French President Emmanuel Macron is on a four-day visit to India. Before his visit, President Macron, in an interview with Raj Chengappa, India Today Group Editorial Director, talked about the issues of climate change, Rafale deal, terrorism, and strategic partnership between India and France. Here are the excerpts.
Raj Chengappa: This is going to be your first visit to India as head of state. You have been there before as a banker. What are your impressions about the country?
Emmanuel Macron: This is my very first visit as president, and I am very happy to come and visit you, following the invitation of Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi when he came to Paris in June . We had a wonderful meeting, a wonderful and very friendly discussion, and he told me-come to India. So now, I come. But I remember my very first visit as a banker, and I was very impressed, especially in Bangalore, by the energy of the people, and I have this memory of a number of young and bright people, especially in the tech companies. That's very, very impressive, and I will be accompanied [during this visit] by a lot of French CEOs and French startups working on a day-to-day basis with Indian startups and entrepreneurs or being one of their main employers in India. So, I mean, we have these links through our youth and this entrepreneurship.
RC: You mentioned Prime Minister Modi, and there is an age gap of something like 27 years between both of you. Yet, you apparently got along very well when you met the first time in this very office in June 2017. What is the chemistry you share with Mr Modi?
Macron: Look, I think you can have chemistry even if you are not part of the same generation, and my private life is probably one of the best illustrations of this kind of chemistry. I was very impressed by Prime Minister Modi's vision, especially his strong commitment to [reversing] climate [change], and we will deliver a part of this agenda together in India, especially with the International Solar Alliance. But I think the chemistry is due to the fact that he is a very wise man with a personal philosophy and taste for independence. And he is very attached to the sovereignty of your country as I am to the sovereignty of my country. I think that's a mix of personal background with a difference of cultures and civilisation, but some common features and common key elements in terms of political philosophy-sovereignty, global issues, climate and this strong commitment to young people.
RC: France and India are partners in the International Solar Alliance. But soon after President [Donald] Trump took over, he decided that the US wouldn't be part of the 2015 Paris climate change deal. Though you'd spoken brave words at that time and said 'let's make our planet great again', isn't it a very serious setback?
Macron: I think it's a very serious setback for the US federal government, but not for the US itself. For me, the private sector, the states in the United States, are deeply committed to this fight against climate change, and that's why I am very optimistic regarding this common battle and what we can implement, because I do believe that, sooner or later, the US will have to join the club again. But it was very important right after the announcement of President Trump's decision to preserve the framework of the Paris Agreement. And words of commitment from Prime Minister Modi in such a context were very, very important to me. When he came to Paris in June last year. The second point is to deliver in line with this agenda, because a lot of countries announced their support to this agenda without delivering and without implementing, for themselves or in their region, consistent actions or consistent action plans. That's why I organised the One Planet Summit in December  in Paris in order to have concrete projects and financing on the ground, to have these 12 commitments. I follow up the implementation of these commitments very carefully, and part of it is the International Solar Alliance.
RC: A sum of $1 trillion is supposed to be set aside for the ISA. Will we be getting the finance? How will you make sure of this?
Macron: We will have the finance for sure because we have the commitment of a lot of countries, and now, there's synergy definitely on price. When you look at the pricing today, you have a strong decrease of subsidies in order to have competitive energy through solar. That's a huge opportunity, especially in Africa, which is, for me, one of the key objectives we should have, because that's the best way to leapfrog in terms of development, and to have a sustainable model of development [not only] for Africa but in a lot of regions. That's a huge opportunity for India. And together with Prime Minister Modi, we will go and inaugurate a big project in Benares involving Indian and French players. A key challenge for the International Solar Alliance is to first get the financing. I am confident about that because we have a lot of countries on the table and because we will manage together, thanks to our commitment to attract a lot of long-term investors. But the second [thing] is to have a list of important and credible projects, and I am confident that all the homework we did before this conference to prepare for the conference and outcomes, and the work we will do afterwards, is to have a list of concrete projects in order to have a very aggressive delivery. People need evidence. We need results. We have to decrease CO2 emission, and we have to develop this new kind of energy, especially renewable, through this solar energy initiative.
