similar in at ude. But the French are more productive when they work and Indians never work (that includes private sector).
          1. D
            Dillip Patnaik
            Mar 13, 2018 at 8:37 am
            Macron and Theresa May both have recently visited Beijing. They very cordially received and treated by Chinese presidentXi Jinping. Both have signed bilateral trade agreement with Xi Jinping. Now Modi wants Macron and France to be his defense adviser which is very absurd. French economy and British economy is not that great. They need China to their products. China is a big market for them for various industrial goods. Modi's exception from France will be kind of disappointing. French wants to fighter planes and that is their business and they do not discriminate between countries as long they their products. India has to buildup its own strength cannot rely sole foreign technology. India has plenty of talents. They have to be recognized and utilized in bureaucracy free environment to build super fighter planes the world can see. Modi is failing in envisioning of how to do, only knows hugging, cuddling foreign dignitaries as if they will feed him ladoos.
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