Ambassador Ziegler’s interview to Dainik Jagran
Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler’s interview to Dainik Jagran’s Special Correspondent, Jaiprakash Ranjan, on the depth of Indo-French relations.
New Delhi, 11 December 2018
1. You joined your post as Ambassador in June 2016. What is your take on the India-France relationship?
More than a simple relationship, I regard this as a partnership. This partnership is based on two pillars. The first is trust. We have always considered each other as all-weather partners. We can also depend on each other during challenging and adverse situations. The second pillar is values. This includes several things, such as democracy, the rule of law, commitment to the environment, and so on. There are very few countries in the world that share such commonality of views as India and France do.
2. France was the first country with which India engaged as a strategic partner. Do you think our journey so far in this regard is satisfactory?
Yes, absolutely. 20 years ago we established a strategic partnership. Our Foreign Affairs Minister is coming to India on 14-15 December to celebrate the twentieth year of this special relationship. Our President Emmanuel Macron came to India in March 2018. But our strategic relations started in 1947 when India won Independence. It continued to be strengthened in the following decades. France and India both consider it crucial to maintain our freedom, our strategic autonomy. This year India and France announced their Joint Strategic Vision on the Indian Ocean Region. We are also implementing a joint strategy for space cooperation. Our counter-terrorism cooperation, too, is being strongly established.
3. There is much controversy in India over the Rafale deal. What is your country’s reaction in this regard and the offsets clause of the deal?
I think that the ongoing controversy on the Rafale deal is groundless. It is drawn on baseless points and, sometimes, distorted facts. The Rafale deal did not appear suddenly out of the blue. This is not the first time that an agreement is being signed between France and India. This is the fruit of India and France strengthening their political relations over 70 years. In aeronautics, our ties have been quite strong. Companies like Dassault have been supplying India with aircraft for the past 60 years. We have supplied India with aircraft like the Mirage. There is a longstanding historical relationship between our respective defence industry companies. The Rafale deal should be seen in the perspective of our strong and longstanding strategic partnership.
The Rafale was selected after a long, competitive process, pitted against five other major companies. It is the world’s best fighter jet. It won after a long race.
Given the urgent operational need of the Indian Air Force, we decided, in 2015, to go for an intergovernmental agreement, which guaranteed that the fighter jets could be supplied rapidly and on even better terms. The first Rafale jet to be supplied to India is already flying. Training is underway. The first unit will reach India in 2019. The rest of the 36 Rafale fighter planes manufactured according to India’s specific requirements will be delivered within two years after that.
Now let’s come to the offsets clause. According to the agreement between India and France, 50% of the contract value has to come back to India. 30,000 crore rupees will come back through investment, job creation, transfer of technology. A hundred Indian industrial partners, big and small, public as well as private sector companies, will be concerned. The selection of these partners is up to Dassault. Our governments have no say in the selection. Bringing offsets equalling 50% of the contract is in itself quite extraordinary. In a way, this reflects the commitment of French companies to India.
4. During the visit of President Macron, it was agreed that both sides would cooperate more in the Indopacific. What does this imply?
The Indian Ocean is very important for India and France. The Indo-Pacific region is vital for both countries. France has more than 20 lakh citizens in this area. We are facing common challenges here: of our ships navigating freely in this zone, piracy and terrorism. India and France have published a Joint Strategic Vision document for cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. Cooperation between our respective navies will be intensified. Our aircraft carrier will dock here in May 2019 and participate in an annual exercise with the Indian Navy. Further, there is infinite potential for cooperation on environmental protection between India and France in this vital region.