By Karan Anand
Endeavouring to chalk out a new foreign policy, PM Modi has visited Europe thrice this summer. The visits include the first ever PM-level trip to Portugal and a trip to Spain after a hiatus of three decades. Also included was a meeting with the newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron. This renewed focus on Europe comes at a time of changing geopolitics around the globe, fueled by India’s own personal interests, the ever increasing importance of Europe in the post-BREXIT period, and—more importantly—China’s increasing footprints in the continent.
The Chinese threat
India’s relations with China have deteriorated over the past 2 years due to the Chinese media constantly threatening India. Both nations are also at loggerheads over sovereignty issues. China, on the other hand, has been making massive inroads in Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited China 10 times during her term. In 2016, China invested over 2.9 billion US dollars in Germany. Simultaneously, Germany invested over 2.7 billion US dollars in 392 new projects in China.
Another significant project is the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), the signature foreign policy project of Xi Jinping. The project combines the traditional Silk route economic belt going overland into Europe across Asia. Thereby, to counter China’s increasing presence, Europe is a key area for Modi. Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Brussels, also in May, saw Europe repose much more faith in China than New Delhi would be comfortable with.
The unpredictability of Trump
With the appointment of Trump as the president of the US, global geopolitics has changed and a new era of uncertainty looms large; Donald Trump is unpredictable. He pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, blaming India and calling the deal “unfair” to the US. Sushma Swaraj, India’s external affairs minister, claimed that India was not a part of the accord to gain “billions” of dollars but rather because it cares for the environment, disdaining Trump’s claims and standing in solidarity with France and Germany. Modi’s visit to Germany came a day after Angela Merkel’s comments aimed at Trump, claiming that Europe can no longer “depend” on traditional partners. Modi sees this as an opportunity to fill in this void left by the formerly “traditional” countries. In the past few months, US has also forged closer ties with China, giving India yet another reason to cosy up with Europe.
One of the major reasons for Trump’s escalation was his “America first” strategy. This policy is in stark contrast with Modi’s “Make in India” campaign. For Modi, job creation has been a major problem. In 2016, 1.8 lakh jobs were created—as opposed to the 2 crores that were promised. With Donald Trump busy “making America great again”, Modi may have to look elsewhere to create more jobs; Europe might just be the place for that.
Slowly growing EU relations
During his meeting with Merkel, Modi has already announced that talks would be resumed between India and EU to work out a free trade agreement. The talks for an India-EU free trade agreement began in 2007 and till now no deal has been struck. The 13th India-EU summit took place in 2016 under Modi’s rule. The last one prior to it took place back in 2012. The joint statement issued by the European Commission after the 2012 summit said that the talks on Broad-Based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) have intensified and are now “close to completion”.
In the subsequent years, the talks have stalled. After the 2016 summit, the European Commission issued another statement titled “EU-India Agenda for Action 2020” and decided to use “existing arrangements to resolve trade irritants”. The European Investment Bank also extended a loan of €450 million for the construction of the Lucknow metro line. The statement also spoke of plans by India and the EU to “strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism and cyber security”.
An opportunity for Modi
Modi’s visit to Europe revolved around Trade, climate and countering terrorism. China has been taking massive strides into Europe, making it very important for India to increase their influence in the region. However, with the changing geopolitics around the world, India needs to be careful in forging coalitions. Both the EU and India are varied and uncertain of Trump’s policies. This may be opening up new opportunities for India in Europe, but Modi needs to be shrewd and careful to exploit these opportunities in order to take India-EU relations to the next level.
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