With PM Modi all set to visit Berlin, time is ripe to reset India-Germany partnership

With the India-EU partnership on even keel, now is the time to go beyond that and build on Indian and German priorities bilaterally, which neither look at Brussels nor Washington for priority setting

The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Berlin for the inter-governmental consultations (IGC) is an opportune time. It is in the midst of the Ukraine crisis. That led to several crises within Europe and Germany itself. Therefore, the Indo-German re-engagement calls for a determined reset using the opportunities offered by these crises.

The biannual consultations were delayed due to government changes in Germany which will now make them more meaningful. The probability of a further delay due to the Ukraine crisis was stymied with Germany reaching out to India to have the IGC within the first six months of its term.

India’s European policy has Germany as an important node, more for economic and technological reasons than a traditional strategic partnership, which France leads. The German Indo-Pacific policy guidelines enunciated in 2021 were a new willingness to engage with India and our region, though it lacked disengagement from China.

The Ukraine crisis brought new problems to the world, already reeling under the stress of the pandemic. Since the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis are two important fulcrums around which current international reordering is underway, this is a good opportunity to rethink the Indo-German strategic heft and look for commonalities.

India and Germany could have a serious conversation about how the engagement with Russia for both has been important but is jeopardised by recent Russian action which breaches international rules. It is in the interest of India and Germany to maintain the international rules-based order and thus Russia must be called out. However, the manner of criticising Russia will not be suitable if Russia is rusticated from international fora, as done in the Human Rights Council and is being attempted at the G20. Russia will remain an important power and its energy resources and power elements will not diminish.

How to engage with Russia, keep up a dialogue and bring it into greater responsibility is a mutual objective for India and Germany, which they have rarely coordinated. This may be the opportune time emanating from the Ukraine crisis to nudge a conversation around this.

The re-engagement with Germany should also discuss China. Germany’s economic engagement with China was at the core of Germany’s economic success over the last decade. The Greens and the FDP partners in the coalition are not as well-disposed to China, as the CDU was. They would like to hold China responsible for its transgressions on democratic values, and like the EU, term it a ‘systemic rival’. Incremental loosening of the relationship with China is likely to happen in Germany.

This will be a good time to share India’s view of China, which Germany needs to take seriously if its Indo-Pacific guidelines are to be meaningful. These show good intentions, but suffer diversion due to the Ukraine crisis. Germany seems to lack the resources, both human and financial, to undertake the disengagement with Russia and a robust Indo-Pacific policy at the same time. It is in India’s interest to recognise this, but nevertheless encourage Germany to gradually increase its partnership with the Indo-Pacific while placing limitations on its Chinese engagement.

The expansion of trade and value chains out of Indian manufacturing hubs is linked to the nature of German business interests in India. These are largely green and small; they need to expand into larger green infrastructure projects. Several metros are financed by Germany, in Nagpur, Pune and Mumbai.

Germany should look at enhancing its interest in high-speed railways for which the feasibility study for the Chennai-Mysuru HSR corridor is complete, but not on track. This is the problem with several German-led projects. Their gestation period becomes long because of inadequate mutual understanding of systems and procedures. Germany has had a hybrid funding system since 2016. It is used to fund the Mumbai metro. It has a development loan and a promotional loan at varied rates of interest. This needs to be brought to the HSR because it appears that while German technology is acceptable to India, their financing scheme is less clearly understood.

The EU-India connectivity partnership mentioned railways as a core area. To realise that, Germany should take the lead for the HSR and work with other partners like France and Spain who have shown similar interest, along with their financing institutions and that of the European Investment Bank.

The important high technology partnership group needs reinvigoration. This group between 2013 and 2016 brought forth several new areas of collaboration by identifying metros, solar energy, green transmission lines and HSR. However, since 2017, the highly regarded HTPG seems to be dormant. It would be good to have this HTPG reconstituted, parallel to the India EU Trade and Technology Council.

Similarly, the track 1.5 Indo-German Consultative Group, which received high praise in earlier IGCs, is dormant. Germany is essentially a civil society-based country and functions as such, rather than as a cohesive whole. Dealing with it outside government channels is a good objective.

Reaching out to the powerful German Landers (states) is where India would do well to enhance cooperative ventures with Germany. So far, only Maharashtra and Karnataka are linked to Baden Wurttemberg and Bavaria. This attribute could be expanded.

Since both India and Germany are deeply committed to the climate agenda and the implementation of the SDGs, this is a good time for them to work together not only in India but beyond. An Indo-German trilateral approach for promoting the SDGs in other parts of Asia and Africa would be a progressive way for the partnership to become more visible in the Global South. This can begin with implementing SDG projects through training in renewable energy, skill development, women’s emancipation and education. India has a great reach and accessibility in Africa, and India and Germany working together could attain many of their mutual objectives in a much larger number of countries.

India and Germany have a contoured partnership, much of which is guided by EU principles and priorities. With the India-EU partnership on even keel, now is the time to go beyond that and build on Indian and German priorities bilaterally, which neither look at Brussels nor Washington for priority setting.

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