A strategic engagement with the European Union
With Modi having developed an excellent rapport with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, it would make economic and strategic sense for India to partner Europe. The Franco-German project can be a starter
It may not be possible to characterise the relations between France and India as ‘higher than the mountains, deeper than the ocean, sweeter than honey’; it may never go into such superlatives, but since the past 30 years, the contacts have been based on ‘hard-rock’ foundation, formulated in the Strategic Partnership signed by former President Jacques Chirac in Delhi in 1998. The contacts are based on mutual trust and a common vision of the world.
On May 15, Emmanuel Macron officially took over from President François Hollande and the same day, he paid the traditional visit to the German Chancellor in Berlin; both leaders spoke of the importance of France-Germany relations for the European Union.
Between his investiture and his triumph in the legislative elections, the French President met the US President and hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at the historic Palace of Versailles. Macron’s firm dealing in international issues could be seen for the first time, a radical change from the mild approach of his predecessor, the unpopular Hollande.
On June 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a short visit to Paris to congratulate and acquaint himself with the new French President. The talks were mainly centered around the Paris Conference on Environment as President Donald Trump had just announced that the US was withdrawing from the Paris Accord.
The talks with the Indian Prime Minister at the Elysee Palace lasted for two hours. It was more than an ice-breaking exercise as the Indian Prime Minister had especially come back from Moscow to meet Macron. Speaking after the talks, Modi declared that the Paris climate deal reflects “our duty towards protecting the Mother Earth and our natural resources. For us, protection of environment is an article of faith.”
In this short time, something ‘passed’ between the two men, laying a firmer basis for future relations. During the second week of December, President Macron will pay his maiden visit to India. Apart from the solar alliance, in which both countries have invested energies and resources, the project of Smart Cities, dear to Prime Minister Modi, will be discussed and taken forward. France has already adopted three cities, Chandigarh, French Architect Le Corbusier’s township, Nagpur and Puducherry. Macron’s visit is perhaps the opportunity to go a step further.
On July 13, a day before the Bastille Day, during a Press conference jointly addressed by the French President and the German Chancellor in Paris, the two nations announced their intention to cooperate for the development of a future combat aircraft, which could one day replace the Rafale of Dassault Aviations and the Eurofighter/Typhoon. Macron spoke of ‘road maps’ for joint investment opportunities in 18 areas, including a fifth-generation fighter plane. Macron said, “It is a deep revolution — but we are not scared of revolutions when they are conducted peacefully.”
The French President sees this venture as part of a broader integration of several European partners for the development, deployment and export of combat equipment. Airbus Defence and Space, which works on the Eurofighter, welcomed the announcement “to jointly develop a next generation fighter jet”. A communiqué added: “Strengthening the Franco-German axis will help to safeguard critically needed European defence capabilities in the future.”
Soon after the World War II, a man had a revolutionary proposal: To unite the enemies of yesterday, France and Germany, by bringing them to work together. Jean Monnet, the father of Europe wrote: “The course of events must be altered. To do this, men’s attitudes must be changed. Words are not enough.” Monnet thought that since both Germany and France had to rebuild their industry, it was bound to revive the old rivalry. Monnet’s idea was to reverse the problem — what had been the seed of war must become the seed of unity — his proposal was, therefore, to create a high authority which could manage the resources in coal and steel for both nations. This was hhe embryo of the European Economic Community (EEC) and later the European Union.
Monet was a visionary; the world will be lead by multi-nation collaboration in the future. Take the example of the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) developed by Dassault Aviation of France as the prime contractor, as demonstrated this. The nEUROn drone project perfectly reflects the original European ‘spirit’ though ironically, Germany is not directly associated. Six European countries have decided to build an UCAV as a technology demonstrator.
This European programme has been designed to pool the skills and know-how of Alenia Aermacchi (Italy), Saab (Sweden), EADS-CASA (Spain), HAI (Greece), RUAG (Switzerland) and Thales (France) to produce the drone of the future. With a length of 10 metres, a wingspan of 12.5 metres and an empty weight of five tonnes, the aircraft is powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour engine. It was French President Jacques Chirac who unveiled the Dassault-led nEUROn project in June 2005; the project crossed a major milestone on December 2012 when the UCAV had its first successful flight from Istres airbase, near Marseille in South France.
Dassault Aviation is the master builder, responsible for the overall architecture and design, flight control system, global testing (static and flight), elements of stealth, final assembly, integration of systems and testing. NEUROn is undoubtedly an extraordinary technological challenge for the European companies involved.
Why could not India be involved in such like high-tech projects with France (and also the EU)? Let us come back to the development of a fifth-generation combat aircraft. India has tried to work with the Russians. The project is not doing well.
Franz-Stefan Gady wrote in The Diplomat: “India, Russia 5th Generation Fighter Jet Deal is Lost”: “The transfer of sensitive defence technology from Russia to India has been one of the most contentious issues between the two sides right from the start.”
Gady commented: “India wants a guarantee that it will be able to upgrade the fighter jet in the future without Russian support, which would require Moscow sharing source codes (sensitive computer code that controls the fighter jet’s various systems — the key to an aircraft’s electronic brains).”
Delays are said to have been caused because New Delhi and Moscow disagree on many fundamental aspects such as work and cost share, aircraft technology or numbers of aircraft to be ordered by India. Though presently theoretical, a question, could be raised, why can’t India join the Germano-French project? While Europe may not require hundreds of fifth generation aircrafts in the decades to come, India will need hundreds of planes, having to cope with two fronts.
Modi has developed an excellent rapport with Macron and Merkel; it would make economic and strategic sense for India to partner Europe. It could be good for the European industries as well, as they would get crucial financial support and a market. It is worth thinking about such a far-away possibility; it could be a win-win deal for India too as Delhi would be involved in the project from the conception.
(The writer is an expert on India-China relations and an author)
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