Merkel heads to India to strengthen ties, press for reforms | World| Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 30.05.2011
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Merkel heads to India to strengthen ties, press for reforms

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has kicked off a state visit to India in a bid to forge stronger ties with the emerging nation. Both countries' interests run parallel in many respects, but a few differences remain.

Indian Prime Manmohan Singh, right, talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel and Singh seem to see eye to eye on most matters

Chancellor Angela Merkel has embarked on a state visit to India, four years after her previous visit, in a bid to strengthen ties and boost trade links with the world's largest democracy by population.

Political scientist Rajendra Kumar Jain, from Jawaharlal Nehru University, said as power continues to shift from Europe to Asia, the trip will play an important role.

"We see that Germany's view of Asia has changed," he said. "And, until now most of the focus of European countries was upon China. We now see, though, that the image of India has changed." Kumar Jain added that a strategic partnership made between India and Germany a few years ago has accelerated the process."

The last time Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Germany in 2010, Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the cooperation between their countries in the fields of research and technology.

"We aim to strengthen this cooperation," she stressed at the time. "We also aim to strengthen our cooperation on security, as India is a country that has repeatedly suffered from terrorism."

Common aims at UN

Chinese President Hu Jintao shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Europe is shifting in its attitudes to India and China

Another possible area for cooperation, said Kumar Jain, concerns the UN Security Council. Both countries are at present non-permanent members of the body and they have been pressing for reforms to the UN so that they could become permanent members.

To celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations between the countries, Merkel is also due to launch the "Year of Germany" in India on the visit. For a whole year, Germany will be trying to present a fresh image of itself to India through political forums, cultural events, shows, innovations and sporting events.

Together with Singh and members of her German delegation, Merkel will also attend an Indian cabinet meeting for the first time.

As another highlight, Merkel is to receive the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru award - one of the Indian government's highest political accolades which comes with a prize worth 10 million rupees (about 150,500 euros/$222,000).

The prize was awarded for "enormous personal efforts for sustainable and equitable development, for good governance and for helping to create a world that is able to meet the challenges of the 21st century," the Indian government said in advance of the presentation.

Previous recipients include Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, former South African President Nelson Mandela and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Alongside harmony, friction

Despite all of this harmony, some points of friction do remain between the two countries. One case in point, according to Kumar Jain, is the question of how to deal with climate change.

Germany is a world leader when it comes to sustainable technologies and renewable energies. India remains, in many respects, a developing nation with plenty of catching up to do.

Members of the Security Council meet

Germany and India want to be permanent members of the UN Security Council

In her weekly video message on Saturday, Merkel said she plans to press India to sign up to targets that would limit its carbon dioxide output. "We have to get India on board and it is very difficult to convince [the country] about binding targets," she said.

Also likely to divide opinion is the election of a new chief for the International Monetary Fund, to replace the disgraced former head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Germany is pressing for that person to be a European, while India has mentioned a preference for the candidate to be from the developing world.

'Much to be gained'

Paying such close attention to India is not without reason for Germany, said Kumar Jain. As a nuclear power and the largest democracy in the world, India is a guarantor of stability in a troubled region that includes Afghanistan - where thousands of German troops are stationed - and Pakistan.

The country is also seen as a reliable partner in a number of international organizations. And trade volumes are up between the two countries - due to grow to 20 billion euros by 2012, compared with 2.7 billion in 1990.

Perhaps, according to Kumar Jain, Germany might need India every bit, and perhaps more, than India needs Germany.

Author: Priya Esselborn / rc
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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