RC: The other part is your big bilateral visit to India. One of the things you and PM Modi talked about is deepening the strategic relationship. What is the Macron stamp you want to leave when you land in Delhi?
Macron: I want India to be one of the key partners in the region, and a credible partner, in terms of security, in order to have what I'd call liberty of sovereignty. I think you have a big challenge, which is to preserve your sovereignty in the Indian Ocean/ Pacific Ocean region. We are part of this region through our geography. And a lot of people ignore that. But we are not just a European power. We are part of the Indian Ocean/ Pacific Ocean powers through the Reunion Island and an island in the Pacific and it's very important to me to be part of this partnership in terms of collective security. We are the second global power in terms of sea presence and influence. We are a strong maritime power, we have a big navy with a lot of nuclear submarines. We are very active in the region in order to preserve this collective security through different missions. And, for me, India is one of the credible partners to preserve the stability of the whole region, to avoid any predominance and to preserve this liberty of sovereignty of our partners. Speaking about collective security and this bilateral agenda, as well as speaking about counter-terrorism and all the different kinds of terrorism, especially cross-border terrorism, both of us experienced different forms of terrorism during the last years, and it's very important to work closely to reinforce our common exchange, the links between our intelligence services, in order to protect our people.
RC: I am glad you mentioned terrorism because that is of deep concern to both countries. We both have been victims of attacks. What are the combined initiatives we can take, particularly vis-a-vis countries that support terror, such as Pakistan?
Macron: We have always taken on our responsibilities. Even in the past, when India was attacked or was in a difficult situation in the region, we supported it and we will continue to take this line. What we have to do now is increase bilateral cooperation in terms of security, exchange of good practices and information. One of the threats for you will be the return of jehadis from the Iraq-Syria region. One of the main common interests we have is to cooperate in this area. They attacked France several times, and they will now decide to go back, take refuge in your region. It's very important to cooperate very concretely, in terms of exchange of intelligence, increase cooperation in counter-terrorism. For me, this is a strategic partnership. If we want to build it up, renew it, we have to think about the whole region, the Indian-Pacific Ocean region and think of how to keep a balance in the whole region.
RC: There is some negotiation between India and France to have access to each other's naval bases, where an agreement is to be signed. Do you think it will happen during this visit-a Modi-Macron maritime pact?
Macron: Definitely. You have different projects related to some of our companies. But you need a common bilateral framework, a government-to-government framework. Our companies have to be a part of it, but only as one of the pieces. I saw all the polemics in your country over Rafale and so on. But I want your people to bear in mind that this is just one piece of a much more strategic and important common framework, which is how to keep stability in the region. Because we are two big powers of the region and we need to keep stability and freedom of access and avoid any hegemony in this region. And it's very important because it's part of a collective stability. I think it's part of the Indian DNA. I am a very big fan of Indian culture and I am always impressed by how, century after century, you have been able to preserve a sort of unstable stability, I'd say. It's very difficult for the French people to understand because we love classical gardens where everything is organised in clean lines. Your culture is built more through curves and this unstable stability. That is very impressive, it's part of your DNA and your strength, a capacity to always maintain different balances inside and outside. And I know how sometimes it's difficult in the region because a lot of people are afraid of the hegemony of some powers, [there's] a sense of being vulnerable to attack. And that's why I want France to be a partner of India in this fight against terrorism. But an important point for me, at the same time, is also that you preserve your DNA, preserve this taste for inclusiveness and balance. It's very important for your originality in the region, for the global environment. You have so many risks in this world, so many uncertainties, so many big powers trying to attack each other and breaking the global framework. You need this mindset where people are attached to keeping the balance, avoiding hegemony and violence and looking at inclusive political and cultural solutions.
RC: The Rafale deal has become a subject of much controversy in India with the opposition Congress saying India has paid too much, that they had negotiated a better deal in their time. What is the truth?
