India a very relevant player for Indo-Pacific security: Spain’s Teresa Ribera
Spanish deputy prime minister Teresa Ribera pitched Spain as a strong contender for an Indian Navy project to build six advanced submarines
Spain, along with other countries in Europe, perceives India as a “very relevant player” for ensuring security and stability in the Indo-Pacific after the turbulence witnessed in recent years, Spanish deputy prime minister Teresa Ribera said on Thursday.
During an exclusive interview, Ribera, who was in New Delhi for meetings with Indian ministers and officials on issues ranging from renewable energy to the overall bilateral partnership, also pitched Spain as a strong contender for an Indian Navy project to build six advanced submarines. Edited excerpts:
Could you tell us about your meetings in New Delhi and how Spain looks at India for issues such as energy security and climate transitions?
The first point I would like to stress is that over the years, we have identified in Spain that it is important to have a look at and to build an alliance with India. We are two countries at a different scale, with different figures, but we are countries that play a relevant role in terms of stability and prosperity in our regions. I think we need to take the responsibility to develop a deeper understanding on what are the main challenges of each country and how we can cooperate in many of these fields. In my portfolio, I have energy, water, climate, biodiversity, demographics, rural areas and cohesion, and this means a lot [for] the challenges also in India, how to transform prosperity being built on the basis of an increasing amount of energy, mainly [fed] with coal, but with an increasing share of renewable energy. This means a systemic change in the way we approach energy, food security, forest biodiversity, agriculture and pollution as the main drivers for national politics and social stability. Knowing that temperature, drought and flooding pose a real challenge and there is a difficulty to find the right balance between going deeper and faster in energy transition and climate policies with the pressing demand for more energy and [lesser] dependency from abroad. So that’s quite challenging.
So, the agenda was around these issues dealing with sustainable development. With international cooperation on our minds, what is the UN context that matters and where we find ourselves in terms of plastic pollution in the sea, climate cooperation, energy transition and sustainable finance. We will be hosting the next summit of the UN on finance for sustainable development in Spain this year. This provides a good context to have this approach for bilateral relations. This is also something that probably goes along with increasing interest in Spanish society and Indian society towards each other’s countries, culturally, and in terms of language and history. I think it is a good moment to invest, explore and prepare for what we are still missing, which is an official visit from [Spain’s] prime minister and our president to India.
Spain is seen as one of the leaders in Europe for renewable energy, especially solar and wind power. Are there plans for Spain to invest in these sectors in India. India also raised the lack of investments from the developed world for meeting commitments for renewable energy while chairing the G20. Can India and Spain can work together on this issue?
I think we need to work together on that. There is a small group of very relevant Spanish companies in renewable energy that are present in India for the development of plants and the industrial elements of the value chain and services. They are already working reasonably well in India. There are also Indian companies and investors willing to invest in renewable energy projects or green hydrogen in Spain. That goes along the line of societies looking to each other and trying to build partnerships.
There are elements that rely on the capacity to develop international or bilateral cooperation, including how we redirect financial flows from development banks or from transfers of wealth from one country to another. But we also need to understand that in order to be successful, it is very important to create conditions to ensure we can absorb this [funding] coming from abroad. This goes beyond international flows, it also means the right signals and regulatory signals for national investors, to create confidence, the human capacities to develop projects, and that’s something we have learned back home. We have a more powerful economy in the energy field.
The discussion on international climate finance is evolving, which is very important because for a very long time, we had the understanding that we could reduce the gap by counting on dedicated public climate funds. Now, we all are aware this is not enough. We need to dedicate in a smart manner the public funding for climate, derisking operations, and allowing higher interest from private investors or boosting the public policies dedicated to build resilience and capacity to adapt to climate impacts.
But the big money is not $100 billion, even if it is very important. The big money goes much more beyond that. There are different elements that need to be combined – carbon pricing, fiscal policies, derisking investments, human capacities. This is the case of India – how we can combine the national and domestic measures with international willingness to invest. In many cases, is not just a question of having the interest of private investors from abroad, but how we can create the space and ecosystem for confidence and reliability of a country. I think India has improved very much in recent years the capacity to attract these investments. But we could make a mistake if we think the financial requirements for dealing with climate can only rely on traditional cooperation flows.
Do you think India needs to make more changes to make investors more confident, especially in areas like renewable energy?
