PM Narendra Modi travels to Europe’s heart as world order groans under new strains

PM Narendra Modi has scheduled a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel scheduled at her official country retreat in Meeseberg

Written by Praveen Swami | Updated: May 29, 2017 8:54 am
Narendra Modi, modi europe trip, modi europe visit, angela merkel, german chancellor merkel, indian express news, Prime Minister Narendra Modi (PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will begin a visit to four European nations in Germany on Monday, with a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel scheduled at her official country retreat in Meeseberg. The discussions, ahead of visits to Spain, Russia and France, will be the Prime Minister’s first engagement with a European Union whose relationship with the United States has come under intense pressure, and at a time when tensions with Moscow have been rising. Though the Prime Minister’s talks in Germany are expected to be focused on business issues, including stalled negotiations on a free trade deal between the EU and India, as well as investments, technology and terrorism, the summit will also offer Chancellor Merkel an opportunity to push her vision on how the global economic order ought to be defended at a time of declining US leadership, diplomatic sources said.

President Donald Trump was reported to have rounded on Germany at the just-concluded G7 summit in Sicily, attacking the country for its trade surplus, which touched $283 billion last year — $64.9 billion of it with the US. “Look at the millions of cars that they are selling in the United States,” Trump was reported to have said to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk by the newspaper Der Spiegel. “It’s horrible. We’ll stop it.” The remarks raised eyebrows because German firms such as BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen, like their Japanese and Korean rivals, build many of their cars in the US, employing tens of thousands of workers there. In addition, German vehicle sales constituted less than 5 per cent of automobiles sold in the US last year.

Berlin sees New Delhi as a potential ally in defending the global free trade regime against the wave of protectionism Trump represents, since India has also been facing pressure over visas for skilled workers, which pose a problem for its information technology firms operating in the US. It has also been warning about China’s own vision of a new global trade order, with its State-driven One Belt, One Road system, which India has stayed away from. Earlier this month, Germany’s Ambassador to India, Martin Ney, told journalists that “since we have some common questions (about the Belt and Road project) in India and in Germany, this is a good reason why we should be able to sit down and discuss how we should do trade”.

Germany, like other European states, did not sign the document that emerged from the recent OBOR forum. Underlining Germany’s concerns about OBOR, Ney had noted that “while connectivity is not a bad thing, trade must follow free trade policies. Our hesitation has been that there have been no consultations.” Even though India and Germany are on the same side of this debate, aligning the two sides’ interests involves substantial hurdles. In government-to-government consultations scheduled for Tuesday, Germany is expected to push for progress on a Europe-India treaty which would protect investors from the EU states. India had scrapped earlier bilateral investment treaties with several countries but has made slow progress on finalising new ones.

In their Monday evening meeting, Modi may also hear from Merkel her concerns that Russia is seeking to push its borders westwards — an argument that has become unwelcome in Washington since the election of Trump, who has been demanding that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members in Europe meet their commitment to spend at least 2 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product on defence. Instead of explicitly endorsing the mutual defence pledge at the heart of the alliance at his first NATO summit last month, Trump only gave a loosely worded assurance to “never forsake the friends who stood by our side” after 9/11.

Germany and the United States have also been increasingly at odds over Russia. The German chancellor reportedly brought a map to the White House to help Trump understand the threat posed by Russia, showing the Soviet Union’s 1980s borders to argue that President Vladimir Putin wished to restore them.

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