Foreign Relations Student Corner

India-France Relations – New Developments

When India count her friends in the foreign relations, France occupies a special place. Both nations have a centuries-old history of trade relations. In this post, let’s analyse the new developments in India-France relations.

History of India-France Relations

  • The French came as traders to India in the 17th century. But they had colonial aspirations, which resulted in the ruling of certain territories like Puducherry.
  • Things have changed, colonialism had ended. Now Puducherry is a popular tourist destination for French travellers to India.
  • The political, commercial and cultural contacts, then established, were maintained throughout the 19th century. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established after the Independence of India.  Since then, co-operation has developed in all the major areas.
  • Though France was always sensitive to India’s claim for its unique stature in the world due to its rich civilization, cold war impeded deepening of the relationship. After the cold war, the relationship progressed through many landmark agreements like Strategic Partnership agreement 1998 and Civil Nuclear agreement 2008.
  • Former French president François Hollande was the chief guest in republic day celebrations in 2016 thus making France the only country to be invited a record-setting 5 times to republic day celebrations.
  • Cooperation in fields of nuclear, space, counter-terrorism, defence, urbanization, culture etc grew in recent decades.
  • President Emmanuel Macron’s visit in 2018 cemented the regional dimension of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

The strategic partnership between India and France

On the basis of this old bond of trust that France and India decided to take a new step by establishing a strategic partnership in 1998. With the establishment of this partnership, there has been a significant progress in all areas of bilateral cooperation through regular high-level exchanges at the Head of State/Head of Government levels. The growing cooperation and exchanges include strategic areas such as defence, counter-terrorism, nuclear energy and space.

The strategic interests: background

During cold war time, France was weary of subordinating its foreign policy to that of US’s. India was also pursuing NAM thus not succumbing to either super-powers.

After the end of the cold war, both India and France favoured multipolar world order as they were sceptic of US hegemony.

  • France termed the US as hyper-power
  • France was the first P-5 country to support Indian membership in UNSC
  • They signed a strategic partnership in 1998
  • France supports India’s membership of Multilateral Export Control regimes, viz. NSG and MTCR.
  • France’s support was vital in India’s accession to MTCR in 2016.

India- France: Indo-Pacific region Interests

French islands  – Réunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean and New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the South Pacific – making France a stakeholder in the region.

  • But regional dimension to the strategic partnership remains dormant as India was reluctant to join hands with any other power, especially western powers in Indo-Pacific region due to its cold war legacy of NAM.
  • This equation changed with the rise of Chinese clout in the region and simultaneous decline of American hegemony from the region.
  • This prompted India to look for like-minded countries to jointly spearhead the security architecture of the region.
  • France, which has many littoral islands in the region, also looked for partnerships in the region to counter the volatile rise of China.
  • Being middle powers and their mutual wariness to hegemonic power projection, India and France began to see each other as natural allies in Indo-Pacific region, especially western Indian ocean.
  • Prime Minister Modi visited France in 2017 and met President Emmanuel Macron and reiterated strong commitment to further strengthen the India-France strategic partnership. Prime Minister Modi declared India’s unflinching commitment to the Paris Accord. This regional dimension of strategic relation was complemented by other initiatives like ISA. Amidst this background, Emmanuel Macron visited India in 2018.

India- France: Defence Cooperation

Since 1980s defence cooperation increased as India was looking to diversify its military procurement to reduce over-reliance on USSR.

Major defence projects

  • 36 Rafale fighter jets through government to government deal
  • P-75 Scorpene Project: The contract for six Scorpene submarines under technology transfer. The first two submarine Kalvari and Khanderi have been built.
  • Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL) manufacturing facility at Mihan in Maharashtra. It is a joint venture between French aerospace firm, Dassault Aviation, and India’s Reliance Group and is the first private facility for production of Rafale fighter jets and Falcon civilian aircraft.
  • Regular defence exercises; viz. Exercise Shakti (Army), Exercise Varuna (Navy), Exercise Garuda(Air Force)

India- France: Space Cooperation

  • ISRO and the French Space Agency (CNES) are cooperating for many decades.
  • French launch pads are used by ISRO for their GSLVs: GSAT-17 was launched from Kourou 2017.
  • France is a major supplier of components and equipment for the Indian space programme.

