May 2, 2022 3:35:18 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is travelling to Germany, Denmark and France from May 2 to 4. His first foreign trip this year comes at a time when a war in the heart of Europe has upended seven decades of global order.
Germany is one of India’s most important partners in Europe, with deep bilateral relations, and also because of its key role in the European Union. India was among the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with the Federal Republic of Germany after WWII.
India and Germany have a ‘Strategic Partnership’ since May 2000, and it has been strengthened with the launch of the Inter-Governmental Consultations (IGC) in 2011 at the level of heads of government. India is among a select group of countries with which Germany has such a dialogue mechanism. During Modi’s visit, the 6th IGC will take place, postponed from last year due to the pandemic.
Germany has a new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who assumed office last December. Scholz, a former finance minister, visited India in 2012 when he was the Mayor of Hamburg. Scholz was the first foreign leader with whom Modi had a phone conversation in 2022.
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Germany has made key strategic choices in the Russia-Ukraine war. It has promised to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, and decided to increase defence spending — a significant move, given its post-WWII posture. With India too dependent on Russia for defence supplies, it will be important for New Delhi and Berlin to exchange notes on strategic choices — and moving away from Russia for their respective needs.
Germany holds the G-7 Presidency, and with India taking a different view from Europe’s by not condemning Russia directly, it will be significant to see if India gets invited to the G-7 outreach summit in June.
India and Germany have a shared interest in upholding democratic values, a rules-based international order, and reform of multilateral institutions. These issues are expected to figure in the discussions, especially in the context of China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.
Bilateral relations were elevated to the level of a “Green Strategic Partnership” during the Virtual Summit held in September 2020 between Modi and Danish PM Mette Frederiksen. Frederiksen was in India on a state visit from October 9 to 11, 2021, the first visit by a Head of Government following the pandemic.
INDIA-NORDIC SUMMIT: The first India-Nordic Summit took place in April 2018 to explore new areas of cooperation. This format is special; the only other country with which the Nordic countries — Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland — have this kind of engagement is with the US. While economic growth, climate change and global security were identified as key areas of cooperation, the summit is taking place at a time when two Nordic countries are looking at joining NATO, amid a sense of insecurity in Europe.
“Nordic countries are pioneers in innovation, clean energy, green technologies, education, health-care, human rights, rule of law — this presents enormous opportunities for India to expand its own strengths by collaborating with these countries…,” Ankita Dutta, a research fellow at the India Council of World Affairs wrote in a paper. For Nordic countries, Dutta wrote, “it makes sense to step-up their engagement, as India today represents a fast growing economy with annual GDP growth of 7-7.5% over the last few years. India presents an ideal opportunity to these countries because of its large market. Many new flagship schemes have been launched by India — like Make in India, Smart Cities Mission, Start-up India, Clean Ganga etc — in which Nordic countries can take active part and provide their expertise.”
The visit to France has been planned after President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected in a tough election. India and France have traditionally had close relations. In 1998, the two entered into a Strategic Partnership, with defence & security cooperation, space cooperation and civil nuclear cooperation being its pillars. India and France also have a robust economic partnership, and are increasingly engaged in new areas of cooperation.
France was among the few western countries to not condemn India after the 1998 Pokhran tests. It has continued to support India’s claim for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. France’s support was vital in India’s accession to the Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group. France continues to support India’s bid for accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Following the Pulwama attack in February 2019, France nationally listed the Pakistan-based ‘global terrorist’ Hafiz Saeed, which was followed up with his listing at the UN. France has also supported India’s requests to block attempts by Pakistan to enlist Indian citizens under the UNSC 1267 Sanctions Committee.
The current visit will give the two leaders an opportunity to exchange notes on the Ukraine crisis, China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, and defence and security cooperation including the delivery of Rafale aircraft.
Modi and Macron are some of the few world leaders who have maintained open communication channels with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The conversation with France will also be important since it is holding the Presidency of the European Union this year.
India & Europe
To sum it up, Modi’s visit signifies the importance attached to India’s ties with Europe. For the past few years, Europeans have always felt that — as a whole — the Modi government gives more thrust to other strategic partners like the US, Japan and even Australia and the UAE, than Europe.
Over the last few weeks, the intensity of engagement has increased in the wake of the war in Ukraine, with foreign ministers from UK, Poland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway among others and the President of the European Commission visiting India.
Although India in 1962 had been one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the European Economic Community — the precursor of the European Union — the relationship focused initially on trade and economic cooperation. A Cooperation Agreement signed in 1994 broad-based the relationship to include ministerial meetings and a political dialogue.
These ties have expanded to include political and security issues, climate change and clean energy, information and communications technology, space and nuclear, health, agriculture and food security, and education and culture.
Modi’s visit to Europe is likely to set the stage for the India-EU summit and a boost in Free Trade Agreement negotiations, which have been ongoing for a decade and a half now.
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