Daily Briefs

Photo : AP/The Hindu

13 March 2023, Monday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #459

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s India visit | Ukraine war: Day 381 & 382

Germany reports rise in crime rate; SIPRI reports increase in Europe's arms imports; collapse of Silicon Valley Bank

EM Comment
By Himani Pant

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s India visit: Taking bilateral relations to the next level
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz paid his first state visit to India on 25-26 February 2023 and visited New Delhi and Bengaluru. He had earlier visited India in his capacity as the mayor of Hamburg in 2012. He held extensive talks with PM Modi on the bilateral, regional and international issues. The scope was wide ranging aimed at boosting cooperation on multiple domains including clean energy, trade, science and new technologies, among others. The official statement states that talks led to G2G outcomes such as the India-Germany Vision to Enhance Cooperation in Innovation and Technology, and the Letter of Intent between Department of Science & Technology and Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems for Cooperation in Green Hydrogen and Clean Energy Technologies.

The outcomes included- announcement on organization of the Asia Pacific Conference (APK) in India in 2024; a memorandum of understanding between Skill Council of Green Jobs and Bundesverband Solarwirtschaft; SFC Energy AG and FC TecNrgy Pvt Ltd: Incorporation of SFC’s Indian subsidiary and cross-shareholding with Indian partner. While the two did not issue a joint statement, they released a common paper titled “India-Germany Vision to Enhance Cooperation in Innovation and Technology” mentioned in G2G outcome above.

Economic significance
The economic agenda of the visit was clear. Chancellor Scholz was accompanied by a business delegation that included CEOs major German companies such as Siemens and SAP, along with the heads of Germany's small and medium-sized business associations. A business roundtable was held to take suggestions from industry leaders of both countries, on topics such as digital transformation, FinTech, IT, telecom, and diversification of supply chains, so on.

Robust economic linkages form an important pillar of India-Germany ties, both bilaterally and within the European Union (EU). On a bilateral level, Germany is among its top ten trading partners of India. It also occupies the largest share of India’s trade with the EU.  The total bilateral trade between the two countries stood at USD 24.8 billion (EUR 23.4 billion) in 2021-22. Germany is the ninth largest foreign investor in India, with cumulative foreign direct investment inflows of USD 13.8 billion from April 2000 to September 2022. There are about 1800 German companies active in India, primarily in the transportation and automobile sector, electrical apparatus, chemical, and metallurgical industry, insurance services and construction projects.

Political and strategic significance
During their interaction, Chancellor Scholz and PM Modi also discussed ways to make security and defence cooperation an important pillar of the India-Germany strategic partnership given Germany’s interest in building conventional submarines for India.

Chancellor’s visit comes at a crucial time, a day after the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. Since the commencement of the war and the resultant supply chain disruptions amid West-Russia isolation, India has insisted on resolving the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy. During Chancellor Scholz’s visit too, India reaffirmed its commitment to contribute to any peace process on the issue.

The visit is also a reflection of the enhancing dialogue between the two countries in the last few years despite global uncertainty. In December 2022, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also visited India and signed a mobility partnership pact to make it easier for people to study and work in each other's country. Apart from the bilateral aspect of engagement, the increased exchanges have also been facilitated by the resumption of the Free Trade Agreement negotiations between the EU and India following the leaders’ summit in 2021.

In addition, India and Germany have been strategic partners for the last two decades and have engaged in regular intergovernmental consultations every two years since 2011. It was the first standalone by any German Chancellor since the commencement of such consultations.

People to people ties
During his visit, Chancellor Scholz also met young Indian scholars studying international relations in New Delhi, prospective students going to Germany and other skilled professionals in Bengaluru. In the last few years, the People-to-people relations between India and Germany have also strengthened, an aspect which has benefitted further by the signing of the Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement in December last year. Given Indian students’ preference for pursuing higher education in Germany, especially in the disciplines related to science and technology, the agreement is beneficial for prospective students. At the same time, it is also beneficial for Germany as it needs more IT specialists and other skilled workers to work in Germany.

Taking bilateral relations to the next level
Chancellor’s visit to India must be understood in the context of the current geopolitical flux the current backdrop of a global geopolitical flux which has been exacerbated by the aftereffects of COVID-19 and the ongoing war in Ukraine. The supply chain disruptions, coupled with reservations regarding economic dependence on an assertive China have strengthened the need for reliable partnerships. In this context, a budding India-Germany partnership which is underpinned by shared values, trust, and mutual understanding of each other's interests, carries great potential and is a win-win situation for both countries. Chancellor Scholz’s visit to India was wide in scope and addressed targeted some key areas like climate action and sustainable development goals, renewable energy, green hydrogen, and bio-fuels, so on, while focusing on ways to enhance economic and business ties.

The mutual political will to enhance cooperation, coupled with promising areas of cooperation in new and emerging technologies carries bright prospects for a strong India-Germany partnership. This in turn, could enable a reliable partnership between the two countries to deal with future challenges.

About the Author
Himani Pant is a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), New Delhi

War in Ukraine: Day 381 & 382
By Padmashree Anandhan

War on the Ground
On 11 March, Ukrinform reported on Kharkiv’s nature management committee estimated a total environmental damage of UAH two trillion during the war. This includes “land and air pollution, burned forests, and destroyed objects.” According to the committee, it will be assessing the damage to the environment on the basis of intentional or accidental. Ukraine’s Environmental Ministry has urged the government agencies to draft concept and restoration programme to bring back Ukraine’s ecology.

On 11 March, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba demanded Germany to fasten the ammunition delivery due to the growing shortages. He remarked that Ukraine does not expect fighter jets to be supplied but the Ukrainian soldiers require training.

