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Boost to Indo-French ties

It will be easier to do business with Macron with his liberal market, pro-immigration policies.

Boost to Indo-French ties
Centrist and political novice, Emanuel Macron, who will take over the office of French President on Sunday, faces daunting challenges of uniting a deeply divided France, rolling back unemployment, and nudging the fractious European Union along the path of reform.

The first battle for the 39-year-old, who will be France's youngest-ever President after Napoleon Bonaparte, however, will be to secure a governing majority in the legislative elections of June 11 and 18 when all 577 seats in the National Assembly, the lower more powerful house of the French Parliament, will be up for grabs. In the meantime, he is expected to name a Prime Minister and a Cabinet.

Macron emerged victorious in France's Presidential race against his more-experienced far-right rival Marine Le Pen, banking on a promise to revive the country through radical pro-business measures and pro-European policies. He takes over a divided country where nearly half of voters backed extremist candidates in the first round of the Presidential election.

France's President-elect is acutely aware that many voters supported him in the run-off not out of conviction but to stop his far-right opponent from coming to power, and that his support could dwindle at the Parliamentary elections. He has to work hard to ensure a solid presence of his party En Marche in the National Assembly.

If his party, only a year old, does not win enough seats in the legislative elections, the Assembly could force him to choose another Prime Minister.

The two mainstream parties—the Socialists and the Republicans—hope to reassert themselves in the legislative elections as does the far-right National Front, led by Le Pen. The movement of the far-left Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon will also be trying hard to score well.

Emmanuel Macron stands at the head of the year-old political movement that has presented itself as a home for progressives of all stripes. His victory has blown up France's long-standing left-right political divide.

A star student, he has been a champion of France's tech startup movement, an investment banker he never held an elected office, although he did serve as outgoing President Francois Hollande's economic minister from 2014 to 2016. A staunch supporter of a free market and entrepreneurial spirit, Macron has called for France to focus on garnering benefits from globalisation rather than protectionist policies advocated by the far right.

Besides being a European integrationist and pro-NATO, Marcon is orthodox in foreign and defence policies and displays no sign of deviating from it.

In his rallies, he urged his supporters to wave both the French and the European Union flags. To improve Europe's security, he wants the EU to deploy some 5,000 European border guards to the external borders of the bloc's passport-free travel zone.

Given the recent terror attacks in France, he has pledged to boost the police and military as well as the intelligence services and to put pressure on internet giants to better monitor extremism online.

As far as India is concerned, it will be easier for the country to do business with Macron due to his liberal market and pro-immigration policies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi while congratulating Marcon over his victory said India looked forward to enhancing bilateral engagement to a higher plane further.

France and India enjoy an exceptionally warm relationship. An intense cooperation between the two countries developed in areas as sensitive as defence, security, and energy since the launch of our strategic partnership in 1998.

As global strategic partners, India and France consult each other on all international matters in a spirit of mutual understanding, respect, trust, and support, taking into account their respective security interests.

In the economic field, trade relations have developed over the years, and French companies have been investing massively in India: with an investment stock of around 20 billion euros, French companies are among the top international investors in India.

The state visit of President François Hollande in January 2016, less than a year after the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to France in April 2015, reaffirmed the exceptional nature of the Indo-French strategic partnership and helped strengthen the dynamics of the two countries in economic, scientific, and cultural exchanges.

The two nations enjoy a strategic partnership in areas of civil nuclear energy, defence, counter-terrorism, and space. India secured 36 Rafale multi-role fighters from France's aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation, a $8.8 billion deal was signed by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his Indian counterpart former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on September 23, after almost 18 months of disagreement over the contract terms.

The first delivery is expected by September 2019, and all jet fighters will be at the disposal of the Indian Air Force (IAF) within six years. It took 16 years for an Indian government to fulfil the commitment to reinforce the national air force with new generation fighters.

The new arms sale arrangement highlights a breakthrough in the Indo-French defence relationships. Apart from Delhi-Paris cooperation to manufacture six Scorpene submarines, from 2000 to 2015 France has provided India with military items worth $715 million, as opposed to $966 million in military goods that Pakistan bought from French defence producers.

It is worth saying that between 2011 and 2015, Islamabad received only $24 million in military-related supplies from France, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reports, signalling a shift in the French defence manufacturers' business opportunities from Islamabad to Delhi.

(M Shakeel Ahmed is former Editor, PTI. He has also served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. The views expressed are personal.)
M Shakeel Ahmed

M Shakeel Ahmed

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