Macron seeks to replace Britain as India's gateway to Europe

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday he wanted France to supplant Britain as New Delhi’s partner of choice in Europe, as he embarked on a four-day tour of India.

FILE PHOTO - French President Emmanuel Macron addresses the media after the signing of a new law on educational orientation choices for the success of students at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Macron, a pro-business centrist who swept to power last year, has been beating the drum for France as a new, modernized “startup nation” on the world stage, while he pushes ahead with a wide-ranging program of reforms at home.

He has also used Britain’s decision to leave the European Union to pitch France as an investment destination at the heart of the European single market.

“Your historical partner in Europe was the UK, and I want France to become the new partner,” Macron told India Today in an interview published on its website. “I want France to become the reference partner of the 21st century.”

The 40-year-old president, who is traveling with a delegation of French companies that includes EDF EDF.PA, Dassault Aviation AVMD.PA, Schneider Electric SCHN.PA and Suez SEVI.PA, will also inaugurate a solar plant built by Engie ENGIE.PA in Uttar Pradesh.

“I think India has to operate much more with Europe and the European Union as a whole. I want France to be its entry point,” Macron said.

“I want your creativity, your entrepreneurship, your young people to be much more present in France. Much more known and recognized. And I want to see the same from the French side.”

India was the third-largest source of foreign direct investment into Britain in 2015, contributing to its position as Europe’s top destination for foreign direct investment, according to official British figures. By comparison, India was only the 30th largest investor in France, according to 2013 Bank of France figures.

Among recent wins for France is India’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault in 2016. It beat out the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is built by a European consortium that includes Britain’s BAE Systems.

But talks to sell six new-generation EPR nuclear reactors built by state utility EDF and Areva have dragged on.

Reporting by Michel Rose, editing by Larry King