BUILD­ING BRIDGES WITH EUROPE

India Today - - UPFRONT - KAN­WAL SIBAL The au­thor, a ca­reer diplo­mat, re­tired as for­eign sec­re­tary

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi rightly de­cided to com­bine his Rus­sia visit with those to three other ma­jor Euro­pean coun­tries: Ger­many (May 30), Spain (May 31) and France (June 3). Th­ese vis­its made sense for more than one rea­son. Re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and Europe re­main strained, but we have the free­dom to forge closer ties with both part­ners. Our cul­ti­va­tion of Rus­sia and pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, in fact, sig­nals to Europe the in­ef­fec­tu­al­ity of cor­ner­ing Moscow. We have to nav­i­gate the de­vel­op­ing strains be­tween Trump’s Amer­ica and Europe. Trump’s bul­ly­ing of NATO mem­bers, his lash­ing out at Ger­many, the pro­tec­tion­ism un­der­ly­ing his ‘Amer­ica First’ ral­ly­ing cry, and now his dis­avowal of the Paris Cli­mate Change agree­ment calls for In­dia and Europe to deepen their en­gage­ment to re­duce the ad­verse im­pact of Trump’s poli­cies for the globe.

If, as An­gela Merkel has stated, Europe must hence­forth rely more on it­self, it could well re­store nor­mal ties with Rus­sia, which would be in our in­ter­est. On the other hand, if Europe be­comes more open to­wards China, that would only bol­ster the lat­ter’s dom­i­nance of Asia. With Ger­many and France op­posed to pro­tec­tion­ism (a point of dif­fer­ence be­tween the United States and oth­ers at the G-7 meet­ing in Si­cily), we have to build on this con­ver­gence with them, as also on cli­mate change is­sues.

The prospects of an In­dia-EU Broad-based Trade and In­vest­ment Agree­ment (BTIA) more ac­cept­able to us may have im­proved as a re­sult of Europe’s com­pul­sion to broaden its in­ter­na­tional op­tions in view of the chal­lenges it faces from within and with­out. The next G-20 meet­ing in Ham­burg on July 7-8 would have pro­vided PM Modi the oc­ca­sion to meet the Ger­man, French and Span­ish lead­ers, but meet­ings on the mar­gins of such mul­ti­lat­eral con­fer­ences do not al­low for any in-depth ex­changes. A di­a­logue with Ger­many be­fore it hosted the G-20 meet­ing, en­gag­ing the new French pres­i­dent at the ear­li­est given our broad spec­trum re­la­tion­ship with France, and reach­ing out to a Spain that is re­cov­er­ing eco­nom­i­cally was op­por­tune. The prime min­is­ter, slated to visit Wash­ing­ton in late June, will be pre­pared bet­ter to han­dle G-20 dis­cus­sions which will un­doubt­edly be con­tentious in view of the Trump fac­tor.

Judg­ing from the joint state­ments is­sued dur­ing the vis­its, bi­lat­eral un­der­stand­ings on sev­eral is­sues have grown. With Ger­many, the for­mu­la­tions on Afghanistan, ter­ror­ism, South China Sea is­sues, glob­al­i­sa­tion, co­op­er­a­tion on skill devel­op­ment and green en­ergy, our NSG mem­ber­ship and re­sum­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions on the In­dia-EU BTIA, are no­table. With Spain, the for­mu­la­tion on ter­ror­ism was par­tic­u­larly elab­o­rate and ro­bust, call­ing for re­stric­tive mea­sures against states that pro­vide sanc­tu­ary to ter­ror­ists and glo­rify ter­ror­ism. Spain too has sup­ported our NSG mem­ber­ship and has hoped for solid progress on the In­dia-EU BTIA. The open­ing of an In­dian con­sulate in Barcelona was also an­nounced. Modi got sup­port from Pres­i­dent Mar­i­ano Ra­joy for his var­i­ous eco­nomic and so­cial ini­tia­tives.

But Spain, be­long­ing to the Cof­fee Club, did not of­fer clear sup­port for In­dia’s can­di­da­ture for per­ma­nent mem­ber­ship of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. The for­mu­la­tion on the South China Sea in the joint state­ment is bold and im­plic­itly crit­i­cises China’s un­law­ful con­duct there. Un­der­stand­ably, no joint state­ment was is­sued with France as the new pres­i­dent and his govern­ment have just as­sumed of­fice. That, not­with­stand­ing all his pre­oc­cu­pa­tions, in­clud­ing the forth­com­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron agreed to re­ceive Modi in­di­cates the im­por­tance France at­taches to its wide-spec­trum ties with In­dia.

Modi’s lav­ish sup­port for the Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate change was un­doubt­edly ap­pre­ci­ated by Macron (Trump’s re­pu­di­a­tion of the ac­cord has been per­ceived in the coun­try as a blow to French di­plo­matic ef­forts to con­clud­ing it). The pres­i­dent has agreed to visit In­dia at the year-end for a meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional So­lar Al­liance. In sum, Modi’s Euro­pean jour­ney was timely and sig­nalled In­dia’s de­sire to bol­ster ties with its big­gest trade and in­vest­ment part­ner with which it has shared in­ter­ests and con­cerns.

The di­a­logue with the Ger­man, French and Span­ish lead­ers be­fore the G-20 meet­ing in July was op­por­tune for PM Modi

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