I think India is increasingly relevant in this context. I think it is very important to go beyond understanding India as a market or as a player in trade. I think this transformation also helps to modernise the industry and to ramp up the welfare of society and the reduction of big gaps in social terms. I think it is something that is not just energy, but what it implies in terms of improving the quality of – I don’t know if it is very adequate to say this - democracy and functioning societies.
My impression is that this also makes a great difference from China, which performs and feels proud of their performance but with a very low level of [public] participation. It is much more [about] decisions being taken by the leadership and then being imposed on the different players. I think India, the big emerging economy at the continental scale, can do things differently, it can make full use of this big economic transformation, and take advantage of geographical and climate conditions to modernize and improve the quality of life and the ownership of the agenda by its citizens. I’m sure this is not easy. Sometimes it’s not even part of the political agenda and elections, but at the same time it is an opportunity we should not miss.
We have seen Europe looking more closely at India for the overall security of the Indo-Pacific. Does Spain subscribe to this view?
Yes, absolutely. I think we have gone through terrible experiences in recent years, which showed to what extent we live in a very small world, are much more interdependent and everything is connected, as it was the case for Covid-19. But also in terms of the turbulence and the impact this turbulence may have in many different aspects of day-to-day life, [including] the invasion of Ukraine, the war in Gaza, which have had an impact on the stability, food security and access to energy. These are things that directly impact the life of everybody.
We in Europe managed to go through this turbulence with a very strong commitment to stay united, to increase solidarity among ourselves, because the impact was different in different member states. [We had] to be flexible on how we could build solutions, but it also showed to what extent we needed to rebalance globalisation towards a more healthy combination of global and local. This means speaking in a different manner with many different players.
We need to build a more healthy relationship with many other players in different regions. India has the size, capacity, influence and potential to be a very relevant player in the Indo-Pacific. We see Spain in a corner in Europe and India on the other side in Asia, with these conflicts between the two of us, but impacting maritime transportation, world trade, and energy security and reliability.
On the supply side, it is changing the relationships between oil and gas producers and consumers. India has relevant relationships with many of the players that we are talking about, bigger and smaller, and in a certain moment, India needs to identify how it could position itself in these conflict, but also what opportunities may come from these conflicts that could help India to build better. It is fair to understand that the relationship with India should not only be commercial, but much more political, and it should not only deal with domestic issues but also with regional stability and to get involved in the big pressing discussions on global governance.
The conflict in Gaza has away attention from a major infrastructure project launched last year, the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), but would Spain be interested in becoming part of this corridor?
I think it is important to build corridors, and that comes from the ancient times, when we knew that was a good way to create prosperity. I think in order to ensure these corridors do work, we need to get involved in the creation or maintenance of conditions to ensure they can work. This is why we need political involvement on how to ensure peace, human rights and security in all those regions where the corridors go through.
Yes, Spain can be the final destination for many issues, or the entry point for Europe for many other issues, as it is the case with India. It is a project to be developed, and I think that it’s good to come along with some partners on this. It has probably additional political implications, in terms of what type of role Spain and India can play in a region that apparently is far away from both countries but is critical for global regional security. I’m sure that what is happening in the Red Sea is not neutral in terms of the impact for the economy and for the trading of goods for any country, including India.
There’s been a lot of interest in Spain’s partnership with India for defence. Spain is competing with Germany for a major submarine contract. How is Spain placed in this deal and how do you see India as a defence partner?
I think we need to be quite respectful about decisions being made by each country on how to [meet] defence requirements. What I can say is that Navantia and Abengoa, the two Spanish companies that are developing one of the most modern submarines and [propulsion systems], are not only high quality, but these are companies that are used to playing a much more flexible role [with] openness with third partners.
I think this is an advantage because you have the very best qualified technology to solve problems for a very sophisticated [vessel operating] under water, and using the best techniques in terms of mobility, fuel and engines. I think this is very powerful on one side, and on the other side, I think the conversation and the development of other projects in the times to come is important. Navantia is very well placed not only for submarines but for shipping or even for offshore technologies for wind power. Abengoa is a very skilled company dealing with engineering solutions. I think this shows that in these new sectors connected to energy, mobility and so on, it’s not any more German or French engineering. I think the world is a little bit broader and sometimes, the new neighbours in the building are a little bit more innovative and flexible than the traditional ones.