The second India-Nordic Summit: Why it is a win-win proposition for all
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Copenhagen, as also to Berlin and Paris, has the potential of becoming a game-changer in relations between India and Europe
When the first India-Nordic Summit was organised in April 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden, many thought that it would be a one-off event. It is reassuring that the second summit was held on 4 May 2022, exactly four years after the first gathering. Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, which erupted at the beginning of 2020, the second summit would have been held even earlier. In fact, notwithstanding the pandemic, the summit was scheduled to take place in June last year. But had to be cancelled at the last minute because of a sudden resurgence of the pandemic.
It is to the credit of the leadership of all the Nordic countries and India that they did not miss a step after the postponement and organised the Summit at the earliest available opportunity.
Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour to Denmark for a bilateral visit and the India-Nordic Summit was sandwiched between two high-profile visits to Germany and France, two of India’s most significant partnerships in the European Union, it was no less momentous in terms both of the optics as well as of the substance and outcome.
As during the first summit, on this occasion also, Prime Minister Modi met the prime ministers of all the five countries individually and separately before meeting all the leaders together in the format of the India-Nordic Summit.
The US is the only other country in the world with which the Nordic countries have an engagement at the summit level.
India and Nordic States are natural partners
India and the five Nordic states have huge assets and complementarities. They share a convergence in values in democracy, pluralism, fundamental freedoms of speech, religion and media; all are free-market economies; all of them promote gender equality, women empowerment, social justice, human rights, and law and order. The Nordic countries have created the most peaceful zone of political and economic stability, which has raised the standard of living for all their citizens.
International, regional and bilateral cooperation amongst the five Nordic countries has witnessed far-reaching progress over recent years. In addition, notwithstanding the harsh climatic conditions in all these countries because of their geographic proximity to the Arctic Circle, all these countries figure among the top achievers in several areas of human activity and endeavour particularly innovation, clean energy, green technologies, education, healthcare, conversion of waste to energy, transparency, good governance, social justice, human rights, rule of law, and much more. These present enormous opportunities for India to plug into the strengths and progress registered by these countries to mutual benefit and advantage.
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It makes eminent political and economic sense for these countries to also step up their engagement with India. India is the third-largest global economy at $9 trillion in purchasing power parity terms. It is also the fastest-growing major economy with annual GDP growth of 7.4 per cent in 2022-23, after taking into account the adverse impacts of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Several momentous initiatives have been taken by India in recent years including the Goods and Services Tax, improvement in Ease of Doing Business, Productivity Linked Incentive Scheme, etc, which have significantly increased its attractiveness as a business and investment destination.
Many new flagship schemes have been launched by India including Make in India, Aatmanirbhar Bharat, Smart Cities, Skill India, Start-up India, Digital India, etc., in which companies from Nordic countries can develop win-win solutions. India presents an ideal opportunity to these countries because of its large market as also its youth dividend. Populations in all Nordic countries are greying and hence the young, educated, skilled and motivated population of India can meet an acutely felt demand in these countries. These countries need large and assured markets as reliable commercial partners. India eminently meets this requirement.
Prior to the India-Nordic Summit, Prime Minister Modi held wide-ranging bilateral discussions with the prime ministers of Denmark (where he was for a full-fledged bilateral visit also), Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
Prime Minister Modi and his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen reviewed the progress of the India-Denmark Green Strategic Partnership. Discussions covered cooperation in renewable energy, especially offshore wind energy and green hydrogen, as well as skill development, health, shipping, water and the Arctic, among others.
Prime Minister Modi appreciated the positive contribution of Danish companies in India to Indian flagship programmes while the Danish prime minister highlighted the positive role of Indian companies in Denmark. Both leaders lauded the expanding people to people ties between the two countries and welcomed the Declaration of Intent on a migration and mobility partnership which is expected to significantly contribute to a larger number of Indian students and professionals in Denmark. A detailed and comprehensive joint statement was adopted after the talks.
With Iceland, the two leaders noted that areas like sustainability, digitalisation and cooperation in science and education were important pillars of the bilateral partnership. They discussed opportunities to expand cooperation in the fields of new and emerging technologies like AI, quantum computing, future mobile technologies, clean technologies and smart grids. They discussed ways to further strengthen economic cooperation, especially in the sectors of geothermal energy, Blue Economy, Arctic, renewable energy, fisheries, food processing, education including digital universities, and culture. Geothermal energy, in particular, is an area where Iceland has special expertise, and both sides stressed collaboration between universities of both countries in this sector.
The prime ministers of India and Sweden noted the longstanding close relations based on common values; strong business, investment and R&D linkages; and similar approaches to global peace, security and development. Innovation, Technology, Investment and R&D collaborations provide the bedrock of this modern relationship. The two leaders reviewed the progress made in their bilateral partnership and agreements signed during the first India-Nordic Summit in 2018. They expressed satisfaction at the progress made by the Lead IT initiative which is an India-Sweden joint global initiative to set up a Leadership Group on Industry Transition (LeadIT) to help guide the world’s heaviest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting industries toward a low-carbon economy. Both leaders discussed the huge potential of deepening cooperation in areas like innovation, climate technology, climate action, green hydrogen, space, defence, civil aviation, Arctic, polar research, sustainable mining and trade and economic ties.