India- France: Civil Nuclear Cooperation

  • After the 1998 nuclear test by India, France was the major nuclear country which understood India’s security compulsions for its nuclear test.
  • France worked with the US to integrate India into global nuclear order through India specific waiver in NSG.
  • France was the first country with which India entered into civil nuclear agreement following NSG waiver.
  • General Framework Agreement and the Early Works Agreement between NPCIL and AREVA for the implementation  Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP) were signed in 2010.

India- France: Other areas of cooperation


  • After the Paris bomb attacks, both countries increased cooperation on global terrorism.
  • France supports India’s proposal of Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in the UN.
  • During former President Hollande’s visit in 2016, India and France issued a Joint Statement on Counter-Terrorism in which they resolved to step up bilateral cooperation in this field.


  • In Paris summit of UNFCC, India and France launched International Solar Alliance (ISA) which brings together countries between tropic of cancer and tropic of Capricorn for cooperation on solar energy.
  • During Macron’s visit, both countries decided to form a joint working group to institutionalize cooperation in the conservation of the environment.


  • India and France are cooperating on developing smart cities: Chandigarh, Nagpur, and Puducherry.

Cultural Cooperation

  • Indian Council for Cultural Relations regularly sends Indian cultural troupes to France.
  • Presented the Namaste France cultural festival in France from 15 September to 30 November 2016.
  • French cultural festival Bonjour India in India will be conducted from November 2017 to February 2018.

Economic relation

  • India’s trade relationship with EU is mired in many roadblocks which are reflected in the stalled FTA negotiations with EU. This inertia also affects trade relation with France.
  • Trade is highly concentrated in certain niche areas like defence supplies.
  • In the backdrop of Brexit, France can act as an entry point for Indian businesses in Europe.

Macron’s visit

In vision statement on India-France relations, free Indo-Pacific was emphasized

  • France has many littoral islands in the indo-pacific region which makes France a major player in the region especially in the west Indian Ocean.
  • The Indian navy has good relation with US Pacific command which reaches up to the Bay of Bengal. But US Central command which is up to Arabian sea has good relation with Pakistan. Here India can partner with French navy (according to Rakesh Sood).
  • A Joint vision statement on free Indo-Pacific is aimed at countering Chinese hegemony in the region.
  • This vision comes at a time when India is willing to cooperate with other like-minded countries in Indo-Pacific region shedding its approach of viewing the region as its exclusive backyard.
  • French military bases in Djibouti, Abu Dhabi, and Reunion Island can be a force multiplier for India, which itself is looking to build naval facilities in Seychelles, Mauritius, and Oman.

Emphasis on ISA, re-commitment to Jaitapur nuclear plant, climatic change cooperation. Narendra Modi and Emmanuel Macron inaugurated a solar power plant at Dadar Kala village in Uttar Pradesh:

  • Reactions to the abdication of responsibility by the US on climate change regime.
  • Leadership role in ISA is conceived as providing an alternate leadership for developing countries by challenging current geopolitical power structure around fossil fuel.

Reciprocal logistics support b/w the armed forces:

  • Message to US and Russia about restructuring strategic posture in consonance with an age-old commitment to multipolar world order.

This visit had rekindled the ambition of two countries to chalk-out a plan for multi-polar rule-based world order.

Challenges in India-France Relations

Strategic relations

  • France’s commitment to BRI is in stark contrast to India’s position on the same.
  • Presently cooperation on Indo-Pacific is merely symbolic. Need deep coordination between both navies. Reciprocal logistics support is a right step in this direction.


  • Thermal power still feasible and economic than solar in India, so International Solar Alliance (ISA) will not make much headway in near future.

Nuclear cooperation

  • Delay in the Jaitapur project is affecting future cooperation on the nuclear front.


  • Delays and controversies around Rafael deal are affecting mutual trust between both the nations.

India-France Relations: The Future…

  • The India-France relationship is primarily driven by government-to-government level relations. It needs people-to-people and business-to-business relations to deepen the ties.
  • French infrastructure companies are looking for opportunities in Indian projects especially in smart cities and renewable energy. India should leverage this opportunity by improving ease of doing business.
  • Model Bilateral Investment Treaty of India has drawn sharp criticism from investors, Government should revisit this by taking into account concerns of all the stakeholders.
  • India-France should build on reciprocal logistics support agreement to deepen military ties
  • 14 agreements signed on during Macron’s visit covering the whole gamut of issues from space cooperation to sustainable urban development. Both countries should carry forward these commitments consistently to deepen the relationship.
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