It is not without significance that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first foreign visit this year should be to the heart of Europe, the region most immediately affected by the still-raging war in Ukraine.
The major outcomes of PM Modi’s three-day visit to Germany, Denmark, and France can be summoned up as a welcome refection of mature democracies staying on the course of ruling based world order, global peace, and sustainable development, overcoming their different perceptions.
The visit saw a deepening relationship with India and European powers on strategic issues related Indo-Pacific region, mustering technology and innovation for the achievement of equitable growth, the need for global cooperation to fight climate change, and stepping up bilateral and multilateral trade.
It was a litmus test for India’s independent foreign policy on the global conflict on which India and the West differed in perception. It was also a test of the strength and resilience of India’s time-tested ties with Western democracies.
On both counts, the visit was a phenomenal success. Germany pledged $10.5 billion aid to help India achieve its climate action targets. Denmark signed nine pacts to ramp up trade. France agreed to boost cooperation to deal with security challenges in outer space.
Germany was the first on Modi’s itinerary and his fruitful talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz resulted in the inking of nine pacts between the two countries.
The agreements covered issues ranging from technical assistance to increasing the use of renewable energy and hydrogen, to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting biodiversity, and improving agricultural land use.
The other areas of cooperation included migration, nuclear research, and the establishment of secure communications channels between the two governments.
In Copenhagen, Modi and Danish PM Mette Frederiksen reviewed the bilateral Green Strategic Partnership between their two nations and decided to ramp up trade ties. The nine bilateral pacts signed during the visit covered diverse fields such as migration and mobility, shipping, culture, fisheries, animal husbandry, skill development, start-ups, water management, and energy policy.
While in Copenhagen, Modi also participated in the second India-Nordic Summit with the PMs of Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and Norway— a process he had initiated in 2018.
In France, on the last leg of his visit, PM Modi congratulated French President Emmanuel Macron for his victory in recent elections. The two sides agreed to find creative ways for France’s deeper involvement in India’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiatives to help it achieve self-reliance in advanced defence technology, manufacturing and exports, including through increased industry to industry partnerships.
Modi and Macron also agreed to set up a bilateral strategic dialogue in order to address the contemporary challenges that have arisen in space, in particular maintaining secure access to space for all.
The dialogue will bring together experts from space and defence agencies of the two nations, apart from administration and specialized ecosystems to discuss security and economic challenges in outer space, the norms, and principles applicable to space as well as unveil new areas of cooperation.
Prime Minister Modi’s short but productive swing through Europe underlined the belated realization of the immense possibilities for an enduring strategic partnership between India and Europe.
It saw a conscious effort by both sides to narrow the differences and better appreciate the concerns of each other in Ukraine. India and Europe have also begun to find some common ground in addressing the humanitarian and other consequences of the war.
In the past, the tension between mitigating climate change and India’s pressing imperative of economic growth was seen as part of an irreconcilable North-South contradiction. The European enthusiasm for partnering with India on sustainable development during Modi’s visit underlines the virtue of approaching climate change and growth on the basis of pragmatism rather than ideology.
As is his wont, Modi also spent time with the growing Indian diaspora in Europe. Besides the PM’s political interest in mobilizing the diaspora, there is a new Indian emphasis on ‘migration and mobility agreements that address an important conundrum — Europe’s need for foreign professional talent (India has it in plenty) and its growing fear of illegal immigration.
Successful implementation of this framework would significantly advance the construction of a new living bridge between India and Europe. Arguably, the most significant outcome of Modi’s European visit is the big shift in India’s thinking on how to build a multipolar world.
In the mid-1990s, India wanted to get there in collaboration with China and Russia. As Beijing builds a Sinocentric and unipolar Asia, and Russia aligns itself with China, Europe may have emerged as India’s natural partner in building a multipolar world.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY OF NORDIC OUTREACH
As India redefines its foreign policy priorities in Europe and as a changing Europe comes to terms with a Rising India, the recent Nordic Summit underlined the Indian Prime Minister’s deepening engagement with the region which had been comparatively neglected by the country’s foreign policymakers till Narendra Modi came to power.
The second India-Nordic summit saw the participation of the Prime Ministers of Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Earlier PM Modi held bilateral meetings with the Nordic leaders.
They focused their discussions on key issues related to international peace and security, including the conflict in Ukraine, multilateral cooperation, green transition and climate change, blue economy, innovation, and digitalization.
As was the case with joint statements with Germany and Denmark issued earlier, India did not join the Nordic countries in their condemnation of Russia. But India and the five countries expressed their serious concern about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
All the prime ministers saw opportunities for increased cooperation in the Arctic on polar research, climate, and environmental issues. They agreed that a strong partnership between India and Nordic countries could help promote innovation, economic growth, climate-friendly solutions, and mutually beneficial trade and investments.
During his discussions with the PMs from Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland—he had already met the host and PM of Denmark a day earlier— Modi reviewed the progress of the joint action plan and IT initiatives they had agreed upon in the previous summit meeting.
In fact, it was Modi who had taken the initiative to organize the first India-Nordic Summit in 2018 during his visit to Sweden. This was not only the first visit of an Indian Prime Minister to Sweden in 30 years, but also an attempt to reach out to the wider Nordic region, which saw India interact with the Prime Ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden on a single platform.
The Nordic countries consistently figure among the 10 best democracies in global surveys. They also provide a classical model for decentralized local self-government. They support India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) and a seat at the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member.