India and the Central and Eastern European countries can work together towards a rules-based international order
India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM) Dr S Jaishankar’s visit to Slovenia, Croatia and Denmark from 2-5 September provided India with an opportunity to review the progress in its bilateral ties with the two Central European countries and Denmark, and to strengthen its relationship with the European Union and its member states. The EAM visited Slovenia from 2-3 September on Slovenia’s invitation as the latter currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union; the EAM attended the informal meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of EU Member States on 3 September. Dr. Jaishankar became India’s first foreign minister to visit Slovenia in 30 years, where he held discussions with his European counterparts on issues based on ‘mutual interests’ while carrying on discussions on the Afghanistan crisis, and also participating in a panel discussion on a, “Partnership for a Rules-Based Order in the Indo-Pacific” at the annual Bled Strategic Forum (BSF). The Forum has evolved into an international conference in the Central and South-Eastern European region since its conception in 2006.
India in Slovenia
Dr. Jaishankar emphasised building a partnership with Europe for ensuring a rules-based Indo-Pacific region as several European states are pushing for greater Indian presence in Asia to balance the Chinese aggression in the region. Dr. S. Jaishankar asserted that the EU has a friend in the Indo-Pacific region. The EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy is expected this month after months of deliberation and negotiations between the 27 member states to identify a unified EU policy on the Indo-Pacific. The EU, earlier this year, put aside its Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China on the grounds of human rights violations in Xinjiang while giving further impetus towards the resumption of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India.
The EAM held a bilateral meeting with his Slovenian counterpart Anže Logar where the respective ministers exchanged notes on the COVID situation and India sought support from Slovenia for the resumption of the India–EU Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement.
The EAM held a bilateral meeting with his Slovenian counterpart Anže Logar where the respective ministers exchanged notes on the COVID situation and India sought support from Slovenia for the resumption of the India–EU Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement. During his visit to Slovenia, the EAM inaugurated the India Studies Centre at the Nova University in Slovenia to promote people-to-people ties between India and Slovenia. He also met Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Janša and President Borut Pahor where discussions revolved around key challenges facing India and the EU followed by exchanging perspectives on global issues, namely, Europe’s challenges, its status quo in the Indo-Pacific, and the Afghan crisis.
India in Croatia
The Slovenia visit was followed by the EAM visiting Croatia, where he became the first Indian foreign minister to visit Croatia. He was received by the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković where the two had an elaborate discussion on the bilateral cooperation between the two countries. The Croatian perspective on the Afghan issue was highlighted along with Indian companies’ aim to venture into the Croatian pharmaceutical, digital and infrastructure sectors. The meeting further delved into venturing into additional areas of cooperation such as defence, tourism, post-COVID recovery and counterterrorism.
In a joint press conference, Dr. Jaishankar and the Croatian Foreign Minister, Gordan Grlić-Radman focused on common positions and perspectives after discussing the Indo-Pacific and Afghanistan crisis at great length. Croatia lies at an important geostrategic location in Central Europe, which boasts of a strong maritime economy, and India seeks to boost its relations and expand its existing ties in the Central and Eastern European countries. The bilateral trade between India and Croatia is currently valued at €130.70 million with 90 percent of this being Indian exports to Croatia. The true potential for the economic ties between the two has not been met, however, promising signs are being shown. ACG worldwide, a Mumbai based pharmaceutical company, was the first Indian investment in Croatia in 2013 and today it is the third-largest supplier of gelatine capsules in Europe. Croatia is the newest member of the EU after its accession in July 2013, hence, the young transition that provides opportunities for Indian investors in critical sectors such as pharmaceutical, renewable energy, tourism, railways, and infrastructure. Croatia serves as a critical gateway for India’s entry into the Western Balkans, Southern Mediterranean and Western Europe.
In a joint press conference, Dr. Jaishankar and the Croatian Foreign Minister, Gordan Grlić-Radman focused on common positions and perspectives after discussing the Indo-Pacific and Afghanistan crisis at great length.
