How would you classify Indo-German relations? How have relations developed in the Modi-Merkel era?
As democracies, India and Germany share common values. We actively support a rules-based international order. The strategic partnership between Germany and India is unique and we do not cultivate anything like this with any other country in South Asia. Our relations have become ever deeper in recent years. For example, there are more than 30 consultation and dialogue formats that have emerged over the 19 years of our partnership.
What do you hope the Federal Government’s visit to India will achieve? Will the two countries sign important agreements?
We want to inject further dynamism into our relations. To this end, we will, for instance, conclude agreements to promote exchange between our start-ups. We want to set the ball rolling for new cooperation also in the area of green urban mobility. Moreover, the Federal Government is being accompanied by a business delegation on its trip.
Germany is India’s biggest trading partner in the EU. What can India do to deepen these economic relations still further?
India’s economy has been growing at remarkable rates for years. Like Germany, India is committed to free, open and rules-based trade. I am convinced that it would be good for Europe and India if we were able to resume and press ahead with negotiations on a free trade agreement. For this, we need positive impetus from all sides, however.
Around 1700 German companies are active in India. That is a remarkable number. In recent years, India’s rating in the Ease of Doing Business Index has constantly improved. That is a good sign, and it has been noted by the German business sector. On the other hand, various non‑tariff and administrative barriers are still in place. Germany is willing to support India in further improving the investment conditions.
In which areas does Germany have a special interest in cooperating even more closely with India?
I see potential for greater cooperation between Germany and India, especially with respect to international and global challenges. We are already cooperating very well in the area of climate and environmental protection at the bilateral level, for example. If we manage to work together even more closely on climate and environmental issues, including on the international stage, then we can take important steps towards achieving the ambitious Paris climate goals.
How is the strategic partnership between Germany and India progressing? What is its significance? How is it to be developed?
When it comes to security policy issues, India plays a key role in the region, such as in Afghanistan. Germany is also an important partner for Afghanistan with respect to reconstruction and the peace process. With the intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha, for example, Germany has made an important contribution towards a future peace process in Afghanistan. However, it is clear to us that we need India’s influence in order to achieve lasting stabilisation in the region. This is one of the reasons why it is important for Germany and India to pull in the same direction with respect to key security policy issues.
What is Germany’s opinion of India’s conduct in Jammu and Kashmir? Has Germany changed its view of the Kashmir issue?
India stands for diversity and tolerance. As a close democratic partner to India, it is important to us – and we have expressed this view clearly – that the rights of the local population in Jammu and Kashmir enshrined in the Constitution must be respected.
We consider this to be a domestic issue for India to address. At the same time, however, it is clear that decisions on Jammu and Kashmir can always have an impact on stability in the region. I have consistently pointed this out in my conversations with both the Indian and Pakistani sides. For us, it is important that no side add fuel to the fire and that diplomatic channels of communication remain open.
Irrespective of that, however, it is obvious that international terrorism must be stamped out permanently. Naturally, that goes for any type of terrorism and extremism, and is not least in Pakistan’s own fundamental interests.
Many Indian students now choose Germany as a place to study. What message do you have for them?
We are delighted that Germany is so popular among Indian students as a place to study. I firmly believe that business and research in both countries can only stand to benefit from this exchange. Of course, I can only recommend that anyone who would like to study in Germany, in light of the excellent economic relations between India and Germany, also learn some German.
Where do we currently stand with respect to defence cooperation between Germany and India? What does the future hold in this area?
In February 2019, our two Defence Ministers signed an agreement seeking to expand our cooperation in the field of defence. In addition, we only recently created a new dialogue format that will focus primarily on aspects of military policy. All of this is a good basis for our cooperation on defence and security policy issues.
What is Germany’s position regarding arms supplies to India?
Germany has a very restrictive and responsible arms‑export policy, on which there is broad consensus in the German political sphere. That does not mean we do not export any arms to India. Decisions are made on a case‑by‑case basis. We see India as an anchor of stability and a key partner in the region. It goes without saying that this is always taken into account in our decisions on arms‑export licences.
What about the Alliance for Multilateralism? Do you believe that Germany and India are on the same page here?
In recent years, the rules-based world order has increasingly come under pressure. We want to counter this development through the Alliance for Multilateralism. We firmly believe that we can achieve more as a team player than by going it alone. That is why I am very grateful to my Indian counterpart Dr Jaishankar for attending the Alliance for Multilateralism event. I hope that India will continue to participate in the alliance.