Prime Minister Modi and his counterpart from Norway reviewed the ongoing activities in bilateral relations and discussed future areas of cooperation. Prime Minister Modi highlighted that Norway's skills and India's scope provided natural complementarities. Both leaders discussed the potential for deepening engagement in areas like Blue Economy, renewable energy, green hydrogen, solar and wind projects, green shipping, fisheries, water management, rainwater harvesting, space cooperation, long term Infrastructure investment, health and culture. As members of UNSC, India and Norway have been engaging with each other in the UN on global issues of mutual interest.
In the meeting with the Prime Minister of Finland, the two leaders noted that areas like sustainability, digitalisation and cooperation in science and education were important pillars of the bilateral partnership. They discussed opportunities to expand cooperation in the fields of new and emerging technologies like AI, quantum computing, future mobile technologies, clean technologies and smart grids. PM Modi invited Finnish companies to partner with Indian companies and take advantage of the enormous opportunities that the Indian market presents, particularly in telecom infrastructure and digital transformations.
The India-Nordic Summit
The primary focus of the summit, in addition to several other important areas, was green energy, green technology, climate change, innovation and digitalisation.
The Prime Ministers pledged to further deepen their cooperation in key areas related to international peace and security, including the conflict in Ukraine.
The leaders deliberated upon the “destabilising effect of the conflict in Ukraine and its broader regional and global implications”. They condemned the civilian deaths in Ukraine, and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and affirmed their support for a “global order built on the UN Charter, international law and respect for sovereignty and the territorial integrity of states”. The Nordic Prime Ministers expressed “strong condemnation of the unlawful and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine by Russian Forces”. Like in the declaration with Germany (and later with France), India did not join in this formulation.
The conflict in Ukraine has become a major security concern for Europe and particularly for the Nordic states, with Sweden and Finland expected to submit their applications for membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) within months, if not weeks. As in Germany, and later in France, the divergence of views between India and Nordic states on the war in Ukraine was not allowed to derail discussions on the huge potential and opportunities for enhanced cooperation between India and the Nordic States in a multitude of areas.
The leaders reviewed progress in India-Nordic relations since the first summit in 2018 and discussed multilateral cooperation in areas such as post-pandemic economic recovery, the climate crisis, sustainable development, digitalisation and green growth. They affirmed their support for a rules-based international order and for multilateral institutions and to make them more inclusive, transparent, and accountable with the aim of addressing global challenges more effectively. The leaders also reaffirmed the importance of free trade as a driver for achieving inclusive growth and realising Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Nordic Countries reiterated their support for India’s Permanent Membership of a reformed and expanded Security Council.
The leaders discussed collaboration on environmental sustainability including clean water, clean air and circular economy. They recommitted themselves to adopting the ambitious Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework in the upcoming second part of COP15 of Convention on Biological Diversity and work together in its implementation.
They agreed that the blue economy can deliver economic growth, new jobs, improved nutrition, and increased food security. The leaders discussed the potential of stimulating business cooperation and investments in sustainable ocean industries in their countries, including in the maritime, marine, and offshore wind sectors. PM Modi invited the Nordic companies to invest in the blue economy, especially India’s “Sagarmala” project. He observed that India’s recently launched Arctic Policy is a good framework for expanding cooperation with the Nordic states in this vital region. He also invited the sovereign wealth funds of the Nordic countries to invest in India.
The leaders committed themselves to jointly fighting climate change. They described the acceleration of the global green transition as one of the paramount global challenges. They underlined the need to set ambitious goals for reducing emissions and welcomed the international agreement at COP26 to encourage countries to adopt policies to restrict the increase in the global average temperature to below 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and launching strenuous efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
The leaders also discussed collaboration on environmental sustainability, including clean water and air and the circular economy, for maintaining biodiversity, water and wildlife and to ensure food security.
The wide-ranging and comprehensive discussions between Prime Minister Modi and Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen, the substantive bilateral interactions between PM Modi and his four other Nordic counterparts, and critical outcomes of the India-Nordic Summit have given a vital impetus to relations, not only between these countries but between India and Europe. The timing of the visit by PM Modi to Copenhagen, and also to Berlin and Paris, was most opportune. While the last few months have brought differences between India and the West on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine to the fore, this issue was not allowed to hijack the bilateral relationship between India and these countries. PM Modi was successful in advancing India’s position on this issue with confidence, self-assurance and firmness which led to better understanding and appreciation of the Indian stand.
The Nordic States also realised that with the role of China in geopolitical and geo-economic affairs becoming more suspect, unhelpful and unreliable, they need a trusted, credible and resilient partner with a rapidly growing economy like India.
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Copenhagen for bilateral meetings with his Nordic counterparts and the India-Nordic Summit as also to Berlin and Paris have the potential of becoming a game-changer in relations between India and Europe, and India and the West.
The writer is executive council member, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, president, Institute of Global Studies, Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Aspen Centre, and former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. The views expressed are personal.
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