|By Nilova Roy Chaudhury||June 2017|
New Delhi. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to three key European Union (EU) members, from May 29 through June 4, rekindled Indian efforts to firm up its ties with the 27-nation EU, which is India’s largest trade partner. He was successful in getting a date set for the long-stalled India – EU summit that, sources said, would be held later this year.
High on the PM’s agenda were discussions on cooperation on the economic, defence, science and technology, and nuclear fronts, and the fight against terror. He also pushed for early conclusion of the European Union — India Free Trade Agreement with Germany, Spain and France, three leading members of the EU.
The Prime Minister’s visit to Germany, Spain and France coincided with US President Donald Trump withdrawing USA from the Paris Accord on climate change, while partially blaming India for his decision.
Mr Trump’s assumption of the US Presidency in January this year, followed by some of his actions and statements, like cutting visas for skilled immigrants and his first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia combined with severe criticism of Iran, leading to an Arab boycott of Qatar, has sent several worrying signals to India.
New Delhi’s relations with Beijing have also not been cordial recently, particularly with China’s strong emphasis on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (also known as the ‘One Belt One Road’) to “revive” the old silk route, which India opposes as it infringes on Indian sovereignty. A key part of the BRI is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, an area India claims as its own territory.
As relations with both Beijing and Washington pose uncertainties, New Delhi moved to shore up its ties with key EU members, Germany and France and Spain. With China continuing to remain intransigent on India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Mr Modi’s visit to these three countries, and “time-tested” friend Russia, all of whom are NSG members, melded well with the EU’s own efforts to look to Asia for closer linkages, particularly given Mr Trump’s pronouncements chiding Berlin and other EU capitals.
India, which has a waiver allowing it to engage in nuclear commerce since 2008, after it concluded the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement, is keen to join the NSG as a full-time member. While most of the 48 NSG member countries are amenable to India’s request for membership, China has been firm in opposing India’s entry into the group. The Prime Minister made a strong personal pitch to move India’s NSG application forward, urging the four countries to push New Delhi’s case, particularly using their good offices with Beijing.
Mr Modi travelled to Berlin on May 29 for the fourth Indo-German Intergovernmental Consultations (IGIC) on May 29 and 30. Germany is the only country with which India shares this “comprehensive format of consultation”, said Martin Ney, Germany’s Ambassador to India.
“Germany is a key partner for India, as our strengths lie exactly in the core areas, in which the Indian Government wants to achieve major development progress: Business, investments, technology, infrastructure, vocational education, science and renewable energy,” said Ambassador Ney.
Mr Modi’s visit to Berlin also demonstrated that the strong bilateral relations between the two countries have potential for further progress, since both Germany and India have a joint interest in strengthening the rules-based international order with obvious synergies on the bilateral level.
Responding to a question in Berlin, Mr Modi said Germany and India are “made for each other.” He explained the huge synergy that exists between German capabilities and Indian requirements while speaking of India’s pursuit of excellence in areas such as engineering, infrastructure and skill development. Describing the values of innovation and democracy, as a blessing for mankind, he said India and Germany share these values.
After intensive interaction, including at a private dinner hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, between the Indian Prime Minister and the German Chancellor, both countries signed 12 agreements. A comprehensive joint statement was also issued, covering various aspects of the negotiations.
The agreements focused on bilateral synergies in areas like skill development, combating cyber crime and renewable energy. Germany seeks to bolster the ‘Skill India’ programme with its extensive experience as a leader in vocational education. Germany is also the most important partner of India’s ambitious renewable energy programme. Heightened cooperation against terrorism and seeking German investment in Indian infrastructure projects were other key areas of focus.
The fourth IGIC laid out an “ambitious bilateral agenda forward to deepen our strategic and economic partnership,” a senior official told India Strategic.
In a joint statement after their talks, “Prime Minister Modi and Federal Chancellor Merkel underlined their common concern about the threat and global reach of terrorism and extremism. They agreed on the need to take strong measures against all those who encourage, support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary and safe havens that sustain and support terrorist groups and organizations. They welcomed closer collaboration between India and Germany to counter these challenges through regular meetings of the Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism.”
In a subtle dig at China, the statement went on to say, “Both sides underlined the importance of freedom of navigation in international waters, the right of passage and other maritime rights and obligations in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other principles of international law. Both Leaders attached particular importance to security, stability, connectivity and sustainable development of the blue economy in the Indian Ocean Region.”
They also agreed to step up their defence collaboration and “concurred on fostering security cooperation with the goal of promoting peace and strengthening stability and the capacity to meet the global and regional security challenges. Both countries agreed to pursue closer cooperation and strive to conclude negotiations in 2017 on a binding agreement concerning enhanced cooperation in the defence field including in defence industry cooperation,” the statement said.
Mr Modi’s visit to Spain, the first official visit by an Indian Prime Minister in over 25 years, saw him meet Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on 31 May. They held intensive discussions on ways to enhance bilateral engagement, especially in the economic sphere, and cooperate on international issues of common concern, particularly in combating terrorism.
The two leaders “welcomed the recent entry into force of the Agreement on Classified Information which, together with the Joint Memorandum of Cooperation in Defence of 2012 established the basis for strong defence cooperation between both countries,” a joint statement issued after their talks stated. Cooperation in science and technology, combating terrorism, defence cooperation and the railways formed the core of their discussions.
“Both leaders welcomed efforts to further cooperation between defence industries, including co-development and co-production agreements and technological cooperation. In particular in the advanced aerospace sector it will include the participation of the Spanish Defence Industry in the Make in India programme for the Indian defence market and third country exports. The two leaders called for early finalization of negotiations between the two Ministries of Defence on a Technical Agreement for Exchange of White Shipping Data,” the joint statement said.
“There is significant potential for deepening bilateral trade and investment ties. We seek active participation of Spanish industry in various Indian projects including infrastructure, smart cities, digital economy, renewable energy, defence and tourism,” Mr Modi said, as both he and Mr Rajoy met a group of businessmen at the India-Spain joint business forum.
After France elected its strongly pro-Europe candidate as President in May, Mr Modi visited Paris on June 3 for his first meeting with newly elected President Emmanuel Macron.
France is one of India’s most important Strategic Partners. It is India’s 9th largest investment partner and a key partner in development initiatives in areas of defence, space, nuclear and renewable energy, urban development and railways.
“I am committed to substantially strengthening and advancing our multi-faceted partnership with France,” Mr Modi stated.
“Heightened counter-terrorism cooperation is also high on the agenda of talks,” officials told India Strategic. It is part of India’s “persistent efforts to place pressure on Pakistan” for spreading terrorism in South Asia.
Both PM Modi and President Macron came out in strong support of the Paris Agreement on climate change after the US withdrawal, with the French President refusing to re-negotiate the agreement.
Mr Modi said, “Paris Agreement is a shared legacy of the world. It will benefit the future generations as well. Paris Agreement reflects our duty towards protecting the Earth and our natural resources. For us, this is an article of faith.”
To bolster their climate-friendly credentials, President Macron said he would visit India later this year to bolster the global Solar Alliance, jointly launched by the two countries.
Bilateral cooperation with India in the Indian Ocean is a priority of the strategic partnership. France, which is an Indian Ocean rim nation through its overseas territories including Reunion Island, considers India to be a vital partner for stability and security in the region. Both Modi and Macron stressed the importance of respecting international law and freedom of navigation.
The Prime Minister’s visits placed India back strongly on the European radar, results of which would soon be visible, sources told India Strategic.