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President Hollande visit further strengthens India-France strategic ties

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 14: French President Francois Hollande visit to India has further strengthened the strategic ties launched between the two countries 15 years ago. During his two-day visit, Mr Hollande had fruitful talks with the Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Pranab Mukherjee. The two sides discussed several issues of national and international importance including cooperation in nuclear power and high valued defence deals such as $12 billion fighter jet contract and short-range missiles.

Addressing a press conference along with Mr Hollande, Prime Minister Singh said "the discussions on the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) contract are progressing well."

Mr Hollande said, "The Prime Minister and I noted that some progress has been achieved in the discussions and I do hope we can reach a conclusion."

Hollande is hoping his first visit to Asia will help push India to ink a deal to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets from France's Dassault Aviation which has been on the negotiating table since January 2012.

India last year chose the French firm for exclusive negotiations to equip its air force with new fighters. While it says the discussions are proceeding smoothly it has already said the contract will not be signed during Mr Hollande's visit as it is being fine-tuned.

Another major project up for discussion was a contract for France's Areva to build a 9,900-megawatt nuclear power plant in the western state of Maharashtra.

The $9.3 billion framework agreement was signed during a visit to India in 2010 by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy. But it has run into stiff opposition from environmentalists concerned about seismic activity in the area and safety fears following Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.

But Dr Singh said India remained committed to the project.

"We reiterated our commitment to its early implementation as soon as the commercial and technical negotiations on which have we made quick progress are completed," he said.

Singh and Hollande stated that their mutual interest was cooperation in high technology programs, including bilateral research and development and transfer of technology, one of India's highest priorities.

Hollande noted that joint venture projects already online included the Indian navy's indigenously built Scorpene submarine and the upgrading of the Indian air force's French-built Mirage 2000 with negotiations progressing. He also said discussions continue to finalize the joint French-Indian Short Range Surface to Air Missile air defense project.

Underscoring the importance of the visit, Hollande was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian along with the chief executive officers of more than 60 leading French firms.

After being accorded a red-carpet reception and gun salute at the Rashtrapati Bhawan where he was received by President Pranab Mukherjee, Mr Hollande spoke in English to thank his host for granting him the "great honour" of a state visit.

Mr Hollande endorsed India's campaign to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. France is one of the five existing permanent members.

"Our partnership is based on a number of principles that we strengthened today, such as defence," said the French President. "Our cooperation goes back over a long period," he added.

Dr Singh said France had "given us strong and steadfast support" throughout India's post-independence history.

"Our relationship is defined by the breadth and diversity of our cooperation as well as by the intensity of our dialogue," he said.

On the French diplomat in Bangalore accused of raping his daughter, Mr Hollande said he has "full confidence in the Indian justice system".

He said it was "not for us to take sides" in the case and added that they have "full confidence in the Indian justice system".

Pascal Mazurier, deputy head of chancery in the French consulate in Bangalore, has been accused by his wife of raping their four-year-old daughter.

The French president, answering a media query on the issue, said the French authorities have been informed of the case and lawyers of the husband and wife are dealing with the case.

Mazurier has alleged that his wife is trying to frame him. He was arrested in June last year and granted conditional bail by the Karnataka High Court on October 17.

Hollande asks India to remove investment hurdles, willing to pump in $1 b

MUMBAI, Feb 15: French President Francois Hollande on Friday said French companies are willing to invest up to USD 1 billion in India, but asked New Delhi to take necessary steps to open up the market by removing obstacles.

"There are always obstacles to opening markets," Hollande said addressing industry leaders in the financial capital this evening but clarified he is not meddling in the political affairs of this country.

Admitting that obstacles (to market reform) exist in both the countries, Hollande, winding up his two-day state visit said, "I am not here to interfere in the political decisions but these decisions (to open up markets) are nonetheless necessary."

"We are all convinced that India has a great future and we want to partake in that," he said, adding the country has the potential to grow at 10 per cent and faces "immense challenges commensurate with its size".

French companies led by the retailer Carrefour and nuclear major Areva, among others, have been waiting to invest in the country but like others in the developed world have blamed the policy environment as being the impeding factor.

Underscoring the deep economic ties between the two nations, Hollande said the relations go back to over 150 years with the pioneer being the bank, BNP, and said assets created by 750 French companies here stand at USD 17 billion at present. He added that French businesses would like to invest more in an emerging economy like India.

"We pride ourselves on being one of the biggest investors here. The stock of our assets here is USD 17 billion and we wish to increase this investment flow by USD 1 billion. We are ready for it," he said. Hollande said French companies are particularly interested in sectors like urban development, railways, space science, energy and nuclear energy given their expertise.

Claiming that the Eurozone crisis is over, Hollande said recession is a major challenge he faces domestically and also invited Indian investments.

"We need help of everybody, especially the big emerging economies like India," he said.

Speaking about the need to increase bilateral trade, he said even though there is potential to ramp it up to USD 12 billion per year, it is only USD 8 billion now.

On the proposed Indo-EU Free Trade Agreement he said all efforts should be made to increase trade.

The FTA negotiations are likely to be completed by April.

