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Mandira Nayar
Mandira Nayar


Building partnership

Talking heads Talking heads: Modi with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Hyderabad House in New Delhi | PTI

Business apart, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit brings the two countries closer

There was no chai pe charcha. Nor was there a moment on the swing like the one with Chinese President Xi Jinping. They were colour-coordinated though, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi wearing a blue waist coat and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her demure blue coat, but her visit didn’t grab headlines. There was no breathless anticipation about what she liked to eat. Incidentally, she left armed with specially crafted berry tea and an edible chocolate frame.

Eighteen memorandums of understanding, a promise of fast-track mechanism for German companies in India, a joint declaration of intent between the ministry of human resource development and the German foreign office on teaching German as an additional foreign language in Kendriya Vidyalayas in India and the promotion of modern Indian languages in Germany—the best possible face-saving solution for last year's Sanskrit-German controversy—German-assistance for solar projects for more than 1 billion euros and a promise of investment in 'Make in India' programme, it was an interaction that Modi could safely square up to a win.

The smart cities (an area that Germany wants to expand into), infrastructure and skill development have struck the right notes. There will be investment in the railways, innovation and security. Then, there is the plan to clean the river Ganga, a favourite with the Germans who have experience with the river Rhine, which is now swim-worthy.

It helps that Germany is India's biggest trading partner in the European Union. The German investment in India stands at 9.7 billion euros. In fact, India is the largest destination for German development assistance.

The visit was important for what it signalled. “The visit was exceptionally important,’’ said former foreign secretary Salman Haider. “Whether material outcome happens, the visit has brought us closer. Germany has outdistanced every other European country.... It has slowly and steadily become politically more assertive.”

By opening up its heart and home during the refugee crisis in the region and taking a lead in the World War II anniversaries, Germany has perhaps become one of the most powerful voices in Europe. And it was apparent in the joint statements made by the two leaders.

“We see Germany as a natural partner in achieving our vision of India’s economic transformation,” said Modi. “German strengths and India’s priorities are aligned... our focus tends to be on economic ties. But, I believe that in a world of seamless challenges and opportunities, India and Germany can also be strong partners in advancing a more human, peaceful, just and sustainable future for the world.”

India may not be able to swing the permanent membership of the Security Council in the UN with help from Germany, though they have come together to push for reform, but the idea that India and Germany are close comes with fringe benefits. Especially, at a time when the crucial climate control negotiations are coming up in Paris.

There is the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. India has agreed, in broad terms, to start negotiations with the EU on trade agreements. “There was an issue of our pharmaceutical exports, which had been affected because of an inspection report,” said foreign secretary S. Jaishankar at a briefing. “So, our prime minister urged the chancellor to use her influence to ensure that the right decision was made by the regulators in that regard.’’

The sticky issues have been settled, or are on their way to be settled. India has promised that there would be a single window to sort out the issues—combating the legendary red tape. While the ease of setting up business has helped to an extent—it is possible for a company to open shop in six weeks—what German companies find hard to negotiate is the labyrinth of laws, especially tax laws. Complicated, is how one German investor described it.

“German companies are keen on investing in India. It is a huge market,’’ said Guido Christ, deputy director-general, Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, New Delhi. The traditional trade partners of Germany, including Russia with its declining economy, have hit a bump. China is growing, but slowly. India, with its democratic values, is preferred by German companies. “Things take time, but they happen in India,’’ says Christ.

For the Germans, however, it is important that the relationship with India, which is based on shared values and democratic traditions, goes beyond the nitty-gritty of numbers even though in the current economic conditions, money matters. So, it boils down to building stronger ties and the word that is often overused but underestimated, culture. Over the past few years, however, the Germans have used this tool rather effectively. For instance, the concert for peace in Kashmir with Zubin Mehta and, more recently, returning the 10th century Durga idol that was stolen from a temple in Kashmir and smuggled out of the country.

While the idol made its way to India before the chancellor did, it served as a backdrop for the talks between Modi and Merkel, perhaps a gesture from India to convey that there is much more than just business.

Fringe benefits
During Merkel's visit, India and Germany signed 18 agreements. Highlights:
* Deal to fast-track approvals for German companies in India.
* Assistance of more than one billion euros for solar projects.
* A pact to deploy armed marshals on board certain flights between the two countries to prevent hijacking.
* A separate MoU was signed to intensify cooperation in countering terrorism.
* A joint declaration of intent was signed to enhance ties in the railways sector.
* Pacts were also signed to provide cooperation in the fields of food safety, science and technology, skill development and disaster management.

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