Merkel, Modi share good chemistry, work on for Merkel visit: German envoy (IANS Interview)
By Ranjana Narayan
New Delhi, Aug 4 (IANS) During Prime Minister Narendra Modis brief stopover in Berlin last April, he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were absorbed in chatting by themselves for over 20 minutes in the balcony of the Chancellery, ahead of their official dinner meeting, as senior officials from both sides waited patiently below, in a sign of the good chemistry the two leaders share. As Merkel visits India in November for the biennial inter-governmental meeting, preparations are in full swing to take Indo-German strategic ties to a new high, says German Ambassador Walter J. Lindner.
The Intergovernmental Consultations (IGC), a strategic partnership meeting held at the level of head of government every two years, is something Germany has reserved for only the "very big and important countries".
When Modi visited Berlin for the Fourth IGC in May 2017, he was accompanied by several cabinet ministers. The German Chancellor is expected to do likewise during her visit for the Fifth IGC.
"This (IGC) I think is a very good way of pushing things, giving things a bit more boost," Lindner said, adding that though the two sides keep working through the year, the physical presence of the two heads of government together with several of their ministers gives the ties a major fillip.
During the last IGC, the two sides signed 12 cooperation documents in various sectors.
Recounting Modi's brief visit to Berlin in April 2018 for a dinner meeting, on the suggestion of Merkel who had just begun her fourth term as Chancellor, Lindner told IANS: "Prime Minister Modi was there in Berlin on a stopover from the London Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. And we were waiting there (at the Chancellery) for dinner.
"And they were on the balcony chatting, the two of them, for 20 minutes, the Chancellor and PM Modi. And we were sitting on the table. At the time it was Vijay Gokhale who was my colleague there. And we at the table doing small talk, wondering what they were talking about. Later she said, ‘We were talking much about the future of work, the repercussions of globalisation, what does this mean to the world economy, and robotics, and industry 4.0, and these kind of things'. And I think these will also be announced in the (forthcoming) agenda," Lindner told IANS in an interview.
Describing the bilateral ties as "very, very connected, and a dense relationship", Lindner said: "But everything can be improved, there is always room for improvement."
On Merkel's upcoming visit to India in November, he said: "Our preparation process is already in full swing." On the areas to be covered during the visit, he said they would include "innovation, industry and also industry 4.0 (fourth industrial revolution) -- Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Robotics as well as energy, renewable energy, sustainable development, vocational training and environment," among other subjects.
Modi and Merkel had also discussed Industry 4.0 during their bilateral meeting at Hannover in April 2015 when the two leaders jointly inaugurated the Hannover Trade Fair.
Global issues would also figure in the talks. "We live in a turbulent time, where we and India and others are very interested in rule-based systems, structures, like the UN, and also like the WTO and other agreements where we can put rules. So it is not one against the other, or only bilateral issues."
Talks would also cover "the environment front, trade, and also on scarceness of resources, plastic, but also globalisation in the digital world".
"There are a lot of topics which we share. And since the chemistry between the two PMs is a good one, I think they have a lot to talk in this context," he added.
Trade between India and Germany was around 18.2 billion euros in the first 10 months of 2018, and India stands 26th among Germany's trading partners. On Ease of Business in India, the Ambassador said it has "improved". The two sides have established a "fast track mechanism" through which they iron out any issues hobbling forward movement.
The German Chambers of Commerce looks into the areas where their companies face problems in India, including of tax complications or double taxation. These inputs, along with those of the German embassy, are shared with the FICCI and other Indian industry chambers.
"So it is business-to-business and also government-to-government. It is held every six months. It is chaired by the state secretary of commerce, and he brings in all the Indian players, and the different ministries which are involved - in order to solve it," Lindner said.
He added that when he attended one such meeting, there were six topics. "Three were solved, two were put on hold for next time, and one - we said it is too difficult, and will take five years. So, at least, the company knows."
Germany is also deeply involved in working in the development sector in India through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
German development cooperation participation in India in the last 20 years stood at 16 billion euros, mostly in the areas of renewable energy, sustainable urban development or smart cities - that involve dealing with plastic, transport as well as environment and resource protection.
Giving the example of the Rhine in Germany, Lindner said that 25 years ago the river was "a disaster" due to severe pollution. Germany is now working with India to improve the quality of the Ganga river, on tackling industrial effluents.
"If you go to Dehradun or Rishikesh, the Ganga is pretty clean. But after that the industrial waste influx comes in. So, what we do is, we help through credits and technical assistance, the local administration there to organise waste water management. The German government is putting quite some money into this," he added.
The German government is into negotiations to extend the Ganga project beyond Dehradun and Rishikesh, to Lucknow and Varanasi where it is more polluted.
Germany is involved in 300 development projects in India. In 2018, 781 million euros was earmarked for such projects in India.
Since he joined in April this year, Lindner has tried to visit as many of the projects in which his country is involved. "Wherever I go I try to visit the projects. Three hundred projects is a lot. While theory is nice, I want to see what is being done. That is why I travel so much, because I want to see what are the projects," he says.
He has taken a ride on the Nagpur Metro, where the steering is by Siemens. "The Metro in Nagpur has won quite some awards because it is called a ‘green metro'. It has bicycles, and also solar panels at the stations."
Germany is also involved in the Kochi Metro project, where the metro and the river ferry system are to be linked. The hybrid catamaran-type ferry boats will be electric powered. Germany is helping in the project through credits and technical knowhow and assistance.
On the India-EU free trade agreement that has still not been concluded though talks were launched in 2007, the ambassador said the EU now had a new person as its head - Germany's Ursula von der Leyen, elected the European Commission's first female President last month.
"It may be a good idea to give it a little push now, and to reactivate our efforts to bring this to an end. We (Germany) are economically the strongest in Europe, so we have a great interest in completing this negotiation and bringing it to a good end, in a world where we have trade difficulties between China and the US.
"That's why we have to have something that is protecting the rule-based exchange of goods, and this is a free trade agreement. I think it's in the interest of India and in our interest as Europeans."