Western Europe and India
According to the United Nations geo-scheme classification, Western Europe comprises Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, and Switzerland. In this article, we’ll explore the various dimensions of India West Europe relations, with a particular focus on France and Germany.
Even geographically, Western Europe also has some resemblance to the Indian subcontinent. The three major physical features of Western Europe, i.e. Great Plains, the Central Uplands, and the Alps, are analogous to the Northern Plains, the Peninsular Plateau, and the Himalayas of India, three major physical features of India.
Historically, India and western European nations did not have a direct relationship. The relationship of the Greek and Roman Empires’ with the Indian subcontinent was limited to trade and sparse political associations.
During colonial times, besides Britain, India had some interaction with Western European countries like France and Netherlands. However, despite settling down in coastal towns of India, the French and Dutch settlements did not bring any substantial change to the political climate of the subcontinent (like the British did).
During the freedom struggle, Indian freedom fighters derived great inspiration from the French revolutionary movements and Germany’s anti-British narrative. They also developed cordial relations with certain sections of these countries. However, it was not substantial enough to be labelled as a mature political relationship between two nations.
Modern political cooperation began with the independence of India. After getting rid of the British, India was swift to reach out to the western European countries for diplomatic connections. Switzerland, Belgium, France, and Luxembourg established diplomatic relations in 1947, followed by Austria in 1949 and Liechtenstein in 1993. During the Cold War, India maintained diplomatic relations with East and West Germany and supported their re-unification in 1990. The last country to establish diplomatic ties was Monaco in 2007.
Over time, the relationship between western European countries and India has become vibrant. Despite the ever-changing global geopolitical scenarios, France has been a close ally of India. It was France which first opened up nuclear cooperation with India in the 70s. When other western countries distanced themselves during the Bangladesh Liberation war of 1971, Switzerland acted as a bridge between India and Pakistan, representing both the countries’ views in multilateral platforms. And as the Reunification of Germany and liberalisation of Indian markets happened in the same period, the political heads of the government utilised the change to foster a stronger relationship.
As their engagement increased, India has institutionalised high-level government mechanisms such as foreign office consultations, arrangements in skill development, automotive, agriculture, coal, tourism, water, climate change and waste management between the governments of both regions. The two powerhouses of Western Europe (France and Germany) and India share similar views on democracy and rules-based international order. Due to the emergence of the multipolar world order, the frequency of high-level talks between these countries has increased.
Without limiting the outreach only to the national (union) government, Germany has collaborated with Indian states for sister-states arrangement. Ever since the ouster of Russia from G-8, Delhi has been incorporating France as a crucial mediator to reach out to global powers and western European countries. Cooperation at various multilateral fora also exists, e.g. India and Germany in G4 for permanent UNSC seat.
Thus despite the changing global scenario because of the pandemic and trade wars, the relationship between Western European countries and India remains dynamic.
The bilateral trade between India and Western European countries has been growing for years. France and Germany account for the lion’s share of this trade.
In recent years, France has been proactive in establishing its interest in the Asian markets, specifically India. France is looking to increase joint ventures and encourage investments in and from India. The ‘joint committee for economic and technical cooperation’ set up in 1976 is an important institutional mechanism for cooperation in the financial and technical sector.
Germany is India’s largest trading partner in the whole of Europe. The fact that the entire gamut of bilateral economic and commercial relationships did not slow down even during the 2008 global recession underlines the secure foundation of the Indo-German bilateral trade relationship. Various programs such as the Make-in-India Mittelstand-Program, an initiative of the Indian embassy in Germany, and the Fast-Track system are noteworthy. The fast track system for German companies has been operating in the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade for facilitating trade.
Besides France and Germany, India also has good trade relations with the other West European countries.
The Netherlands emerged as the 3rd largest investor in India in 2017-2018. Luxembourg has a longstanding cooperation with India in the steel and civil aviation sector.
The tripartite meeting of India-BLEU (Belgium-Luxembourg Economic union) joint commission meeting underlines India’s eagerness to identify the areas of mutual economic interest and increase bilateral trade relations. India is Belgium’s second-largest export destination. Liechtenstein, on the other hand, despite its small size, is one of India’s essential partner nations in fighting overseas tax abuse and black money. With Monaco, the key area of potential cooperation is the blue economy.