Macron: I wasn't part of it, but I have to say the negotiations were a win-win situation for both of us. The Indian government negotiated very well. They preserved the industrial interests of India. A large part of the production will now be in India, so the interests of the industry and workers were very well defended by your prime minister. And from a security standpoint, you have got a great deal, because Rafale is a best-in-class aircraft and it's the best way to be protected in the current environment. As for France, it was very good because India was a very important prospect and because it is one part of this common agreement we will have. Of course, in a democracy you will always have polemics between the government and the opposition. I am not part of the domestic political life in India, but I think the country's interests were very well defended by your government, not just from an economic or industrial but also a strategic point of view.
RC: Why can't the details of the deal be revealed and the air cleared up rather than have accusations flying around?
Macron: First of all, you have these commercial agreements, and obviously you have competitors and we can't let them know details of the deal. In India and in France, when the deal is very sensitive, we can't reveal details because of business reasons. Part of the absence of answers to some technical issues is these commercial agreements and the interests of different companies. Secondly, there are some discussions to be organised by the Indian government, and they will have to consider which details they would want to be revealed to the opposition and Parliament. I am not the one to interfere in such a discussion, and you too must realise that we have to consider commercial sensitivities.
RC: China has initiated the One Belt, One Road plan and you used the word hegemony. India has concerns about OBOR. What do you think China needs to do to address and allay these fears?
Macron: Discuss it with India. I went to China at the beginning of this year and I think China is a very big power today with strong strategic and global views. This road has never been a unilateral road but one of trade and balance between different powers. If the OBOR initiative has to be a success, it has be more inclusive and balanced with the different countries of the region where it is to be deployed. OBOR should be consistent with our global commitments and has to be green. Because one of my convictions expressed there was that you can't be part of the Paris Agreement and then say you will open coal plants in some of the countries where this road goes. I understand how this initiative could be considered a threat from an Indian point of view. The best answer would be to propose something different. Say, okay, we need to develop the overall region till Africa. We need more trade, more economic integration, more exchange, we need to better educate our people. We can be part of it because it is for the common good, but let's discuss our role in the game, be part of the overall scheme. If this is just a hegemonic scheme, it will never fly. If that is the case, you have reason to be afraid. But let's take it as a very strong geopolitical vision, make it very evolving and more consistent with our common goals.
RC: One of the things on the agenda of your India visit is boosting bilateral trade. Last year, we did business worth $10 billion, which was considered quite impressive. Would you be setting targets on this visit, and what do you think needs to be done to achieve them?
Macron: We can do much more and I will try to put a target on the table. But I have three main objectives with this visit. Climate, which has both bilateral and global objectives, security and the overall collective framework for the region. I am also obsessed with young people, educating young women and having more and more exchanges. If we work along these lines, I am sure trade will increase. As a natural result of this movement, I will try to set targets but I would like to cross-check with Prime Minister Modi on their credibility. Because if I set a target, I want to deliver. We can do much more in terms of the right investments, trade and openness to our reciprocal markets. But, for me, exchange of people is absolutely critical to improve trade. Your classical, historical partner was always the UK, and I want France to be the new partner, the reference partner of the 21st century. Because I think India has to work much more with Europe and the EU as a whole. I want France to be the entry point for India for that. That will be the cornerstone of the strategic relationship. I want your creativity, your young people, your entrepreneurship to be much more present in France, much more recognised, and I want the same thing for the French side. A few days ago, I invited a lot designers, creators for the fashion week... I'd say geniuses of the business. A lot of Indian creators were present, they were very impressive and they will be a part of my trip.
RC: There is one aspect I am sure you will be concerned about and that is the kind of delays that happen in projects, particularly defence projects. Is the French businessman frustrated with the way we do business, especially the ministry of defence?
