India Today - - UP FRONT - Kan­wal Sibal is a for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary

What does Fran­cois Hol­lande’s vic­tory in the French pres­i­den­tial elec­tion mean for In­dia, Europe and the rest of the world? We know very lit­tle about him in In­dia. Hol­lande’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer has been con­fined to do­mes­tic pol­i­tics, but with­out any gov­ern­men­tal ex­pe­ri­ence even though he has headed the French So­cial­ist Party from 1997 to 2008. For­eign af­fairs has not been his forte so far, though now he will be deeply in­volved in it as the French Pres­i­dent has tra­di­tion­ally had a priv­i­leged role in con­duct­ing the coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy. It is not too im­por­tant if we do not know his views about In­dia be­cause Indo- French re­la­tions have ma­tured suf­fi­ciently and do not await new lead­ers to dis­cover mu­tual in­ter­ests hith­erto in­dis­cernible. Per­son­al­i­ties can make some dif­fer­ence in in­creas­ing lev­els of en­gage­ment with spe­cific coun­tries based on per­sonal in­cli­na­tions and judg­ment, but we may not ex­pect notched- up at­ten­tion to In­dia from Hol­lande.

Ni­co­las Sarkozy, who had no known in­ter­est in In­dia be­fore be­com­ing pres­i­dent, turned out to be very good for In­dia- France re­la­tions. He con­sol­i­dated the pos­i­tive mo­men­tum of bi­lat­eral ties un­der Jac­ques Chirac, re­in­forc­ing French sup­port for In­dia’s mem­ber­ship of the UNSC and in­ter­na­tional civil­ian nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion with In­dia and for­ti­fy­ing the strate­gic di­a­logue be­tween the two coun­tries. In­dia may have se­lected the Rafale jet fighter for tech­ni­cal- com­mer­cial rea­sons, but Sarkozy’s con­tri­bu­tion to cre­at­ing a con­ge­nial po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere for the deal can­not be dis­re­garded. Given Hol­lande’s back­ground, it is enough if he main­tains Sarkozy’s level of in­ter­est in In­dia.

In the case of France, the per­cep­tion is that the Gaullist po­lit­i­cal spec­trum is bet­ter for In­dia than the So­cial­ists. This is partly be­cause bar­ring Fran­cois Mit­ter­rand, no So­cial­ist has been pres­i­dent in the Fifth Repub­lic. When the so­cial­ist Lionel Jospin was prime min­is­ter in the ‘ co- habi­ta­tion’ pe­riod from 1997 to 2002, it was Pres­i­dent Chirac’s em­pa­thy for In­dia that guided the con­duct of the Jospin gov­ern­ment. Hol­lande’s suc­cess may not, there­fore, au­to­mat­i­cally com­fort In­dia be­cause an un­known en­tity suc­ceeds a known one, but the strong foun­da­tions of ex­ist­ing bi­lat­eral ties pro­vide suf­fi­cient rea­son to be at ease about the elec­toral re­sult.

Nat­u­rally, we should es­tab­lish con­tact with Hol­lande quickly at high level and in­vite him to In­dia, with a halt by our Prime Min­is­ter in Paris on one of his west­ward jour­neys in the in­terim, not to men­tion early vis­its by our for­eign and com­merce min­is­ters to France.

Ev­i­dently, Hol­lande’s elec­tion has the great­est sig­nif­i­cance for Europe be­cause France, along with Ger­many, has been at the cen­tre of the Euro­pean project and this project is in cri­sis, to the ex­tent that the sur­vival of the Euro is threat­ened, the weak­nesses of the much- vaunted Euro­pean en­ter­prise are be­ing openly ac­knowl­edged. Hol­lande is ques­tion­ing the Ger­man nostrum of aus­ter­ity and strict bud­getary bal­ance to ad­dress Europe’s sov­er­eign debt mal­ady. He is propos­ing in­stead a strat­egy of growth, in­vest­ment and job cre­ation that would in­volve higher spend­ing and bud­get deficits. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s pref­er­ence for Sarkozy over Hol­lande and the lat­ter’s frontal chal­lenge to Ger­man fi­nan­cial pre­scrip­tions for Europe and his in­ten­tion to re- ne­go­ti­ate the EU’S fis­cal dis­ci­pline pact sets the stage for crip­pling pol­icy tus­sles be­tween the two key pil­lars of Europe. France and Ger­many will even­tu­ally find a modus vivendi as both have vi­tal stakes in Europe, but any pro­lon­ga­tion of the Euro­zone cri­sis be­cause of ba­sic pol­icy dif­fer­ences that Hol­lande is sig­nalling would be costly for Europe and oth­ers.

The hy­per­ac­tive Sarkozy, al­ways look­ing for a lead­er­ship role, in­creased France’s vis­i­bil­ity on the in­ter­na­tional stage. He made me­di­a­tory moves in the Rus­sia- Ge­or­gia con­flict, punched Iran diplo­mat­i­cally, led the mil­i­tary ac­tion against Libya and adopted an un­com­pro­mis­ing lan­guage against Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar alAs­sad. He stood by his obli­ga­tions in Afghanistan and has been forth­right on ter­ror­ism, in­clud­ing on Pak­istan’s role.

Hol­lande’s more mod­er­ate per­son­al­ity may tem­per this hy­per- ac­tivism. His in­ten­tion to with­draw French troops from Afghanistan by 2012- end may re­quire US- France par­leys. On Is­lamist rad­i­cal­ism, his stance may re­flect his party’s softer view on France’s Mus­lim prob­lem. His mis­giv­ings about glob­al­i­sa­tion and un­fair ex­ter­nal com­pe­ti­tion may in­cite more pro­tec­tion­ist ten­den­cies in Europe, which worry In­dia and oth­ers. His lack of en­thu­si­asm for nu­clear en­ergy may im­pact the scope of Indo- French plans in this area.

Hol­lande has won as ex­pected, but with a mar­gin nar­rower than an­tic­i­pated. Sarkozy lost more be­cause of his per­son­al­ity flaws than his per­for­mance fail­ures. Hol­lande will be, as he says, a more ‘ nor­mal’ pres­i­dent.


Hol­lande’s mis­giv­ings about glob­al­i­sa­tion and un­fair ex­ter­nal com­pe­ti­tion may in­cite more pro­tec­tion­ist ten­den­cies in Europe,

which worry In­dia and oth­ers.


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