Thus, India has well-articulated trade relations with the Western European region.
France dominates the defence cooperation domain. Although India-Germany Defence Cooperation Agreement provides a framework for bilateral defence cooperation, it has not gained much prominence over the years, equivalent to India-France defence diplomacy.
Right from 1953, when India procured Toofani fighter jets from Paris-based security firm Dassault, India has been a large weapons importer from France. As their relations grew, the two countries entered into a strategic partnership in 1998.
It is a conventional fact that a solid defence relation is unfeasible without political trust. Over the years, irrespective of the ruling party, both Governments have managed to sustain political trust in their relationship.
Another vital aspect of France’s defence diplomacy towards India is its complete approval of India’s policy of defence diversification. Unlike the USA, which threatens India with sanctions, for purchasing defence equipment from others (for instance, sanctions under CAATSA for S-400 missile procurement from Russia), France has been an understanding partner so far.
India’s purchase of Rafale aircraft from French Firm Dassault and P-75 Scorpene submarines marks a high tide in the defence diplomacy between two countries. The three defence services also hold regular military exercises (Exercise Garuda, Varuna, Shakti etc.)
To curb terror financing, India and France have decided to launch International Conference on Fighting Terrorism Financing. They also have resolved to work together to adopt the Comprehensive Convention of International Terrorism in the United Nations. Both countries have identified online radicalisation and terror financing as a core area of cooperation to curb terrorism.
The future of France-India Defence diplomacy looks promising as India establishes its presence in the Indo-Pacific more firmly.
Climate Change Diplomacy
Climate change is the single most prominent threat of the 21st century, impacting countries all over the world. Knowing that renewable energy like solar energy is a global good, India and France launched the International Solar Alliance in 2015 as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. India also has initiated talks with the German automotive industry for advanced e-vehicles to curb air pollution.
Monaco, another Western European country, has also pledged to join the Solar Alliance. In 2018, protection of marine and ocean resources, renewable energy, and environmental protection were identified as possible areas of cooperation between India and Monaco.
With an unprecedented COVID 19 pandemic, it has emerged as the new area of international cooperation. As the crisis unfolds, countries are preparing cooperation agreements with fellow countries to tackle the ongoing disaster (for instance, air bubble agreements).
Through initiatives like the Vaccine Maitri, India hasemerged as a global hub of vaccines.Even before the implementation of Vaccine Maitri, India shipped covid medicines to France when the country was battling the first wave of infection. In turn, as a token of gratitude, France committed 200 million Euros for India’s covid response. Germany also provided financial aid along with testing kits to India.
New Delhi’s timely delivery of vaccines, medicines has shown the Western European Countries a new area for investment in India. A multipolar world, diversified global value chains and the Brexit deal will further incentivise the Western European Countries to open up agreements with India.
Hurdles in Indo Europe Relations
The growth of China and its Belt and Road Initiative has implications for India. Despite France and Germany’s sanctions on Chinese officials for Human Right Violation in Xinjiang Province, both countries rely heavily on trade with China.
India and Western European countries do not have significant cooperation in the cyber/ technological domain. This is undoubtedly anachronistic in the age of information.
Beyond France and Germany, India has not fully explored its relationship with other Western European Countries. There is no Free Trade Agreement in place between the regions. And there has been an inordinate delay in signing the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) with the EU.
India France signed a nuclear cooperation deal in 2008 primarily to construct the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant (JNPP). However, we’ve been unable to overcome domestic politics. The project, slated to be the largest nuclear park in the country, is stalled. Events like this create uncertainty for further investment.
Further, the unprecedented pandemic has forced the nations to develop protectionism behaviour. With pandemic still unfolding, it is challenging to ascertain the future course of events.
Western Europe is an outstanding region to diversify India’s trade basket. For Western European Countries, India is a natural ally to reduce their dependence on China. The evolving multipolar world deserves new areas of cooperation and new friends. Hence both India and Western European Countries must synchronise their growth and reach goals. It will ensure the prosperity of both regions.