Modi’s Europe Tour
By Dr D.K. Giri
(Prof. International Politics, JMI)
Prime Minister Modi just had a weeklong tour of Europe, touching Sweden, the UK and Germany. Interestingly, he met heads of 60 countries, five from the Scandinavian countries— Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland, 54 from Commonwealth countries, and of course, the feisty Chancellor Angela Merkel, who began last month her fourth stint as head of German Government. But the results of his visits are a mixed bag. Modi renewed, pioneered, and consolidated contacts with the Scandinavian countries, took some fresh initiatives with UK, updated bilateralism with Germany, but missed assuming the leadership of the 54-member Commonwealth.
Significantly, the Commonwealth has bounced back into reckoning in world politics after Britain decided to exit from the European Union on 23 June, 2016. Britain would want to have an alternative for its market and investment to that of the EU. However, times and conditions in many Commonwealth countries have changed. Britain is a declining power where as countries like India, Australia, Canada, and South Africa are growing economies, and are world powers in their own rights.
The Queen, the present Head of the Commonwealth has nominated her son Prince Charles to be the next Head. Britain, many observers would argue, should relinquish this post for the sake of modernising the Commonwealth structure by shunning the imperial legacy. Prominent member countries could form a ‘leadership league’ with some criterion of economic and political strength, and rotate the leadership amongst them. To start with, the five countries – UK, India, Australia, Canada and South Africa with their high economic strength and democratic credentials, could constitute the league.
From available reliable sources, India was offered the joint-leadership of the Commonwealth, but for reasons not known, it did not take it. Nothing could explain it except the Indian diplomatic conservatism, and lethargy. NaMo continues to fumble in stimulating India’s bureaucracy including the foreign policy establishment.
Interestingly, India doubled its contribution to the Commonwealth for technical cooperation. It has offered to train 30 young men and women each every year in world class cricket infrastructure of India. Along with UK, India has launched a new tool kit for Commonwealth to replicate their bilateral Joint Trade Review (JTR). It is in fitness of things that the CHOGM this year aimed at enhancing intra-Commonwealth trade under a solidarity slogan called, “Towards a Common Future”.
It is noteworthy that India receives great attention in the Commonwealth, as the ‘jewel of the crown’ in the past and as the largest democracy at present. India therefore, should have grasped the importance of the Commonwealth for its external engagement. Commonwealth countries account for 1/3 of world population, around 2.4 billion, 1/5 of global trade, and 1/4 of G-20. With such capacities, it would enhance India’s role as a world power should it assume its leadership, But for now, India seems to have missed the bus.
Bilaterally, Modi had the usual trade and defence agreements with his counterpart Theresa May. Notable among these are India and UK Free Trade Agreement, Defence Cooperation, a Joint Green Growth equity Fund with contributions of 120 million GBP from each side and 500 million GBP of institutional investment; a 10 million GBP joint project for cancer treatment between Department of Bio-technology, India, and Cancer Research Institute, UK.
Modi’s visit to Nordic countries seems to have brought rich dividends for India. An Indian Prime Minister went to Sweden, 30 years after a prime ministerial visit. Rajiv Gandhi had been done so in 1988. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven gave a warm welcome to Modi by breaking protocols, receiving him at the airport and travelling in the same car. The five Nordic countries co-hosted the Nordic council meeting with India. This was only second such occasion after their meeting with US President Barak Obama.
Both India and Nordic countries were revising their approach to each other. Earlier on, India was dealing with ‘big powers’ like UK, Germany and France, paying less attention to peaceful and prosperous Scandinavians who were high-up in various development indices in the hierarchy of nations in the world. Likewise, Nordic countries were busy determining their European identities, not looking beyond. India was, perhaps, not in their radar. With growing protectionism and a trade war between USA and China looming large, the rich Nordic countries are looking elsewhere for investment, and India appears to be an obvious attraction.
Furthermore, India-Sweden relations were overshadowed by the Bofors scandals that rocked Indian politics in 1980s. Similarly, India-Denmark bilateralism was marred by the arms-drop at Purulia, West Bengal, by a Danish national. Time as the best healer has pushed these bitterness and misgivings into the dustbin of history. Modi’s visit and bilateral meetings have rebooted the relations.
With Sweden, the highlight was the Joint Innovation Partnership driven by a Joint Action Plan, with ‘mutual commitment to drive prosperity and growth’. Sweden promised $59 million to the Partnership Fund. The areas of cooperation include smart cities, renewable energy, women’s development, space and science, health and life sciences, trade growth, climate change, cyber security and so on.
There are 160 Swedish companies already working in India generating direct employment for 160,000 people. About 30 CEOs attended a meeting with Modi, and committed investment of $1.1 billion in two years. In the last three years $1.5 billion has been invested in India. Both these figures add up to more than what has been invested in the last 20 years from the Indian side; enquiries were made on purchasing 110 combat Jets for Indian Air Force from SAAB, the Swedish defence production company, to the tune of $15 billion. These would replace Soviet-era MiG fighters.
Politically, Sweden supported India’s membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and a permanent membership of a reformed UN Security Council. Sweden also welcomed India’s accession to other international protocols, such as International Export Control regime, Wassenar Arrangement, Australia Group, Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, and Missile Technology Control Regime.
Modi had bilateral meetings with other four Nordic countries. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen signed agreements on animal husbandry, dairying and urban development; PM of Finland Juha Sipila negotiated trade investment, renewable energy, space, waste management; Iceland Prime Minister Kartin Jakobs Dottir signed on blue economy, geo-thermal energy, education, tourism and culture, and finally, PM of Norway Erna Solberg signed on trade and investment, shipping and port development, IT, Green transport solution, blue economy, Renewable energy, and health.
The final stop, actually a stop-over was Germany, where Modi met Merkel, “the Iron lady of Europe”. It was just to reaffirm India’s close relations with Germany, the strongest economy of Europe. India has a trade deficit with Germany. Modi tweeted: “I had a wonderful meeting with a close friend and discussed multiple aspects relating to India-German co-operation as well as global issues.”
All in all, Modi had a mixed bag; a good trip to Nordic Europe, but not-so-good one to UK and the Commonwealth. He was more interested in addressing the domestic audience from London before the Karnataka elections on 12 May, than to focus on 54-member strong Commonwealth. So it appeared on balance.—INFA