French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to India from 9-12 March was most timely and opportune. Macron, the youngest President of France since Napoleon has brought a new energy into the European project. With a greatly weakened Chancellor Merkel after the German elections and some parts of Eastern and Central Europe moving ominously towards populism and anti-globalization, Macron represents the hope that France, the cradle of the Enlightenment and a founding father of the European Union can lead Europe and overcome foreboding and insularity. Macron’s election demonstrated that in an age of populism and anti-globalisation, it is possible to reverse the tide.
Macron’s visit was specially timed to coincide with the Solar Alliance Summit. It also marked the consolidation of the Indo French strategic partnership. Prime Minister Modi shares a warm relationship with President Macron. With Modi at the helm, India is now at the forefront of global political dialogue and discussions. Many of its new global priorities including Security Council reform, climate change and global warming as well as the International Solar Alliance (ISA) coincide with Western priorities. The Solar Alliance, a brainchild of the Indian PM was seen by Macron as part of India’s efforts to salvage the Climate Change Pact.
The maiden International Solar Alliance Summit held in New Delhi on 11th March 2018 also marked a new phase in India’s partnership with France and the EU on climate change and renewable energy issues. It has been ascertained that India’s goodwill, backed by French economic clout, created a new development-oriented narrative at the Summit that witnessed presence from 60 signatory countries and delegates from over 60 other countries who are prospective ISA members. This group of over 120 nations, once in place, would contribute to India’s power projection in the 21st century. It would also consolidate the India EU strategic partnership. The visit is an opportunity for India to assess of the future of the European project and the challenges in the US-Europe transatlantic relationship.
The brain-child of PM Modi, the ISA marked a significant and timely shift in India’s approach on climate change related issues, at a time when China was seeking to move into a leadership position with France on taking forward the Paris Agreement after Trump’s rejection of the pact. It also marked an important step forward in India’s efforts to engage with leaders from the African and the Pacific regions and increasing Indian exports to both regions, notably in solar panels. These solar panels will be far cheaper than their Chinese counterparts. India also offered ‘Lines of Credit’ worth $1392.48 m for solar projects in Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. These ‘Lines of Credit’ are being offered at interest rates cheaper than Chinese commercial loans. The captive domestic market would also be a huge incentive to Indian entrepreneurs to invest in solar energy.
The ISA in many ways was like a mini India Africa Summit. There was significant representation of West African leaders, apart from the participation of leaders from Seychelles, Mauritius, Djibouti, Somalia and Comoros which represents East Africa. Leaders from many Francophone countries were present including Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo (Central Africa), Gabon, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea. India’s outreach efforts in these parts of Africa, assisted by France, have been greatly appreciated.
It is understood that France will partner with India in developing counter-terrorism networks with these states where many IS fugitives have taken refuge. These states include Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Since many of these countries are members of Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), India could also work through them to reduce Pakistan’s influence and reduce OIC focus on the Kashmir issue.
The visit, which concluded with a tantalizing glimpse into India’s culture and civilizational heritage on a cruise by Macron and Modi on the Ganges at Varanasi, served as a reminder of a changing political order with the emergence of new strategic partnerships. Through new alliances like the solar alliance, India is gradually assuming global responsibilities and addressing the issue of its own great power deficit. With France as a key strategic partner, the outcome promises to be a ‘win-win situation’ for India.
The author is a former Indian Envoy and headed the Europe desk at the MEA