An Intercontinental Alliance

Prime Minister Modi is on a nine-day state visit to France, Germany and Canada, starting this week. The Prime Minister will land in each of those countries with a specific agenda in mind, aimed at boosting India’s domestic growth and foreign policy ambitions.

Europe does not see many state visits these days, but Modi’s arrival will carry significance. The value of European foreign policy these days is waning. Many point out the European Union’s internal frailties and its inability to lead the fight against Putin in Ukraine. Europe, to most foreign policy commentators, is a dead horse that runs on the American engine, with little energy of its own. That may well be true, but that is precisely why India and Europe should collaborate more closely with each other.

One of the primary reasons for the falling significance of Europe on the global stage is its demographic crisis. Take France and Germany, two of the EU’s most populous nations. One-fifth of all people in both countries today are over 65 years of age. Birth rates continue to fall, below the replacement rate even, as the population continues to age. Added to this is the ever-increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East, following civil wars in that part of the world (Germany has almost 600,000 refugees under its care; France, over 200,000).

What Europe needs, India has: a youthful population. Only 5% of all Indians today are over 65 years of age; almost one-third is under 14. An IMF working paper in 2011 said that India’s “demographic dividend could add about 2 percentage points per annum to [its] per capita GDP growth over the next two decades.” Yet, sure enough, there are challenges; but luckily what India needs, Europe has: technology and skill. If India has to ready its upcoming labor force to work in the 21st century, it needs to train its youth for the same. That is where Europe can be instrumental – in sharing technology with India and helping it build the skills and capacity of its human resources. In return, India’s labor force could spur Europe’s industries, through offshore manufacturing and outsourced services, thereby keeping its economy healthy.

But there are strategic gains to be had as well from such close collaboration. India and Europe share many overlapping interests in foreign policy. If New Delhi is concerned about international security, then so is France. (In 2013, India co-sponsored a UN resolution that authorized France to rush to the aid of Mali while the latter fought Islamist militants.) If New Delhi wants a long overdue expansion of the UN Security Council, then so does Germany. (India and Germany are part of a group of four, with Brazil and Japan, which is asking for their inclusion as permanent members of the UNSC.)

Over the last few weeks, Europe has also been caught in the crossfire between America and China. With their economies yearning for a recovery, France and Germany recently joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), much against Washington’s vocal wishes. This was not unwarranted defiance to Washington; the Europeans are in need of greater trade with China and are compelled to build stronger economic ties with Beijing to that end. If non-alignment is the European ideal, then India can be a potential counter-balance. Should India emerge as a strong alternative trade partner in the coming years, Europe would certainly prefer to partner New Delhi instead, rather than becoming increasingly dependent on the Chinese.

As Prime Minister Modi completes his visits to Paris and Berlin over these coming days, the focus ought to be on enhancing this symbiotic relationship for the future. An economically and militarily robust India is in the interest of an aging, tiring Europe. France and Germany know that well.

(c) 2015, Swarajya