Macron-Modi love on show as France courts India

French President Emmanuel Macron (centre) his wife Brigitte Macron (second from right) India's President Ramnath Kovind (second from left) his wife Savita Kovind (left) and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold hands during Macron’s ceremonial
French President Emmanuel Macron (centre) his wife Brigitte Macron (second from right) India's President Ramnath Kovind (second from left) his wife Savita Kovind (left) and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold hands during Macron’s ceremonial reception in New Delhi, India, on March 10, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI/PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday (March 10) said he wanted his country to be India’s best partner in Europe as he started a three-day trip to the country aimed at ratcheting up security and energy ties.

Macron, who was welcomed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his traditional bear hug on his arrival late Friday, also said “collective security” will be on top of the agenda during talks later Saturday.

“France is the entry point to Europe. We want to be India’s best partner in Europe,” Macron said after a ceremonial reception at New Delhi’s presidential house.


Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi (left) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron (centre) and his wife Brigitte (third from right) as French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian (second from left) looks on, on March 9, 2018, at New Delhi's military airport as they arrive for a three-day visit in the country. PHOTO: AFP

“The first (objective of my visit) is to seal for the decade to come a strong pact around collective security in the region between our two democracies.” The two countries are to sign an accord to step up military cooperation in the Indian Ocean where regional power China has been flexing its muscles.

The French presidency later said in a statement that French and Indian companies signed contracts worth 13 billion euros (S$21 billion) on the first day of President Macron’s visit.

The deals include a contract for France’s Safran to supply airline Spice Jet with engines, water system modernisation by Suez in the southern city of Davangere and a contract between industrial gas company Air Liquide and Sterlite.

Macron’s office did not provide a breakdown of the contracts’ values or details about the deals. It said some 200 million euros of investments will be made in India.

A so-called “Industrial Way Forward Agreement” was signed between French utility EDF and India’s NPCIL for the construction of six nuclear reactors at Jaitapur. Negotiations over the construction of next-generation nuclear reactors in India have been dragging on for years.

It was not immediately clear whether these were firm contracts or letters of intent.

On Saturday, Macron also talked about his personal rapport with Modi which was established after their meeting in Paris last year.

“I think we have very good chemistry, our two great democracies have a historic relationship,” the French president said.

Modi broke protocol to receive Macron at the airport Friday, exchanging warm hugs and robust handshakes.

“Welcome to India, President @EmmanuelMacron! Your visit will add great strength to the strategic partnership between India and France,” he tweeted Friday.

On Sunday, Macron will attend a solar power summit designed to showcase India and France’s commitment to fighting climate change, which both leaders have made a priority.

Travelling with his wife Brigitte, France’s 40-year-old president will also visit the monument to love, the Taj Mahal, a few hours drive from the Indian capital on Sunday.

On Monday, he heads to the chaotic Hindu holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the river Ganges, which the Indian premier has promised to modernise and clean up.

Macron’s visit comes after a somewhat mistep laden visit to India by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. Both he and Macron are often compared internationally because of their broadly similar political views, as well as youth and good looks.

 

But Trudeau's visit hit a series of embarrassing bumps and he received a fairly cool reception from Modi.

Trudeau was pilloried on social media and in the Canadian press for donning traditional Indian clothing at every opportunity.

And there were red faces when it emerged a former Sikh militant was invited to a dinner with him in Mumbai.

Macron has so far opted for more sober and predictable dress - a dark suit.