By Harsh V. Pant and Tobias Scholz
Germany’s recently elected center-left coalition under Chancellor Scholz chose India as the partner for its first governmental consultations on 2nd May 2022. Beyond the signaling effects that Europe’s and Asia’s largest democracies intend to cooperate more closely together, the final joint statement exhibits the depth of mutual understanding and trust which has developed between both countries in recent years. Germany remains one of India’s most important bilateral partners in Europe, a relationship that remains embedded in the larger framework of the European Union of which Berlin is a key driver.
The strategic partnership between India and Germany dates back to May 2000, and its institutionalization with the launch of the Inter-Governmental Consultations (IGC) in 2011 at the level of heads of government galvanized this engagement. Germany’s invitation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to join this year’s G7 Summit at Bavaria’s Schloss Elmau from 26th to 28th June 2022 stands out as the most immediate and obvious acknowledgement of the existing strategic partnership. However, Germany’s and India’s partnership is not just growing through diplomatic niceties. At the center of the convergence lies the mutual recognition of common strategic interests. Shared interests are particularly relevant for both countries’ quests for strategic autonomy, their attentiveness towards the Indo-Pacific, and a renewed recognition of climate action.
India and Germany have realized that working towards a multipolar global order requires middle powers to support each other in their pursuit of strategic autonomy. While for India strategic autonomy means economic multi-alignment and neutrality on international conflicts, Germany increasingly seeks strategic autonomy through the European Union. In the context of the Ukraine crisis, it is interesting that as Germany is struggling to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, India too has been made aware of the costs of an overdependence on one supplier for defence. True strategic autonomy will come only after the two nations manage to reduce their dependencies which are real vulnerabilities in the present geoeconomic order.
Both countries have now started to recognize each other’s legitimate interest in technology innovation, standard-setting, and capacity building to boost domestic economic growth and resilience. The signing of the Comprehensive Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement focused on employment, higher education and movement of professionals between both countries is emblematic of the growing comfort level between the tw nations. Pledging investments in the areas of financial and technical assistance of €10 billion, the German government has credibly demonstrated its interest in supporting the India’s strategic autonomy. In the near future, recognizing the WHO approved Indian Covaxin COVID-19 Vaccine can be one immediate action for the German government to acknowledge India’s emerging role as an international patent and standard setter.
Germany has been gradually trying to emerge as a geopolitical player on the global stage even before the Ukraine conflict and this process has been accelerated by the war in Europe. Given the central role of the Indo-Pacific maritime geography in shaping the international order in the 21st century, Germany was one of the first European nations to adopted its policy guidelines on the Indo‑Pacific region in 2020 and since then it has also pushed the European Union into articulating a coherent Indo-Pacific policy. Towards that end German policy is aimed at strengthening its engagement with like-minded nations in the Indo-Pacific in areas ranging from economy, environment and climate to health and technology. And as skepticism about China’s future global role continues to grow in Europe, strong ties with India have become a strategic imperative. Without India, the logic of the Indo-Pacific doesn’t go very far and New Delhi’s robust articulation of its regional aspirations has generated confidence in its European partners about the ability of India to shape the regional strategic architecture.
Comparing different sectors of cooperation, the Indo-German partnership has perhaps most advanced in the area climate cooperation. Yet, a closer look at bilateral climate cooperation projects reveals, that joint climate action efforts are most successful when geo-economic and geopolitical risks are greatening. Russia’s invasion into Ukraine has stipulated a rethinking of Germany’s energy-import policy which creates an unparalleled window of opportunity for Indo-German green hydrogen cooperation as Germany seeks to decrease its dependence on Russian gas. Likewise, India has a tough task at hand in managing its energy security priorities. With massively increasing oil prices since the begin of the war in Ukraine, India’s view of green energy as a means of geo-economic risk mitigation is central to the achievements noted in the Indo-German Partnership for Green and Sustainable Development. Both nations signed nine agreements that covered a range of issues including green energy, sustainable development, hydrogen task force and forest landscape restoration among others.
As Germany comes to terms with new global realities, a strong partnership with India is today an important part of its foreign policy vision. This new vision has the potential to transform not only this bilateral partnership but also the wider engagement of the European Union with India.