India and Europe: Continuity and Change

There was a spate of visits by the European leaders to Delhi and Prime Minister Modi to European capitals. The latter visited Germany, Denmark, and France in May 2022. Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had visited India in April. PM Modi attended the EC President's address at the Raisina Dialogue. This was the only event at the Track II dialogue he chose to attend. The visits provided an opportunity to re-assess the changing landscape in Europe as well as the Asia-Pacific and strengthen bilateral relations.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited India at the invitation of PM Modi on April 21-22, 2022. The visit underlined the continued strength of the relationship despite Brexit. The two sides reviewed the progress of an ambitious program of cooperation under Roadmap 2030 agreed upon earlier at a virtual summit. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the visit committed the two countries to increased cooperation in nuclear, and defense fields as well as joint R&D. The two sides are negotiating a renewed and strengthened India-UK Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. They agreed upon joint research, co-design, co-development, and joint production of key and emerging military technologies. They also discussed climate change, energy security, and clean energy transition. India and UK  have two-way trade of $ 17.478 billion. Out of this, Indian exports account for $ 10.461 billion and imports $ 7.017 billion.


The joint statement issued at the end of the visit ‘underlined their shared vision of an open, free, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region in which countries are free from the military, economic and political coercion.’ Both sides agreed to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan, and ‘reiterated the need for a representative and inclusive political system in support of a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan’. The UK also reaffirmed support for India’s candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.


The European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen in her address at the prestigious Raisina dialogue underlined commonalities between India and the EU. She said both are vibrant democracies. Their economies ‘thrive in a world of common rules and fair competition.’ She underlined their shared interests in ‘safe trading routes, in seamless supply chains, and in a free and open Indo-Pacific.’ India also has a strong trade and economic relationship with the EU. The two-way trade between them is Euro 116.362 billion in 2021-22. Out of this India, exports were Euro 64.963 billion, while imports were Euro 51.399 billion.


India also has strong relations at the bilateral level with EU member states. PM Modi’s first stop-over during his visit to Europe was Germany. In the joint statement issued at the end of the visit, Chancellor Scholz and PM Modi welcomed the ‘deepening of strategic cooperation between India and EU.’ The statement included an expression of their ‘serious concern about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The two leaders ‘unequivocally condemned civilian deaths in Ukraine’, and reiterated ‘the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities.’ The statement ‘emphasized that the contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law and respect for sovereignty and the territorial integrity of states.’


 India and Germany as members of the ‘Group of Four’ in the United Nations have been pushing for expansion of the permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The statement mentioned their commitment to intensify efforts to spur an overdue reform of the Security Council. Germany also reiterated its ‘steadfast support for India’s early entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.’ They stressed the significance of a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific, recognizing the centrality of ASEAN’. Chancellor Olaf Scholz and PM Modi also expressed serious concern about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. On the bilateral side, they agreed on a number of steps to enhance cooperation in trade, investment, and also exchange of naval visits.


The second leg of PM Modi’s visit to Europe took him to Denmark. The Danish Prime Minister Ms. Mette Frederiksen and Mr. Modi stressed the importance of green energy. The joint statement mentioned various steps to increase cooperation in hydrogen, environment, and maritime domains. Denmark reiterated support for India’s candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. India has committed support to Denmark’s candidature for non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council for 2025-26. India exported $ 944 million worth of goods while importing $888.73 million worth of goods to that county in 2021-22.


The last leg of PM Modi’s journey was France. India and France have been strategic partners since 1998. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the visit committed the two countries to intensify their cooperation in diverse fields ranging from defense and space to energy cooperation. The two sides have participated in 6 joint military exercises. France has supplied major defense systems, including Rafale aircraft and the Scorpene submarines. Total Indo-French bilateral trade is $ 12.42 billion with Indian exports to France accounting for $ 6.64 billion and Indian imports accounting for $ 5.78 billion. The statement also reiterated France’s ‘steadfast support to India’s bid for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council as well as membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.’


Even amongst friends, there are differences. Since the Ukraine crisis erupted, some western commentators have suggested that India should review its ties with Russia. There is an underlying paradox here. The  EU has a  stronger economic relationship with Russia than India has with that country. The EU’s trade with Russia was 247.8 billion euros in 2021. India’s trade with Russia during this period was $ 13.123 billion. On the other hand, India has a much larger trade with the EU – US $  119.359 billion. This is indeed a matter of satisfaction for us.


Russia was the fifth largest partner for EU exports in 2021; it was the third-largest partner for EU imports. This relationship may be dented somewhat in post-Ukraine developments but will remain substantially above the level of trade with India. We would, of course, like to increase our trade and investment with European countries.


India buys a lot of defense equipment from Russia. According to SIPRI, Russia’s share in India’s arms imports from all sources went down from 69% in 2012-2017 to 46% in 2017-21. In value terms, the Russian arms exports to India went down by 47% as many of the large defense programs were wound up. On the other hand, India’s purchase of major defense systems from the West has gone up. During the period, 2017-21, the share of Russia, France, and the US in India’s arms purchases stood at 46%, 27%, and 12% respectively. Amongst the major defense platforms are Rafale and  Scorpene submarines purchased from France. Six Scorpene submarines built in India illustrate the level of transfer of technology from France to India, in line with the "Make in India” initiative. India has an open, defense procurement policy with all countries.


 Historically, India has a deep bond with Europe. India’s encounter with the west in the 18th century produced a nationalist movement. One of the abiding expressions of these ties is the English language. William Jones, a British jurist, and scholar was a renowned Indologist, who founded the Asiatic Society. He propounded the concept of Indo-European languages underlining the commonality between Sanskrit and European languages. No less was the contribution of Max Muller to the study of the Sanskrit language and Indian scriptures. Larsen and Toubro, India’s premier engineering company, was established by two Danish engineers. La Martiniere schools in Lucknow and Calcutta, and the French Quarter in Pondicherry bear witness to the French presence in India. While we celebrate the legacy, we work for a stronger future together.