French President Francoise Hollande’s working end of the State visit on Thursday was high on symbolism but yielded little in terms of contracts.
As Mr. Hollande put it at a news conference later in the day, he was sure India was committed to all big ticket deals that are in the pipeline and his purpose was to showcase French companies in India and ask India Inc to step up investments in his country.
As most major deals are in the defence sector (the civil nuclear deal for the Jaitapur plant being an exception) and with allegations of graft in an Indian deal with Italy the focus of investigations, Mr. Hollande promised that France’s transactions with India in this respect will be above board.
The newly-elected French President is making his first visit to an emerging country, with diplomatic sources pointing out that Paris opted for India over Brazil, Russia and South Africa. It is also his first to a large Asian country.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Hollande held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during which the two sides decided to give economic ties a push following disappointing results to the earlier plan to boost trade.
In the field of energy, the two leaders expressed satisfaction over ongoing collaborative projects in R&D on peaceful uses of nuclear energy and agreed to further strengthen bilateral civil nuclear scientific cooperation.
India and France had signed a MoU in 2009 for the setting up six nuclear reactor units at Jaitapur. With both sides stating their position, they hoped for the expeditious conclusion of the negotiations.
On defence, Dr. Singh and Mr. Hollande reiterated their desire to cooperate in high technology programmes and projects in the sector, which would include joint research and development and transfer of technology. In this connection, they noted that the projects for the Scorpene submarine and upgrade of Mirage 2000 are moving forward and steps are being taken for early finalisation of the SRSAM (Short Range Surface to Air Missile) project.
Both sides noted the progress of ongoing negotiations on the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) programme and look forward to their conclusion. The leaders reaffirmed their interest in continuing the cooperation in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and other areas.
To give an impetus to the cooperation in railways, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Railways and SNCF (French National Railways) was among the several MoUs signed. On the economic side, they decided “to establish an annual bilateral dialogue between the two Finance Ministries on economic and financial issues.’’
Diplomatic sources said that notwithstanding the fact that India and France had been negotiating for more than a year, Rafael’s closest competitor, the four-nation Eurofighter had given up hopes of a re-contest. Indications from Germany, the lead country for the India contract, show it is in no mood to imperil the wider Franco-German bonhomie for this tender.