Germany sees India as a strategic partner

By Manik Mehta, IANS,

Frankfurt : After decades of indifference, Germany is now looking at India as a strategic partner not only in Asia but also on the global stage, as reflected in their growing business and diplomatic relations.

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“India is an attractive partner for Germany. As the world’s most populous democracy, India is the kind of partner Germany would like to join hands with,” Bernhard Steinruecke, the German executive director of the Mumbai-headquartered Indo-German Chamber of Commerce (IGCC), said during a presentation in Hannover.

“Also, India’s incredible economic growth has impressed the German industry, including the small and medium-sized companies, which are looking for business opportunities in the subcontinent.”

The IGCC is the biggest German chamber of commerce worldwide, with branches in major Indian cities and a liaison office in Duesseldorf.

Indo-German relations, according to Steinruecke, are inherent with “incredible partnership potential”. Juggling with figures, Steinruecke pointed out that many developed countries could “only dream” of achieving India’s average growth rate of between 8.5 percent and 9.5 percent.

The two-way trade, currently approaching the $13 billion mark, can further grow at “incredible rates” in the future, Steinruecke said. India’s foreign exchange reserves, currently at $304 billion, were astonishingly high, he added.

India is “in”, according to Norbert Pflueger, a lawyer who is also the first chairman – the second chairman is Shabahat Ali Khan, a retired businessman of Indian origin – of the Frankfurt-based Indo-German Forum (IGF), an organisation working to promote better understanding between Indians and Germans.

“German companies, looking for ways and means to cut costs, are turning to India which offers them enormous advantages in several industries, particularly in information technology. However, Germans are also deeply interested in Indian culture,” Pflueger told IANS after his return from a visit to India with his family.

While India’s star continues to rise, China’s reputation is taking a battering in Germany, with a series of problems starting with intellectual property rights (IPR) violations, substandard and qualitatively deficient products, language problems and, lately, the Tibet controversy which has become a public relations disaster for China.

Indeed, Chancellor Angela Merkel, throwing protocol to the winds, created a diplomatic sensation when some months ago she received the Dalai Lama in her office in Berlin, ignoring Chinese protests and threats, and even overruling her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who called her meeting with the Dalai Lama a “mistake”.

On the other hand, Merkel is becoming a staunch pro-India convert. She flagged off the much-touted “Technology Express” train when she visited India last year.

German diplomats, in private conversations with IANS, say that Germany should replicate a similar train to encourage the technology-averse German youth to take up scientific and engineering subjects in schools and universities.

Indo-German political relations are also on an upswing. Indeed, Germany and India, along with Brazil and Japan, formed the so-called Group of four (G-4), which seeks UN reforms and wants the four to become permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Indeed, India’s consul general in Frankfurt, Ajit Kumar, spoke of the anachronistic composition of the five-member Security Council before a packed hall of attentively listening Indian and German businessmen, lawyers and academics while giving a lecture under the auspices of the IGF in Frankfurt.

“We should work towards reforming the Security Council because it still reflects the old realities of 1945,” he told the audience.

Kumar also told IANS that a number of high-profile visits from Germany to India in the coming months would underscore the “great significance” which Germans attach to relations with India.

Christian Wulff, the minister president of Lower Saxony – the equivalent of a chief minister of an Indian state – announced that he would lead a large business delegation to India in October.

Other German states such as Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg will also send large delegations to India. The mayor of Cologne will visit India. Indeed, German interest in India is so strong that, according to Steinruecke, special India desks have been created in chambers of commerce in 13 German cities.

Notwithstanding the euphoria over India in German industry, one also hears warnings that India’s slow pace in building up a viable infrastructure along with shortages of energy and water could put the clock back to what many German businessmen privately describe as the “old bullock-cart days”.

Although German industry has welcomed India’s attempts to build up infrastructure and secure a sustained supply of energy, it also wants India to pay attention to a steady supply of water for which demand is steeply rising with the burgeoning population and India’s ambitious economic development plans.