Modi in Europe: Joint Statements Aside, the Real Hurdle Is India’s Red Tape
Many Europeans find the bureaucracy in India and the tendency to favour the lowest bidder stultifying.
(Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a three-day visit to Europe from 2 May to 4 May, 2022, during which he held talks with leaders of Germany, Denmark and France. The Quint brings to you a three-part analysis on the significance of the talks. Here are the takeaways from PM Modi's visits to Germany and Denmark.)
A meeting on Wednesday with the newly re-elected French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris was the last phase of Prime Minister Modi’s European tour from which he returned on Thursday.
It was no surprise, and this is reflected in the joint statement adopted by the two sides adopted after the Modi-Macron talks, that there were differences between the two sides over Ukraine, just as there had been in Modi’s earlier stops in Berlin and Copenhagen.
The French issued a “strong condemnation” of the “unlawful and unprovoked aggression” by Russia on Ukraine.
New Delhi was content to join France in expressing “serious concern” at the humanitarian crisis and condemnation of civilian deaths there. Both called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
There was an added agreement by the two sides “to intensify coordination on the [Ukraine] issue”.
Of all the countries Modi visited, India enjoys the closest political relations with France. In his post-meeting briefing, Foreign Secretary VM Kwatra said that not only were the two countries “strong strategic partners”, but the two leaders “are also good friends”.
As the joint statement noted, their partnership is based on an “abiding faith in strategic autonomy” and a belief in a multipolar world that goes back decades. The two have been strategic partners since 1998, when France, along with Russia, supported India’s nuclear weapons tests against the criticism of the rest of the international community.
India-France Ties are Time-Tested
The joint statement reflected the fact that their contemporary ties rest on a common approach to the Indo-Pacific region, which emphasises a shared vision “of a free, open and rules-based” region where there is respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and freedom from coercion and conflict. With its island departments and vast Exclusive Economic Zone, France is a resident Indo-Pacific power and has, of late, stepped up its interest in the region and is also pushing the European Union Indo-Pacific strategy.
The texture of Modi’s interaction with France was somewhat different from that with the Nordics, and this is largely historical. The relationship is built upon technical and scientific cooperation and significant arms transfer ties that go back to the 1950s. Their more recent manifestations have been the deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets that Modi obtained during a visit to Paris in 2015 and the launch of the last of six Scorpene-class submarines built in India in April. French companies are now gearing up to meet India’s new emphasis on co-design, co-development and co-production of defence equipment.
Unlike France, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear weapons state, none of the Nordics aspires to get that role, individually or collectively.
And then there is the question of the Indo-Pacific reach that the French have. India and France have found considerable areas of congruence in the western Indian Ocean, where France has a number of island territories and India has significant security interests, especially in the Gulf region, where France also has a military base in Abu Dhabi as well as further south in Mauritius.
The Nordic Region Is a New Area for India
But the importance of the Nordic outreach lies precisely in the fact that it is a new area for Indian efforts. While India has time-tested ties with Germany, France and Britain, the ones with Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland have come into focus recently, as is evident from the two Nordic summits in the last four years, and the individual interactions between Modi and their respective Prime Ministers.
These are all rich nations with significant industrial and science and technology capabilities. Many of them, such as Denmark and Sweden, are known for their engineering prowess. They are also world leaders in a range of areas, including healthcare technology, renewables, and, in the case of Sweden, military technology. They are also leaders in digital technology; SoundCloud, Skype, Spotify and The Pirate Bay, all originated in Sweden.
'FOMO' and the Real Hurdle to Attracting European Money
Notwithstanding the clear differences between the Indian and European positions on the issue of Ukraine, all the leaders were more than accommodative of the Indian perspective. This is very much a consequence of how the war in Ukraine has concentrated European minds. After all, at least two of Modi’s interlocutors, Sweden and Finland, have been indirectly threatened by Russia.
The government deserves to be complimented for moving quickly to take advantage of the geopolitical shift. This was evident from Modi's tour and his hard sell, and invoking ‘FOMO’ (Fear of Missing Out) to appeal to European businessmen to invest in India.
Another important aspect of his visit has been the effort made to connect with the now-significant Indian diaspora in Europe. During his stopovers in Berlin and Copenhagen, he made it a point to interact with them. All the joint statements indicated that the government is pushing “migration and mobility” agreements with the Europeans to ease the passage of Indian professionals to Europe.
The big problem, however, remains. Many Europeans find the bureaucracy in India stultifying, notwithstanding the claims of the “ease of business” gains made routinely by the government. Another issue they are uncomfortable with is the Indian culture of looking for the lowest bidders in any deal. With their high-quality products and engineering, they cannot often match the rates being offered by Asian rivals.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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