German Chancellor’s Visit | Quest For Multilateralism
The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in India last weekend, 25 and 26 February. It was his maiden visit after he helmed the German leadership in December 2021. Two developments would have influenced his agenda in India; one, the ongoing Ukrainian war, which is causing deep concern for Europe, and of course, the rest of the world, second, the G-20 Summit taking place in India later this year. Therefore, Scholz’s agenda consisted of defence and security, in the wake of the war, and economic cooperation, green technology and India-Pacific strategy, which may bear upon the negotiations and transactions around the G-20 events.
Commensurating with the objectives of the visit, German Chancellor was accompanied by a business delegation comprising twelve major companies and from medium-and small sector. His visit was also the continuation of the biennial Inter-Governmental Consultation (IGC) that commenced since 2011. The objective was also to follow on the discussion in the sixth IGC that was held in Berlin.
The visit was significant for another reason. In the wake of the war, Germany is redrawing its foreign policy, namely the defence and security policy. The soundings are that Germany is seeking to emerge as an independent global player in a multilateral world. While consolidating its pre-eminent position in 27-country European Union, it is reaching out to other strategic partners across the world. India could be one of them. Bilaterally, Germany is the biggest European investor, ninth largest in the world, for India. It is also one among the top ten global partners of India.
Giving clear indication of Germany’s leadership in Europe, the Chancellor promised India that he would advance the trade talks between India and the European Union. Deepening the partnership, the Chancellor offered to build six submarines in India to help New Delhi modernise its maritime forces. He also offered to create a new system to facilitate the migration of Indian professionals into Germany. He extended a warm welcome to Indians to come to Germany along with their families and work there. The new system, he indicated, would be based on points like the Canadian professional immigration policy, for professionals.
The security imperative in the visit was evident in the press statement of German Ambassador to India, Philipp Ackerman, on the eve of the visit, “the Chancellor will talk geopolitics with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. You will see Russia and Ukraine very high on the agenda”. He explained at the press briefing that, “India buying oil from Russia is not of our business. Basically, that is something that the Indian government decides. What we would like to see, of course, is an Indian engagement at some stage.” This obvious German concern should not have been lost on Indian leadership. German interests and economy are badly affected by the war, placing heavy burden on the state’s exchequer; what to speak of the rising costs of fuel and electricity which has quite an uncomfortable consequence for German way of life.
From Indian point of view, the war is turning out to be a major concern for India’s security. As the war pushes Russia closer to China, New Delhi should be wary because of China’s belligerent postures on the borders. There is also a rethink in European Union as well as in US on diverting the trade from China. If that be so, a big market like India could be the only and obvious alternative to China. This is where the Indian and German interests should converge. But do they?
India, a big country in Asia, and Germany a strong economy in the West with similar approaches to democracy, human rights and a rule-based international order should come really close. The onus lies more on Germany as a bigger economy. However, German’s attitude to India is contingent upon Berlin’s equation with Beijing. Also, it hinges on Germany’s conception of multilateralism, as referred above.
To surprise of many, German Chancellor’s dashed to Beijing after Xi Jinping was re-appointed as the head of CCP in its 20th Party Congress. The visit was explained away as Germany’s compulsion of protecting their heavy trade and investment in China, an understandable national interest and priority. However, a systematic assessment of China is found in SPD position paper on New Foreign and Security Policy Agenda. Although Scholz heads a coalition government, he belongs to SPD, the largest partner in the coalition and the oldest democratic party of Germany.
The policy document states that, since China, failed to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine, it is obvious that China under Xi Jinping is a global power that intends to shape world politics in its own interests. The document maintains that China is “making an increasingly self-confident and sometimes aggressive appearance, for example by repeatedly emphasising its hegemonic claims to countries in its immediate vicinity.” Germany has so far treated China as a ‘partner-competitor-systemic rival’, a characterisation of the bilateralism done by the European Commission. Germany contends that decoupling from China is not advisable as Beijing has become ‘an indispensable player’ in international politics in dealing with several global challenges.
At the same time, Germany is pushing their own companies and the European ones to diversify their value chains and sales market. They must find an alternative supplier and minimise their economic dependence on China. Germany also is looking out for partners in the world and in the India-Pacific region where India’s stakes lie. Germany will like to reach out to those countries including India which feel threatened by China. The document says, “We must take these concerns and fears seriously and take them into account in our policy towards China.” This is where India should come in.
The other variable in India-German relationship is the latter’s attitude towards NATO. Although there was a rupture in US-European ties on NATO during Donald Trump tenure, under the Biden regime, it was reaffirmed that USA and NATO still serve as the guarantors of European security. So, Scholz administration will like to strengthen EU’s military capabilities while relying on NATO. New Delhi should be sensitive to US and Europe partnership in security while laying out its own security agenda.
Finally, on multilateralism, Germany is unwilling to see the world divided into two antagonistic blocks. It believes that addressing global challenges requires multilateral efforts; they cannot be met by a divided world. Germany recognises the legitimate claim of countries in Global South to participate in shaping a just international order. European Union itself is a multilateral body. That is why Germany and European countries put their faith in multilateral institutions for global peace, prosperity and security. India holds a similar position in international politics. So conceptually, Germany and India should work in tandem to promote multilateralism.
I have maintained that a united world, manifested in genuine multilateralism, notwithstanding the panoply of international institutions, is a utopia. History does not support that aspiration. A balance of power is more realistic. However, developments involving human beings are quite complex creating new realities from time to time. Hence, if Germany and India want multilateralism, so be it. More power to them. —INFA
Dare & Democracy: South Block To ReconcileMarch 31, 2023