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Thursday , June 9 , 2011
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- Angela Merkel’s visit to India signals a fruitful relationship

A notable aspect of the recent visit of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to India was its cursory coverage by the media and the consequent lack of public awareness of its importance. The focus was indeed more on what happened on her way to Delhi — the delay in Iranian overflight clearance — than on what transpired during her visit. We have apparently yet to realize that Germany is Europe’s biggest and most resilient economy, the world’s second largest trading nation, known for its engineering excellence, technological innovation and exemplary work ethic. As the last ambassador to present my credentials in Bonn and India’s first ambassador in Berlin as the capital of reunified Germany, I, as well as my colleagues, were aware that the move of the capital to its original location was not just of geographic but of geo-strategic significance in terms of power equations in Europe. The Germans realized this and, in various ways, sought to downplay this dimension. Thus, while most of my European colleagues privately commiserated with me on my transfer from Berlin to London, virtually everyone I knew in India regarded this as a promotion of sorts. It is ironic that while bemoaning the fact that most international organizations do not reflect current global realities, in some respects our world view still remains frozen in the past.

I was impressed by Angela Merkel since my first meeting with her when she was in the opposition as the chairperson of the Christian Democratic Union. Her long handwritten notes reflected not only her meticulous preparation for the meeting but her deep personal interest in India and the high priority she attached to Indo-German ties. From all accounts, the close personal rapport between Merkel and the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has played a positive role in the rapid improvement of Indo-German relations.

The holding of the first inter-governmental consultations between India and Germany during Merkel’s visit was a major landmark in our relationship. Germany has been very selective in the setting up of such IGCs. Since the mid-1970s, IGCs were set up with France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Israel. After India, China may be the next. While our earlier exchanges were episodic and hastily prepared, the new forum is structured and broad-based, and amenable to integrated functioning and monitoring. Joint cabinet ministerial meetings covering external affairs, finance, home, defence, commerce, human resource development, transport, science and technology, and environment, would arrive at decisions and jointly convey these to senior officials of both countries on the same day.

Merkel was accompanied by a high-level delegation of corporate CEOs. There is concern in Germany, as elsewhere, about the virtual suspension of the economic reform process in recent years, including long-pending financial sector reforms and the opening of the retail sector. Germany, on its part, has to do more to relax its export control regulations.

After the Fukushima disaster, Merkel had to abandon her efforts to seek a 10- to 15-year extension of the legal deadline of closing all operating nuclear power plants in Germany by 2022. The decision to adhere to this deadline was announced just the day before her visit. This will pose a challenge to meeting the German commitment for a 40 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions by 2020. It may also involve adjustments in the German collaboration with the global nuclear industry. Merkel, however, understood India’s need to determine its own energy portfolio mix, not only for our energy security but in the context of our national plan for environment protection. Merkel was the first Western leader to express understanding of reduction of global emissions on a per-capita basis.

In terms of foreign policy projection, Germans tend to be matter-of- fact and understated in their approach. For instance, the G8 summit held under German chairmanship in June 1999 had issued a positive and forthright statement reflecting our interests regarding Pakistan’s violation of the line of control at Kargil. We had attributed this principally to the United States of America’s good offices, without realizing that the final formulation was virtually identical to the initial German draft. Similarly, Germany, and Merkel personally, had played an important role while chairing the meeting of the Nuclear Supply Group, which approved the US proposal to exempt India from the application of NSG guidelines in 2008. Even within our establishment, few are aware of such instances owing to the general German reticence to seek any brownie points.

We also had a tendency to underestimate German resolve, especially in relation to the US. The Chinese knew better. For instance, in 2000 the former chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, telephoned the Chinese president to request support for a German to head the International Monetary Fund; China’s support was promptly conveyed and announced the same day. A similar call to our then prime minister resulted in an ambiguous response, based on our informal consultations with the Americans. The German candidate, Horst Kohler, was elected the IMF managing director that year.

Germany has traditionally been a very strong proponent of nuclear non-proliferation and the non-proliferation treaty. It had opposed the US on the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and objected to the first use of nuclear weapons in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation doctrine. Thus Germany has still to resolve some internal constraints to enable it to support India’s inclusion as a member of the NSG, Missile Technology Control Regime, and other groups.

On Afghanistan/Pakistan, our views may not be identical with all those of the Germans, but overlap on the most important objectives. Though 49 German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, Merkel made it clear that Germany will remain for the long haul in that country. Unlike in Istanbul, India’s presence will undoubtedly be welcomed and given due recognition at the next conference on Afghanistan in Germany this year.

The German abstention on the United Nations security council resolution on Libya had created both confusion and controversy. The decision was taken by Merkel and the foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, on the basis of inputs of a top Foreign Office official. In actual practice, however, German positions are not radically divergent from most provisions of the UNSC resolution. Germany, which remains a strong advocate of the right to protect victims of human rights violations, differs fundamentally with the Indian or African Union advocacy of non-interference.

The German approach to UNSC reforms is not identical to that of India. I feel that the Germans have a more realistic understanding than our multilateral experts of the prospects of the G4 as a group getting permanent membership of the UNSC in the next few years. I know that both the Bush and Obama administrations have been candid about their opposition to a third European seat in the UNSC. China has reservations on Japan and has not yet shown great enthusiasm about India. I am not aware of other P5 countries actively working in coordination with G4 countries in New York. We should not continue to squander too much political capital on this campaign. As I have said before, we should stop this unedifying spectacle of banging the door to get in. We should have the grace to wait till we are invited to join by consensus. India and Germany have much they could do together to their mutual benefit and for promoting peace and prosperity.

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