The challenge for Middle Powers like India, France and Germany 

News: Recently, the head of the European Union visited India, and Prime Minister of India visited the two European countries – France and Germany. 

India’s relationship with the continental European Countries 

Ex-French President Charles de Gaulle famously declared, “the strength and stability of India are essential for peace and tranquillity in South Asia”.  

German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer funded the establishment of the Indian Institutes of Technology.  

What are the challenges? 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seeks to tear down the post-Cold War security structure in Europe. The west is dissatisfied with India’s position in this regard.  

There are differences in the agenda of the EU and individual European countries. This division has often posed a problem for India. Individual countries cannot offer bilateral market access in exchange for bilateral defence deals.

For example, the French will sell Rafale jets in the name of strategic partnership but they cannot offer a trade and investment deal to India. 

The European Union is unlikely to settle a free trade agreement (FTA) for a “tariff-only” trade agreement having exclusion of labour, environment and social issues. The Europeans cannot isolate trade from some of the very relevant dimensions connected to trade. The Europeans constructed the EU as the EU Single Market project to deal with external competition 

In short, even as Europe worries about Russia, and India worries about China, it is still not clear what the two can and would do for each other, despite all the talk about partnership across Eurasia and Indo-Pacific.  

For India, it is not clear how much and what it can unilaterally offer Europe beyond the promise of standing up to China or reducing dependence on Russia. This alone cannot be the foundation of a new strategic partnership. 

India’s relations with these continental European powers have been shaped by the Cold War. Therefore, the revival of old East-West tensions will cast a shadow on India’s relations with the European Union. 

Way Forward 

The EU and G7 can de-risk, if not decouple, from aggressively rising China in the economic space. 

These middle powers like Brazil, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa and others can work together to combine their “strength and stability” to ensure “peace and tranquillity” in their respective neighbourhoods. It will further impose some discipline on the three big powers from recklessly and unilaterally setting the global geopolitical and geo-economic agendas. 

India should continue to seek a global environment conducive to its own economic development. It should work to ensure the world acknowledges its civilisational contribution to humanity. 

Individual European nations, especially Germany and France, focus on their own strategic and business interests, including defence equipment sales. 

Both sides should acquire a better understanding of each other’s security concerns. For example, The EU is concerned about Russian aggressiveness in Europe. India is equally concerned about Chinese aggressiveness in Asia.  

The “Middle Powers”, countries like France, Germany and India should seek policy space for themselves and not be forced into taking positions by the Big Powers — the United States, China and Russia. 

Source: The post is based on an article “Powers like India, France and Germany” published in the Indian Express on 06th May 2022. 

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