Macron: I am very pragmatic. If I have a request, I would take it directly to the minister or the prime minister, I will not go through the media, as that's not the best way to deliver. I think we can do much more. We can streamline a lot of regulation, simplify our bilateral approach, minimise bureaucratic procedures and decrease complexities of relations. It has to happen through people. I want more creators (artistes) to come to France; I want more chefs to go to India and develop our gastronomy. I want more corporates in both technology-driven and classical industry, in services, to design small and smart cities. I want your designers, writers, researchers to be much more present in France. I want to double the number of Indian students who come to France by 2020. It's unacceptable to have so few Indian students coming to France. Your reference country was the UK; I want your young students to come to France. France is all about openness. It's part of the European Union, you have now students who speak English, you will be part of a multilingual approach. A large majority of our students speak English fluently, you can be taught in English in our universities and grade schools. This is a city of creativity, entrepreneurship. I want Paris and France to become a new hub for access to Europe and even the US for your young people. I want to increase these things because it will be the best way to increase trade. Some of this trade relationship is due to the government-to-government discussion in defence, in big contracts and so on. That's fine. But a lot of the new trade is due to entrepreneurs and people-to-people discussions-in tech, entrepreneurship, creative fields.
RC: You are really a great ambassador for France, Mr President. The other issue is Europe. You said Europe is back despite Brexit. You have seen the sort of uncertain election results in Italy. What makes you so optimistic about Europe and the entire Union?
Macron: I'm not just optimistic, I am determined. I have a strong willingness to deliver. The clock is running, and you have to run to deliver. In Germany, after the recent elections, the Chancellor has preserved one coalition. Italy, on the other hand, has witnessed a big rise of populism. Here, in France, people decided exactly the opposite. They decided to embrace openness, modernity and strong transformation of the country. I have two objectives. One is to transform France into a much more attractive, open and strong country. We have delivered reforms in the past seven months like never [before], and it has worked. People will see the outcomes in the coming years. It's not perceivable right now because you need time to deliver results, but we have passed the reforms. We need a much stronger and integrated Europe, a Europe that protects, educates better and invests better-to be a natural partner alongside the US and China on a global scale and a natural partner for some key countries like India. If European leaders are not in a situation to decide and accelerate right now, they will dismantle or put at risk the European project. I am totally focused on that and I want us to be much more efficient.
RC: One of the things buffeting globalisation is President Donald Trump's decision to take various protectionist measures. He is almost dismantling globalisation. How will that impact your dreams and plans in Europe?
Macron: I think it's a huge mistake; it's a fragmentation of the global trade environment. The US was part of the policy to decide the WTO rules and the result [of the new measures] is to decrease opportunities and start a trade war with all the countries. So we will react, obviously. I hope we will manage to stop this movement but you never know when the tariff will be increased on a unilateral basis; we have to protect ourselves against dumping. When a great power decides on its own to put tariffs, without any reason, in obvious contravention of a global treaty, that's a mistake. I will do my best to convince President Trump-we definitely have to preserve our common global framework.
RC: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a great supporter of globalisation. You have been talking to him.
Macron: I discussed that with Prime Minister Modi in June , I listened to his speech in Davos a few weeks ago. He has always been very clear that he has respect for our global and trade rules because he sees the advantage. We have to protect our people and our businesses with firm, open, clear rules-not by violating our own rules.
RC: I am going to end this with a few personal questions... What's your favourite Indian food? Is there a Macron dish?
Macron: I will follow Prime Minister Modi's advice, but tandoori chicken is one of my favourites and I love it when I taste it here.
RC: My final question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being the youngest president in France's history?
Macron: For me, the advantage is the same as the disadvantage. I have no right to compromise. The advantage when you are young is that you are brave, sometimes very bold and tough for people, because you want deep reform and you have the energy to do so. However, as you are young, you are supposed to spend decades with your people and you are not allowed to be short term-driven. Both the advantage and disadvantage concern energy: the fact that you will share the life of your people for decades is something that pushes you to be disruptive, to entirely transform a country and take decisions even when they are complicated in the short run because you are here for a very long time with your people. And that, I think, is what my country needs-long-term decisions. France is a very peculiar country. It's not a country to be reformed; it is not a classical country. We've had several revolutions, we are very bold about what we want. But we are able to transform very rapidly. The intent is to be one of the leaders of the world, to promote our deep values. That's our DNA.