The post-Merkel chapter in Indo-German ties

World Materials 16 December 2021 05:49 (UTC +04:00)
The post-Merkel chapter in Indo-German ties

For the first time in 16 years, Germany has a government without the Christian Democratic Union. Negotiations among the Social Democratic Party (red), the Free Democratic Party (yellow) and the Greens have resulted in the “traffic light” coalition led by Olaf Scholz, who has been sworn in as Chancellor. Scholz has conceded the finance portfolio to the leader of the FDP, Christian Lindner, while the Greens have secured important ministries. For the first time, the foreign ministry is headed by a woman, Annalena Baerbock, who was the chancellor candidate of the Greens. Robert Habeck of the Greens heads a larger ministry including economy, energy and climate issues.

India must seek continuity and expansion of ties from the new government. While the SPD has been a part of earlier coalitions, the current generation of leaders of the Greens and the FDP have had little interaction with India.

The coalition document has emphasised the need to strengthen the strategic partnership between India and Germany. Germany views India as an important partner for resolving global issues, including climate change, food security, energy and international peace and security. The Merkel initiative of establishing inter-government consultations, therefore, should continue. India also figures in the calculus of the coalition document by virtue of the fact that the coalition has decided to abide by the policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific of 2020. Within the German Indo-Pacific guidelines, India is mentioned for the enhancement of engagement and fulfilment of objectives. India should now be an important node while discussing issues relating to international security. This is because Germany’s has an increased realisation of the importance of the Indo-Pacific.

Germany is keen to implement connectivity projects, through the European Union, to counter China. In this, the EU-India connectivity partnership announced at the EU-India leaders meeting in May 2021 is acknowledged. The coalition sees the conclusion of an India-EU BTIA as an important aspect that will help develop relations.

Chancellor Scholz met Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome when he accompanied Merkel. In my meetings with him, he came across as a person interested in India’s education and skill development policies. He speaks fluent English and is an amiable person.

The Greens may pursue a more potent green foreign policy and climate agenda. The foreign ministry will have three parliamentary state secretaries, and all of them Greens. There is much green content in the Indo-German engagement at present, including in the fields of solar power, transportation, smart cities, metros and the Namami Gange. What is required now is a bold, prudent action-oriented approach. However, if the German foreign ministry starts adopting an aggressive green role and determines its foreign policy engagement based on how German values and climate issues are seen by its counterparts, it may singe relations. India likes to determine its own pace in a responsible manner for the implementation of these ideas.

Baerbock recently called out China for being at variance with German values. The Chinese embassy in Berlin has cautioned against such a stance. Germany, if it pursues a values-led policy, will not be able to stop at China. India and Germany are due to hold the next intergovernmental consultations. This is a summit planned with senior ministers. The pace at which this is scheduled and prepared will indicate if the promise of the coalition document is bearing fruit.

India has expectations from the ministries of economy and energy as well as transportation. The high-speed railway project has been hanging fire for some time now. Germany can contribute to green railway infrastructure in a major way. Another area where Germany would focus attention is education.

India and Germany must realise the cooperative goals of the IP guidelines. These must involve businesses. German companies must be encouraged to use the liberalised PLI scheme to establish manufacturing hubs in India, which can export to ASEAN and Africa. The two nations may also initiate an Africa vaccine production facility. Germany has committed 250 million euro in loans to Africa for this. If implemented with India, as in the Quad initiative, such a facility can be established in the underserved East African region.

India and Germany must think afresh to engage more closely in areas of complementarity.