The French President said when it comes to cooperation, there is a need for the engagement to move beyond the traditional defence and nuclear energy, and offered to facilitate measures in the cultural and scientific spheres also.

President Pranab for coordination between India, France on marine security

NEW DELHI, Feb 14: India and France should have close coordination in matters related to maritime security and countering threats posed by terrorists and their facilitators, President Pranab Mukherjee has said.

"We are concerned when there is instability in our region; and we value constructive consultations with all concerned on the issues that must be addressed carefully. The sea lanes in the Indian Ocean, similarly, are threatened by acts of piracy, evoking the necessity of closer co-ordination in maritime security," he said in a speech during a banquet hosted for French President Francois Hollande at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday.

Describing France as India's oldest, closest and most reliable partner, Mukherjee hoped that the strategic partnership between the two nations will continue to progress and mature in the years to come.

"As countries that have repeatedly experienced terrorist attacks, we must give due priority to addressing the threats to international peace and security posed by terrorists and their facilitators," he said.

Mukherjee said more than 700 French enterprises have invested in India and Indian companies are increasingly exploring opportunities in France.

"Our bilateral trade has grown to almost USD 9 billion in 2011-12 and France is today the 9th largest foreign investor in India. Our joint initiatives which include technology transfer and collaborative development in the strategic areas of space, defense production and civil nuclear co-operation have been particularly successful," Mukherjee said in a release.

Welcoming the French President on his first state visit, Mukherjee also appreciated France's support to India's rightful claim to a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.

"Both the countries have long nurtured a close and substantive relationship based on shared principles and values and convergences on regional and global issues of common concern," the President said, expressing hope for greater bilateral cooperation between the two nations.

France, India should cooperate in civil nuke energy: Hollande

NEW DELHI, Feb 15: President Francois Hollande pitched for French excellence finding its rightful place in the fields of civil nuclear and renewable energy in India, even as he assured investors here that the euro zone crisis was behind us.

Though India and France have different profiles and environment, both countries have a common goal to raise their growth to cater to the needs of the increased population and their need for access to the consumer market, he said.

Delivering the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture in New Delhi on Friday, Hollande said while Indians fear that their growth rate could go down to 5 percent, the French government prepares to revise downwards its forecast of 0.8 percent in the year gone-by.

The French President also said companies from his country need to invest more in India in the fields of technology and said in a lighter vein that this nation has "numerous" engineers whose numbers are higher than the entire French population.

Focusing on the need for further cooperation, he said India and France should unite their efforts in cooperation on civil nuclear energy, renewable sources of energy and in agriculture on which majority of people of both countries is dependent on.

"I wish that French excellence in nuclear field and renewable energy finds its rightful place here because you also have the same will," he told the packed hall at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

The euro zone crisis, which made it difficult for some countries in the euro area to repay their government debt without the assistance of third parties, was behind us but the continent is not out of the economic crisis.

"I want to affirm here with the seriousness and responsibility of the moment we are experiencing and the function that I exercise. The euro zone crisis is behind us," he said.

"There cannot be any progress for a large country like India where there is not a Europe that knows itself stability, confidence and growth," Hollande said and asked India and France to relentlessly pursue the goals set by leaders like Gandhi to ensure that development reaches every citizen.

Talking about his interaction with business heads, the French President said Indians want their rate of growth may exceed eight, nine and 10 percent and "I dreamt."

"Today, the fear is that it can go down to 5 per cent, which would be a great performance for France but a risk to the Indian economy because your needs related to the increase in population, its need for access to the consumer market, durable goods require strong growth," he said.

"We, in France we are fighting for that growth is not below zero, we will succeed," he said, evoking laughter among the audience.

The French President said both have a common goal to raise their growth and so "our interests are common".

Though commercial exchanges between India and Europe have tripled in the past few years, Hollande said, more needs to be done.

Francois Hollande bestows France's highest honour on Amartya Sen

NEW DELHI, Feb 15: Calling Amartya Sen the "greatest humanist" and a "great thinker", French President Francois Hollande on Friday bestowed his country's highest decoration on the Nobel Prize-winning celebrated economist for his contributions to economics and philosophy.

Conferring 'Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur' (Legion of Honour) after delivering the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture here, Hollande lavished praise on Sen and quoted extensively from his works that speak about problems faced by the poorest sections of the society.

"I am extremely honoured as I have great admiration for French culture and civilisation. The President's connection with socialism is a chilling part of receiving this honour from him," the 79-year-old Nobel Laureate told the audience that gave a standing ovation to him twice during the ceremony.

The French President said he considered it a "great privilege" to bestow the honour on Sen "who is an economist, socialist, humanist and a great thinker".

"His works help improve the lives of people. He was an Indian by birth and was an Indian at heart as well though he travelled and worked in far-away West," he said before he gave away the honour.

Sen is a "teacher" for everyone and "strength of the nation", the President said and hoped that he would continue to do service to the global community.

"This is with a lot of emotion that I bestow this honour on him," Hollande said as the audience gave a standing ovation to Sen.

In his speech, Sen spoke of his admiration for the French civilisation and recalled the then President Nicolas Sarkozy's move to appoint a commission headed by him and another Nobel Prize wining economist Joseph Stiglitz.

