By Claude Arpi
12 Feb , 2013
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh meeting the President of France, Mr. Francois Hollande, on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit, at Los Cabos, Mexico on June 19, 2012.
One may ask, “Will the election of Francois Hollande as President of the French Republic change Indo-French relations?” The answer is, certainly not. It is true that the word ‘India’ did not appear a single time during the entire campaign but to understand François Hollande’s position, it is worth quoting an article published in Le Monde on May 22, 1981 titled, “India Chooses the Mirage 2000 to Modernise its Air Force”. A day earlier, Francois Mitterrand had become the first elected Socialist President of the Fifth Republic. At that time, Pakistan was trying hard to acquire F-16 fighter planes from the US; the fact that India wanted to purchase 150 Mirage 2000 from France on this historic day was highly symbolic of the relations to come.
In the French presidential elections held in May 2012, François Hollande, the Socialist candidate defeated Nicolas Sarkozy, the ‘hyper’ outgoing President winning nearly 52 per cent of the votes. One of the main characteristics of the campaign was the total lack of interest in foreign affairs and defence issues maybe because both candidates were not too apart as far as these two subjects are concerned. Take for instance, Afghanistan. Both Hollande and Sarkozy agreed to withdraw the French contingent. The difference was just a matter of timing; Hollande promised the departure of the French forces before the end of current year, while Sarkozy preferred to wait one more year. There were also some divergences on the integration of the French Army in the NATO. The main difference between the candidates was Paris’ position vis-a-vis Berlin. But now some mutual adjustments are underway and the French-German ‘couple’ will, in all probability, continue to give a lead to Europe Union.
The selection of the Rafale certainly marks a high point in the long and trusted cooperation between France and India…
The French President
The President of the French Republic is the elected Head of State with extended powers in the fields of defence and foreign affairs and some control over the Prime Minister (Jean-Marc Ayrault) answerable to the Parliament. The French President is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. During the campaign, the Socialist candidate often stated that when he would become President, he would put an end to “austerity everywhere, austerity that brought desperation to people throughout Europe.” However, it is easier said than done. One of the first decisions of the new government was to cut the staff of the non-priority ministries by 2.5 per cent per year between 2013 and 2015. This excluded four ‘priority’ sectors. Defence, apparently, is not a priority anymore and will eventually face budgetary cuts.