India in Denmark
The last leg of his visit was to Denmark, which was the first visit by an Indian foreign minister in 20 years. Denmark is India’s “very unique partner”, said External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar. Denmark is the only country with which India has a Green Strategic Partnership. The Green Strategic Partnership could prove beneficial for India’s wind power potential as Denmark has invested in wind energy since the 1970s and, today, Denmark generates over 50 percent of its electricity from wind power. Urban development and sustainable urbanisation lie at the core of this green partnership as Copenhagen is anticipated to be the first carbon-neutral city in the world by 2025. Other Danish cities such as Aarhus, Vejle and Sønderborg have mastered the art of sustainable urban planning as they rely on renewable energy to improve climate resilience.
Denmark is the only country with which India has a Green Strategic Partnership. The Green Strategic Partnership could prove beneficial for India’s wind power potential as Denmark has invested in wind energy since the 1970s and, today.
The city-to-city cooperation has been strengthened between the two Indian cities Udaipur and Tumakuruand, and Danish cities Aarhus and Aalborg. India’s meteoric rise in population translates to its growing energy demand, hence, Denmark’s expertise in renewable energy and sustainable development could help strengthen and intensify the green partnership between the two. The importance of this climate efficient and green partnership serves as an ideal precursor for the long-desired FTA between India and the European Union as green transition and climate action have become a major necessity for Brussels. The Economic Partnership Agreement between Japan and the EU boasts of being the first economic trade agreement that includes commitments related to the Paris Agreement by encouraging the implementation of measures on sustainable forest management, conservation of biological diversity and combatting illegal logging; therefore, aspiring to an FTA with the EU would require India to urgently act on its climate ambitions.
India and Denmark have previously expressed their desire to work towards an ambitious and mutually beneficial trade and investment agreement between the EU and India. Denmark’s decision to join the India-led International Solar Alliance was welcomed and appreciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2020 when the two sides agreed to promote a rules-based multilateral trading system under WTO to promote global growth and sustainable development. With regards to the Arctic Council, India and Denmark have agreed to work within the framework of the Arctic Council to address increasing environmental problems. India is one of the five Asian countries to have observer status in the Arctic Council. Besides the green strategic partnership, the EAM focused on the 200 Danish companies operating in India while underlining the importance of an FTA between India and the EU. The minister also co-chaired the fourth round of the Indo-Danish Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) on September 4th with Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod to review the bilateral cooperation between India and Denmark under the Green Strategic Partnership.
India’s historical ties with Central and Eastern Europe
The EU, amidst China’s 16+1 mechanism and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), sees India as a safer economic partner than China. New Delhi has always fostered close ties with Yugoslavia, a key partner in the Non-Aligned Movement, as the first official summit of the NAM was held in 1961 at Belgrade. India has extended its focus to Central and Eastern European countries since President Kovind’s 2018 visit to the region where he called for Central European (CEE) countries’ to support India’s “Make in India” initiative.
India is one of the five Asian countries to have observer status in the Arctic Council. Besides the green strategic partnership, the EAM focused on the 200 Danish companies operating in India while underlining the importance of an FTA between India and the EU.
Greater political engagement between India and CEE states can expand the existing ties between the two as India can maximise its true potential by forging greater strategic ties with CEE states to overcome the existing obstacles. Slovenia and Croatia are in a geostrategic location in southern Europe closer to the Mediterranean, an area in which India seeks to assert itself against the inroads made by the Chinese. India is currently at the presidency of the UNSC in 2021-2022 and it holds the presidency of the G20 in 2022, which provides India with an impetus to push forward its shared vision of rules-based multilateralism.
The Indo-Pacific region is a theatre where major geopolitical activities will unfold whose repercussions could affect non-regional actors; therefore, the EU’s ambitions to be a global actor would require Brussels to reinforce its presence in the region by aligning with India. To seek further support from major European countries, India is expanding its bilateral relations in Central and Eastern Europe to maximise its roadmap for the EU-India Strategic Partnership. New Delhi hopes to revive its political, economic, and cultural partnership with the region erstwhile known as the Eastern bloc as India had enjoyed admirable political, economic, cultural, and military ties with the Eastern bloc before the end of the Cold War. The CEE shared India’s vision of Non-Alignment in the 20th century, now, the region in accordance with the EU can share India’s Multi-alignment vision for the 21st century for ensuring peace, stability and sustenance of a rules-based international order.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).