"Though he knew am a socialist and that he does not subscribe to my views, he was gracious to accept my recommendations," Sen said.

French President arrives in India to enhance strategic partnership

NEW DELHI, Feb 14: French President Francois Hollande arrived here on Thursday on a two-day visit which is expected to include talks to finalise the purchase of Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation.

India's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Preneet Kaur and other officials received him.

During his visit, Hollande is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders on ways of enhancing the strategic partnership between the two countries.

India chose Dassault Aviation's Rafale for exclusive negotiations over a year ago to supply 126 aircraft in a deal potentially worth 10 billion US dollars.

However, both sides have played down prospects that the deal would be finalised when President Francois Hollande visits India on February 14-15.

The French Foreign Minister said on Sunday that he was very positive that Hollande would hold talks with India to finalise the purchase.

Hollande is accompanied by France's First Lady, his partner Valerie Trierweiller, and a high-level delegation including several key ministers of his Cabinet, senior officials and business-leaders.

He will attend a Guard of Honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan later in the day, followed by a visit to Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi.

He is also expected to hold delegation level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid besides meeting ruling Congress Party President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and senior leader of main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Sushma Swaraj.

On February 15, Hollande is scheduled to deliver a lecture at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti House.

He will also honour Nobel laureate and renowned economist Amartya Sen with Commandeur de la legion d'Honneur.

Thereafter, the French President will visit Mumbai for a meeting with the Governor of Maharashtra and participate in a business conference.

French investment in India touches US $ 17 billion: Ambassador Richier

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb11: Ambassador of France in India, Mr François Richier, informed that the total investment by French companies in India has exceeded US $ 17 billion. Such a large investment has provided jobs to 250,000 skilled Indians, brought latest technology and triggered R&D in India.

Speaking on “What makes the Indo-French relations special: understanding the dynamics of the strategic partnership” at the Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) campus here on Monday, Ambassador Richier said though the trade between the two countries was US $ 8 billion instead of the set target of US $ 12 billion last year due to several reasons like global slowdown, it is important to note that French investments in India have grown up quite considerably.

On the upcoming visit of French President Francois Hollande, the Ambassador said India is the first Asian country Hollande is visiting after being elected president in May last year. He said this signalled the importance France attaches to ties with one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. “The long relationship between France and India has blossomed into large number of areas,” he added.

Ambassador Richier said France and India had signed strategic partnership during President Chirac’s visit in 1998 as the leadership foresaw in the last century itself that India would emerge as a big power.

The Ambassador said that Sovereignty, Strategic autonomy and Stable and steady relationship has given new dimension to the bilateral relationship.

President Hollande will be accompanied by five ministers, including Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and a 45-member business delegation. Besides talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other key leaders, Hollande will address industrialists in Delhi and India’s financial capital Mumbai.

The visit would see the two countries signing several agreements. However, the Ambassador said the big ticket deals like $12 billion Rafale deal for 126 fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force from French company Dassault Aviation SA and the pact for six European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) of 60 MW each between French company AREVA and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited for the proposed atomic power plant at Jaitapur in Maharashtra will not be signed.

After navigating the safety side of the EPRs, he said now negotiations will move to commercial aspect. He also said negotiations on Rafale aircraft is "still going" on and it is "moving smoothly".

He said that France had completed the safety review of the EPRs in the aftermath of the 2011 mishap at Fukushima in Japan. Asked if India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act has been hindering the launch of bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear cooperation, the Ambassador said that Paris had been discussing with New Delhi about the contents of the legislation and its implication for bilateral civil nuclear cooperation.

Besides upgrading of Mirage 2000, building Scorpion submarines, he said the two countries are discussing co-development and co-production of missiles.

Ambassador Richier also dwelled on cooperation in the fields of Science and Technology, culture and education between the two countries. He said now 3,000 students from India are studying in France and 1,500 French students are studying in India. “As many as 450 MoUs have been signed between the Indian and French universities,” he added.

Ambassador Richier also informed that the two countries are also working on an intergovernmental pact on migration and mobility and hope to conclude it this year.

Moderating the event, former Ambassador to France Kanwal Sibal said that India-France relationship had withstood great stress when India tested nuclear device in 1998. He noted that France not only didn't impose sanctions but also reacted with great moderation.

Sibal said the President's visit to India would help get personalised attention on India and "it is a good thing".

Noting that India and France have enjoyed special relationship, ORF Director Sunjoy Joshi underlined the need for both countries to remain engaged and invested and further deepen the relationship, taking it to a strategic phase.

Defence and strategic commentator Manoj Joshi and noted journalist Praveen Swami also spoke of the need to strengthen the strategic relationship between the two countries.

Joshi dwelled on the “deep, long-lasting” Indian purchases of French military aircraft and helicopters.

Swami primarily focused on cooperation over the Middle East and Africa. He said that with America's increasing disengagement from the Middle East, the foundations of India's policy toward the region will further erode. Given India and Europe's continued dependence on Middle-East and West and North African energy resources, these countries will need to work together on stability arrangements and military commitments in these regions.



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