New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Germany, Denmark and France is expected to help transform India’s relationship with Europe, as it comes at a time when the EU is looking to wean itself away from Russia and China and lean more on the Indo-Pacific region.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Beijing and Moscow’s proclamation of “no limits friendship”, Europe is finally “shaken out of its slumber” and is “compelled to make long-term allies with countries like India and Japan and the larger Indo-Pacific region”, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
Modi’s trip to Germany saw the first instance of a joint statement involving India mentioning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, although it came from Germany’s perspective.
According to sources, Europe sees this as a “big shift in India’s stand” in the Russia-Ukraine war, which has led to large-scale casualties and aggravated the world’s refugee crisis in its protracted three-month span.
“Germany reiterated its strong condemnation of the unlawful and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine by Russian forces. Germany and India expressed their serious concern about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,” said a joint statement issued after the 6th India-Germany Inter-Governmental Consultations.
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The Modi-Scholz meeting
During the first meeting between Prime Minister Modi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that took place in Berlin Monday, both sides also affirmed “deepening of strategic cooperation between India and European Union”, according to the statement. They also “unequivocally condemned civilian deaths in Ukraine” while “reiterating the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities”.
This is the first bilateral meeting between the two leaders since Scholz succeeded Angela Merkel as the German Chancellor.
Modi and Scholz focused most on the issue of strengthening their economic ties by speeding up talks for the pending India-EU free trade deal, as Europe plans to gradually reduce its dependence on Russia for its energy needs, and also on China, with which it maintains robust trade and investment ties, sources added.
“We talked about this in greater detail, the Prime Minister and I, what needs to be done now is to ensure that we achieve a better future together, not by waging wars against each other but by pursuing economic growth and development together,” said Scholz.
“What is clear is that the Indo-Pacific belongs to the most dynamic global regions. And at the same time, it is confronted with a lot of conflicts and challenges. Thus, Germany is going to maintain and further intensify where possible, its commitment on the ground. India is amongst one of our very important partners here,” the Chancellor said.
Addressing Modi, Scholz added that his country was “pleased” to have partners like India and Indonesia and countries in Africa, with whom it plans to do business.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accompanied Prime Minister Modi on this trip to Germany and Denmark.
Before he met Modi in Berlin, Scholz was in Japan to meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. It was his first trip to Asia. Notably, he did not visit China.
“My trip is a clear political signal that Germany and the EU will continue and intensify their engagement in the Indo-Pacific region,” Scholz said in his meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, emphasising “different globalisation, a cleverer globalisation”.
The visit is expected to further push trade ties between both sides even as Prime Minister Modi committed to concluding the pending free trade agreement between India and the European Union during his trips to both Germany and Denmark, something that was pushed by the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen too during her visit to India last month.
Gurjit Singh, former Indian Ambassador to Germany, said that Europe, through the Minsk and Normandy Agreements before the Ukraine war began, was attempting to explore a working relationship with Russia.
“But now with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s sudden declaration of war on Ukraine, EU’s Russia policy stands wrecked,” Singh said. “They were anyway facing stiff challenges to their economic growth due to Covid. Now, with sanctions, their growth will further come down. So they want Indo-Pacific and India and the big markets the region has to offer.”
Singh, author of The Harambee Factor: India-Africa Economic And Development Partnership, also said that the EU’s relationship with China will also get dented due to Beijing’s position in the Ukraine war saga.
“The Europeans, especially the Germans, not only need a new market, a new place to invest, but also they also need India strategically. They want a multipolar world, which India also wants. This is a re-defining moment,” Singh added.
Denmark seeks India’s help to tell Putin to stop the war
In Denmark, PM Modi and his counterpart Mette Frederiksen discussed ways to take their ‘Green Strategic Partnership’ forward by way of enhancing energy ties in new and renewable sources.
“In times like these, we need to build an even stronger bridge between us. We discussed the war in Ukraine… Denmark and the entire European Union strongly condemn Russia’s unlawful and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. My message is very clear — Putin has got to stop this war and end the killings,” Frederiksen said, addressing a joint press conference in Copenhagen. She said Denmark hoped that India “will influence” Russia to spread the message.
Modi said India and Denmark discussed the situation in Ukraine and reiterated New Delhi’s call for “immediate cessation of violence”.
In September 2020, Modi and Frederiksen had held their first virtual summit, in which both the leaders agreed to elevate India-Denmark relations to a Green Strategic Partnership.
Ashok Sajjanhar, a former diplomat, said with the “weaponisation of supply chains by China and weaponisation of energy lines by Russia”, Europe was realising the need to partner with Indo-Pacific countries.
“On China, Europe, specifically Germany, used to put political, economic and human rights issues in different silos. But now China is increasingly emerging as a systemic rival for Europe, and this war has made it worse,” he said.
However, Manjeev Singh Puri, India’s former ambassador to the European Union, said while divergences will remain between India and the EU on Russia-Ukraine war, both sides have decided to work on the convergences.
“There’s a certain amount of understanding in Europe that China is not all good and ties with Russia cannot be as they used to be. So they need to look at India and others. But they won’t cut their ties completely with China and India won’t be able to replace them. That’s a fact,” Puri said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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