His vision of managing the economic crisis is similar to New Delhi's
The recent presidential change in France has raised some concerns in India. First, they concern the man himself. Admittedly, François Hollande is not well known, but the Indian media has presented rather negative images of him — of an “evasive” man whose humour would serve primarily to circumvent difficulties, while his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was able to win them over with his ability to forge direct contacts and make quick decisions during his first visit to New Delhi in 2008.
In the beginning, the French too were won over by Mr. Sarkozy but were soon disappointed by his behaviour as revealed by his plummeting popularity in polls just a year after his election. He never recovered. India knows that democracy suffers from governance flaws, but it also has a consistent tradition of rejecting those who divide the national community or attempt to govern by force.
Coming back to the man, it is said that Hollande has no international experience. Actually, he led a party with a long international tradition for over 10 years and was a very close associate of François Mitterrand, undoubtedly a man of great international stature. Although he has never visited India himself, that is not the case with some influential people in his entourage like Martine Aubry who organised in 2006 the first ever and largest festival of India in France in Lille.
A few days ago, Hubert Vedrine, our former Foreign Minister who is known worldwide as the French Kissinger, gave the best definition of the upcoming diplomacy — if François Hollande is elected, he will “behave more rationally, less impulsively [than his predecessor],” in a word more “predictably.”
Moving on to policy, what policy will the new French president undertake, and what will the consequences be for India?
1. On the economic and European front, President-elect Hollande is indeed different from his predecessor. Instead of the old, classic and conservative policies, he wants to trigger dynamic and progressive management of the global crisis. India is also severely affected as shown by the recent downgrading of the sovereign ratings of the country and of some of its banks and businesses by S & P and Moody's. Mr. Hollande is not a dangerous man who believes that the welfare state and increase in taxes are the only solutions, but he considers that only inclusive growth and a state conscious of the general interest of its people can provide a sustainable solution in today's open world. These are exactly the same challenges that India has chosen to take up.
Contrary to what is being said, Mr. Hollande is not a dangerous man for Europe either. Everyone knows that since the failed referendum on the European constitution in 2005, it is his top priority. He simply underscored for months the need to combine a return to balanced public finances with a growth policy to prevent the European Union from plunging into recession and a return to nationalism. This view is increasingly shared by EU officials, including the ECB. If the bet is won, it is an opportunity for India which is suffering from the Eurozone crisis as its banks are reluctant to lend abroad, and the country has suffered reduced foreign investments as illustrated by the recent cancellation of the Peugeot car plant project in Gujarat.
2. On the global economic front, Mr. Hollande does not have double standards of denouncing competition from emerging countries as being responsible for the crisis in order to fuel chauvinism and even racism; and then go begging for contracts in the same countries. The new President is a responsible man who knows that globalisation can bring benefits to all if regulated in a balanced manner. He also knows that the ultra-liberal discourse has been the source of global excesses for many years, creating strong divisive inequalities within each country, be it France or India. More ultra-liberal globalisation is not the solution and India knows this, not just in the field of finance but also for food security, etc. Each country or regional group must be able to maintain control over its economic and social development. However, Mr. Hollande is not a protectionist either. He knows that we all have a stake in the open world of trade. The key then is to adopt a balanced approach. Is this different from New Delhi's vision?
3. On the bilateral front, François Hollande is just as open to India as other French presidents. The India-France strategic partnership began in 1998. Lionel Jospin, a socialist was the then Prime Minister and Mr. Hollande was the undisputed leader of the Socialist Party. Undoubtedly, the French Socialists have a strong commitment to India. This partnership is still part of the same common vision of a multipolar world, more preferable to a bipolar “Chinamerica.” In geopolitical terms, France will seek more than ever to enter into dialogue with India on all global issues: there are various areas of agreement such as multipolarity, symbolised by the G20, a permanent seat for India in the U.N. Security Council, the fight against terrorism, the need for economic and financial regulations, and finally the mutual interest in strengthening relations with the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
There are areas where there exist, or where there will be disagreements: financial transactions tax, climate change, respect for social and environmental standards, or the practice of secularism in France. But let's discuss them.
Finally, there are some difficult short-term issues such as the best way to stabilise Afghanistan. France has always been sensitive to the concerns of India, but Mr. Hollande has committed to advance the withdrawal of French troops fighting in the country to the end of 2012. This does not in any way mean that he is not concerned about the serious crisis in that country since he has also taken up the commitment to continue working for its political reconstruction. The situation in Syria and Iran are other sensitive issues where Mr. Hollande's team knows that we need more consultation with India. So let's start working as soon as possible with the new team in Paris. India has its rightful place in the new presidency.
(Jean-Joseph Boillot is an economist and Philippe Humbert, a political analyst. Both are India specialists.)