With the announcement that the French Rafale of Dassault Aviation has bagged India's biggest-ever contract for supplying 126 combat aircrafts for the IAF, a new area of partnership has opened between France and India.
Claude Arpi speaks to Nicolas Forissier, a former Agriculture Minister and today President of the French Parliamentary Group for Friendship with India about the role of the Friendship Groups, the issue of FDI in the distribution sector, the interest of President Sarkozy to extend the strategic partnership with India to new fields and the greater economic cooperation particularly in South India.
CA: I was told that there are very few articles on India in France, particularly on Indian politics. Would you like to comment?
NF: France, till recently, was not sufficiently conscious of the importance of India; of what is happening here; of her wisdom too. I think that things are changing. I was telling you that I have seen a sea of changes during the last 5 years or so. It is not by chance, it is because some political personalities have worked for this. I am thinking first of President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who renewed the strategic partnership; they have given a new kick-off to the relations. I have seen it in my own modest experience. It is not the same rhythm as before, it is faster and French companies are more and more interested by India.
I always tell these companies:"You should go, but you should be persistent, you should take the time to understand the country, its aspirations. You should understand the needs of the Indian people; answer their questions and finally you should build win-win partnerships."
Our French delegation visited India this year; I have now officially invited our Indian counterparts to come to Paris next year. The idea is to have regular exchange. I told the President of the French Assembly that it was unthinkable that a French delegation should not visit India, at least one in a parliamentary term (five years). It is the minimum we can do for a country like India. Through this relation with the Lok Sabha, many networks come into place; it is for me absolutely necessary. We are delighted to have had these contacts at the highest level; our report to the Parliament will be clear on this point.
About the French Press, there was still insufficient comprehension of what is happening in India and the weight of India in the world. There are articles, but not enough, and not as many as on China because everyone has focused on China for the last decade. It is changing. Indian culture fascinates the French people. We have so many Indian exhibitions and performances. And now the interest slowly shifts from culture to economy and politics.
CA: What about the strategic aspect?
NF: France will have to quickly start looking at what is happening in India. It is essential. There is an evolution in this sense in France, but honestly more is done in the economic field for the time being.
CA: Though there is a strong strategic partnership at the government level, today most think-tanks in France are more interested by China?
NF: It is true. Chine is today a major actor; we have seen it again since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. China can't be ignored because it the factory of the world and it has cash-flow surplus, but it is not a reason for India to be absent. In the past, the nature of our conception of India has been romantic and cultural. But one realizes now, that India is an economic power with responses to today's world. It is also a market, for example in the agro-food sector.
Our look on India is changing very fast, in particular thanks to the strategic partnership. President Sarkozy has often very strong intuitions, I know him well and from the start of his mandate, he had the intuition that the relations with India had to be intensified. It is what is happening.
Our role as the Friendship Group is to accompany this movement, and to pass the message and develop new networks between France and India.
Today our group is one of the two largest in the French Parliament (more than 120 MPs are part of it). It is larger than the Group for Friendship with the US.
Images: Claude Arpi/Agencies
Image: An undated picture of the President of the French Parliamentary Group for Friendship with India, Nicolas Forissier with Lok Sabha Speaker, Meira Kumar.