In the Times of Trump, Modi’s Message May Find a European Audience

Germany has a special role to play in India’s economic growth trajectory.      

4 min read
In the Times of Trump, Modi’s Message May Find a European Audience

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is wooing Europe this week and with a vengeance. The first leg of his four-nation tour has taken him to Germany where he has already engaged with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Seeking “outcome-oriented” momentum in India-Germany ties, and a “quantum jump” in economic relations, Modi has held extensive talks with Merkel.

The two have set a roadmap for bilateral strategic ties, and have signed a joint declaration of intent on cyber politics, development initiatives, sustainable urban development, continued development of cluster managers and skill development, cooperation in the field of digitalisation, cooperation in the field of railway security, promoting vocational training, and continued cooperation on an India-German centre for sustainability.


Germany’s Special Role in India’s Economic Growth

Eight agreements were signed by Modi and Merkel, even as the Indian Prime Minister lauded the Indo-German partnership as “made for each other.” This bilateral relationship has evolved significantly over the last few years, and Germany remains keen on getting involved in Indian programmes such as Make in India, Clean India, Skill India, Digital India, and Smart Cities. As the largest trade partner for India in the European Union (EU), and one of the leading sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country, Germany has a special role to play in India’s economic growth trajectory.

This is Modi’s second visit to Germany since assuming office in May 2014.

“India is now a changed country... our regulatory regime is much more transparent, responsive and stable,” Modi had told Germany during his first visit in April 2015, as he promised investors that his government was working on a “war footing” to improve the business environment.

Pledging a stable and transparent tax regime, Modi had wooed German investors back then, arguing that development was “not a mere political agenda” but an “article of faith” for his government, and had sought their support to achieve the objectives crucial for growth.

German investors seem to have reciprocated as foreign direct investment worth two billion dollars have come to India in the past two years from Germany. But this visit of Modi, while once again aimed at enhancing economic and trade ties with Germany and Europe, is much more about the symbolism of two responsible stakeholders joining hands to manage the global liberal order in the age of Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.


Angela Merkel and Narendra Modi have set a roadmap for bilateral strategic ties and have signed several joint declarations.
Germany has a special role to play in India’s economic growth trajectory.
Modi had wooed German investors in April 2015, during his first visit, and investors seemed to have reciprocated.
Trump’s recent Europe visit has accentuated trans-Atlantic fault-lines.
In the face of Trump’s presidency and UK’s impending exit from the EU, Europe is facing an existential crisis.
India stands out as a leading liberal democratic state, even though it can’t match China’s economic heft.


Anxiety in the Times of Trump

Trump’s recent visit to Europe has accentuated the trans-Atlantic fault-lines, as his failure to commit to the Paris climate accord, at the G7, and to NATO’s Article Five last week, has angered many Europeans.

The US President took the opportunity to once again berate his NATO allies over defence spending, complaining that they owe “massive amounts of money from past years.”

It is indeed true that only five of 28 allies meet the agreed-to two percent of GDP threshold for defence spending, but all have charted a course to get there in the coming years. Trump’s repeated criticisms of NATO allies not pulling their weight, and the ongoing investigations into his campaign’s ties with Russia, have allies on edge, even as they fear that mounting domestic scandals could sap Washington’s ability to respond to challenges ranging from Russia to terrorism to North Korea.

This anxiety was reflected in Merkel’s comments that “the times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over.”

Trump has also been denounced as a “security risk for the West” by Merkel’s political opponent, Thomas Opperman, the leader of the Social Democrats (SDP). The French President Emmanuel Macron has likened Trump's diplomatic approach to those of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Putin. He explained his rather tense handshake with Trump as an attempt to “show that we won't make little concessions, even symbolic ones.”

Russia’s new assertiveness in European affairs is causing widespread consternation. Macron, while welcoming Putin to France earlier this week, slammed the Russian media’s propensity for fake news when he suggested that “during the campaign, Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence, which on several occasions spread fake news about me personally and my campaign.”

Europe is facing an existential crisis with Donald Trump’s Presidency and United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union. This seems to have strengthened the belief in the leading European powers like Germany and France that they need to stick together and stand up for their beliefs and values. It is also leading to a search for new partners.

And India stands out as leading liberal democratic state. While it cannot match China’s economic heft which is luring sections of the European political elite, it can entice Europe with the values which it espouses, and hopes it will shape the emerging global order. Modi’s message in Germany could not have been clearer:

India wants the world not just to be interconnected but also that it should be sensibly run... Germany will always find India as a powerful, prepared and capable partner.

And these are the times when he is likely to find a very receptive audience for his message in Europe.

(Harsh V Pant is Distinguished Fellow and Head of Strategic Studies at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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