India, China and the world are courting the new Europe
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three stops in Europe – Germany, France and Spain – reflect New Delhi’s sense that these will be the three most important governments in a post-Brexit EUeditorials Updated: Jun 01, 2017 17:25 IST
It is no coincidence that Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Europe just a few days behind the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi. Major governments across the world are assessing the direction the European Union will go in the coming few years. Depending on how the EU’s senior members decide to redefine the role of Europe, a continent that has punched well below its weight globally could make up for lost time.
Three developments have made Europe geopolitically more consequential. The first is the coming departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. This will and has changed the constellation of power in Brussels. Germany is even more dominant than it was before. And it may now have an effective partner again in France under the reformist presidency of Emmanuel Macron. The second is the widening Atlantic divide. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now part of a chorus of European leaders openly critical of the United States president, Donald Trump. There is a recognition that Brussels will need to shed its long-standing tradition of riding on the coat-tails of Washington. The third is the broad sense among Europe’s leadership that the rightwing populist wave that had rocked capitals all across the continent, triggered Brexit and had even threatened the gates of Paris is now ebbing. Successive defeats by anti-establishment populists in Austria, the Netherlands and France have calmed European nerves.
Prime Minister Modi’s European tour is partly designed to position India for this new Europe. His three stops – Germany, France and Spain – reflect New Delhi’s sense that these will be the three most important governments in a post-Brexit EU. He has served to remind Europe that the Indian government might be rightwing, but on climate change and counterterrorism it is very much in the global mainstream. Also, when it comes to democratic values and the rules-based world order that is a cornerstone of Brussels’ worldview, India is much closer to Europe than Beijing. Europe’s newfound scepticism about China’s Belt-Road Initiative is a sign this viewpoint is finding traction. India and Europe are hardly destined to cooperate – a lot of work will be needed on both sides. India’s protectionist trade policies are one point of difference. Europe sees itself as a standard-bearer of free trade. The sense Modi’s government is culturally intolerant and thuggish does not help either. India on the other hand will hope Europeans start to see the world in more realistic, power-based terms. The first step in putting flesh on the bones of a new India and Europe relationship would be to complete the long-awaited free trade agreement.