Column | India aims to mend fences with Europe with PM Modi’s tour

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands as they attend a news conference during the German-Indian government consultations at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany May 2, 2022. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Europe soon after the Raisina Dialogue from April 25 to 27 may have been a coincidence, but could not have come at a more appropriate time. At the Raisina Dialogue, it appeared that many European countries participated to explore whether India could be persuaded to review its policy of neutrality on the Russia-Ukraine war and bring it to the democratic coalition which was being formed against Russia.

India’s legacy of close relations with Russia had never been a hindrance to its strategic partnership with the US and Europe, but India not joining the sanctions regime, the only means of war the West was using to  defeat Russia was taken as India being on the wrong side of history. They questioned India as friends and tried to find ways to persuade India to join the democratic forces against authoritarian Russia. India stood firm, characterized its position as the only way possible to bring about reconciliation and peace. The Indian responses were seen as combative and not conciliatory and the visitors went away with the impression that its relations with Europe were not a priority for India.

The war in Ukraine must have come up at the highest level during Mr Modi’s visit also, but he discussed India’s long-term cooperation with Germany, Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) and France, leaving aside the conflict in Ukraine to be dealt with at a different level. But these countries naturally were anxious to know what the power equations of the world would be and they wondered what India’s position would be in the new world order that would emerge.

US asserts again

One immediate consequence of the war was the increased cooperation between the US and the NATO after President Trump left office. The Europeans in general and the NATO countries in particular had moved closer to the US as the US stepped up their military aid to NATO and even to Ukraine itself. As a result, the US has assumed a central position in the conflict in Ukraine. Though there is a general impression that the US has been benefitting from the sanctions, they are taking the lead in the imposition of sanctions.

Some concern about India not being part of the sanctions is common in the EU as well as in the US. Much of the conversation on the subject may have been left to the US to negotiate with India, as it happened in the case of the nuclear deal. But it was evident during the visit that the Europeans expected India to take into account the long-term relationship in determining its position on the war.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets the members of the Indian community, during an event, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen is also seen. Photo: PTI

War just an aberration, Germany told

In Germany, which Mr Modi visited for the first time after the formation of the new Government under Olaf Scholz, there is growing expectation that India will change its position and cooperate with the US and Europe. Mr Modi stressed that the multifaceted relationship between India and Europe was much more fundamental than a solitary issue of geopolitical relevance. The sixth India-Germany Inter-Governmental Consultations helped India to give critical importance to long-standing commercial ties and strategic partnership. The trade, technology cooperation and climate change were of a continuing nature, while the war was a temporary aberration that should be dealt with differently. The bilateral discussions focused on trade, the Indo-Pacific, strategic partnership including post-covid recovery and the contribution of the Indian diaspora. The indication given that Germany would invite India to the forthcoming session of G-7 was a highlight of the visit.

India-Nordic summit

At the India-Nordic summit, the stress was on post-pandemic economic recovery, climate change, renewable energy and the global security architecture. The war in Ukraine was discussed, but it did not cast a shadow on the economic agenda that the Nordics wanted to pursue with India. Discussions were held on cooperation in the maritime sector. Mr Modi invited the Nordic companies to invest in the Blue Economy sector, especially in India’s Sagarmala project. India’s partnership with the Nordic region in the Arctic was discussed and Mr Modi noted that India’s Arctic policy provides a framework for India-Nordic cooperation in the polar region.

France's President Emmanuel Macron welcomes India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France May 4, 2022. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Space, climate top of agenda in Paris

Even against the backdrop of difference of opinion on the Ukraine war, India and France agreed to work in close proximity in line with the 'Make in India' initiative, the challenges related to space issues, besides making deeper ties in climate change and defense-related matters. India and France have agreed to set up a bilateral strategic dialogue on space issues. The two leaders recalled the premier strategic partnership they have developed in the Indo-Pacific region, based on a vision of a free, open and rules-based regime in the region.

Scope for improving ties

During his fence-mending visit to Europe, Mr Modi succeeded to a great extent in bringing long-term interests of India in Europe to the forefront so soon after hearing dissonant voices from the Europeans at the Raisina Dialogue. But as Shanthie Marriet D’Souza, a highly respected strategic analyst, has observed after conversations in Germany, there is still a certain dissonance in India-European ties as result of the Indian position on the war, even though there is a realization that India and Europe could play important roles during a period of alliances and realignments, in shaping a new world order.

Much will depend on the twists and turns in the Russia-Ukraine war and the state of relations between Russia and the West at the end of the war.


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