Context: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to European capitals.
India’s relations with the European union
- After his meeting with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960, French President Charles de Gaulle famously declared, “the strength and stability of India are essential for peace and tranquillity in South Asia”.
- At a time when the United States was busy befriending Pakistan and showing little interest in investing in India, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer decided to fund the establishment of the now world-famous Indian Institutes of Technology.
- The roots of India’s relations with these continental European powers go deep, however, they have been shaped by the Cold War.
- It is, therefore, not surprising that the revival of old East-West tensions has cast a shadow on India’s relations with the European Union.
The significance of the visit
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to European capitals should help both sides acquire a better understanding of each other’s security concerns.
- Whether it will fundamentally alter equations remains to be seen.
- As “Middle Powers”, countries like France, Germany and India should seek policy space for themselves and not be forced into taking positions by the Big Powers — the United States, China and Russia.
The shared concerns and the possibility of a new India-EU equation
- The EU is understandably concerned about Russian aggressiveness in Europe.
- India is equally concerned about Chinese aggressiveness in Asia.
- But still, it is not clear what the two can and would do for each other, despite all the talk about partnership across Eurasia and Indo-Pacific.
- Even after Russia has sought to tear down the post-Cold War security structure in Europe, India has stayed the course in its equations both with Russia and the European Union.
- Both sides may be dissatisfied with India, but that has been India’s lot in the post-colonial era.
- India is not out to please anyone. it has and will continue to seek a global environment conducive to its own economic development and one that will acknowledge its civilizational contribution to humanity.
- While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the context in which Modi visited Europe and the head of the European Union visited India, the fact is that the agenda at bilateral meetings with individual European countries have generally been very different from the agenda that the EU prefers to focus on.
- While individual European nations, especially Germany and France, focus on their own strategic and business interests, including defence equipment sales, the EU retains the remit for negotiating trade and investment rules.
- This division of national and group agendas has often posed a problem for India because individual countries cannot offer bilateral market access in exchange for bilateral defence deals.
- For India’s part, it is not clear at the moment how much and what it can unilaterally offer Europe beyond the promise of standing up to China or reducing dependence on Russia.
The need for the middle powers to work together
- In international relations, a middle power is a sovereign state that is not a great power nor a superpower but still has large or moderate influence and international recognition.
- If middle powers like Brazil, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa and others can work together they may well be able to impose some discipline on the three big powers — China, Russia and the US.
- By their irresponsible behaviour over the past decade, all three big powers have opened up space for the middle powers to want to act.