The Moscow View
Claims by Russia

On 12 March, TASS reported on Russia’s Air Defence claims on shelling down Ukraine’s “two Mi-8 helicopters, seven HIMARS and Uragan rockets. On the same day, Russia’s retired Colonel Andrey Marochko reported on Russia’s air force position in critical industrial zone of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut). He said: “..to control the movement of the enemy and also creates a good bridgehead for further advancement.”  

On 11 March, the Wagner group Founder released a video from Bakhmut confirming the advance of the forces into Bakhmut and capturing of the eastern part of the city. He said the Russian forces are near to the center, 1.2 kilometres away from the administrative center.

The West View
Responses from the US and Europe 

On 11 March, ISW on the contrary to the claims of the Wagner Group Founder, observed no advance by Russia in Bakhmut. Although the report confirms a heavy shelling and due to the group hold in “urban areas,” advancing could be difficult. On 12 March, ISW brought out the possible clash between Russia’s military and the Wagner Group over heading the war and securing ammunition.

On 11 March, Denmark’s Defence Ministry issued a statement on the delivery of first set of Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine. The project was carried under the collaboration of Denmark, Netherlands and Germany, which has pledged to provide 100 tanks to Ukraine. On the same day, Canada announced a ban on Russia’s steel and aluminium product imports along with iron, non-alloy steel and semi-finished goods such as tubes and pipes.

On 11 March, the UK Ministry of Defence confirmed the advance of Wagner Group in the front line of Bakhmut and warned that it would be difficult for the group to go further. In a statement: “It will be "highly challenging" for Wagner forces to push ahead, as Ukraine has destroyed key bridges over the river. Ukrainian sniper fire from fortified buildings further west has made the thin strip of open ground in the center "a killing zone.”

On 12 March, UK Ministry of Defence in its intelligence update reported on the intensity of the causalities in Russia. It observed Russia’s elite cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg seem to have no damages, whereas the eastern regions the number of deaths were 30 times high. The Ministry also reported on how the ethnic minorities experienced the worst damage accounting for 75 per cent.

On 12 March, Switzerland’s State Secretary for Migration reported on the total registration of refugees totalling to 75,000 at six asylum centres. According to the State Secretary, before the war, 11,000 Ukrainians lived in Switzerland, who bridged in taking the other fleeing after war. The count of the Ukrainian refugees at present is three times of those from Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria.

The Global Fallouts  
Implications of the war

On 12 March, the Government of UAE announced a humanitarian support of USD 100 million to Ukraine. The move follows the meet Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister and UAE’s Economy Minister to Ukraine. UAE has also volunteered to give five million “energy-saving LED lamps.”   

An on-site meeting of the Committee on Environmental Policy and Nature Management was held in Kharkiv,” kharkivoda.gov.ua, 10 March 2023
Russia takes advantageous positions for further advance in Artyomovsk industrial zone,” TASS, 12 March 2023
Two Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopters, 7 HIMARS, Uragan rockets downed during day,” TASS, 12 March 2023
The illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is continuing.,” UKMOD/Twitter, 12 March 2023
Ukraine updates: Wagner captures most of Bakhmut's east,” Deutsche Welle, 12 March 2023
75,000 Ukrainian refugees registered in Switzerland since war started,” Ukrinform, 12 March 2023
Troels Lund Poulsen: Tanks ready for the Ukrainians in the spring,” fmn.dk, 11 March 2023
Canada bans Russian aluminum and steel imports,” canada.ca, 10 March 2023
UAE provides $100M in humanitarian aid to Ukraine,” Ukrinform, 12 March 2023

By Femy Francis

Adopts Sami Climate Change Council Decree 
On 09 March, Government of Finland plans adopted the decree on Sami Climate Council to address climate change. The council is an independent body under the Climate Act, which looks at the issue of climate change from the perspective of the Sami people and their community. They are an indigenous group that inhabits the northern region of Europe, their traditional practices and cultural practices are intertwined with the Arctic environment which makes them highly vulnerable to the climate change process. The Sami Council wants to focus on the climate initiative discourse to focus and include Sami voices and perspectives. Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Maria Ohisalo said: “The warming climate has very particular impacts on the Sámi culture and traditional livelihoods that are based on the Arctic environment. This is why it is an absolute necessity to integrate the knowledge of the indigenous Sámi people strongly into the decision-making concerning climate policy.” The climate change effects can be visible in the arctic region which directly affects the lives of the Sami people therefore their perspective is vital in the world initiative to curb climate change. (“Finland adopts decree on Sámi Climate Council to bring indigenous knowledge into climate policy processes,” Helsinki Times, 10 March 2023)

Pension Reform Bill approved in the senate, final draft yet to be approved by National assembly 
On 11 March, the French Senate voted in favour of the Pension Reform Bill proposed by President Emmanuel Marcon. The bill was passed with 195 to 112 votes for pushing the retirement age from 62 to 64. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said: “It is a key step to make a reform happen that will guarantee the future of our pension system.” There will be a final draft produced for the bill and then represented in the Senate and National Assembly. This would be a test for Macron’s government as they don't have an absolute majority in the National assembly and the French lower house. The party would aim to gather votes from Les Republicans to approve the bill, if not a highly controversial provision under Article 49/3 can be used for legislation approval without voting. With the approval in Sentae, the protests are going strong in the Senate as thousands of people gather. (“French Senate votes to raise retirement age amid protests,” Deutsche Welle, 12 March 2023)

Germany’s Federal Criminal Police reports a rise in crime rate against press
On 13 March, Deutsche Welle reports that Germany’s Federal Criminal Police (BKA) stated they have recorded 320 criminal acts committed against journalists in the year 2022. The attacks can be categorized as 320 were politically motivated, 46 were purely violent threats, 31 were related to property damage and 27 owing to incitement. The Saxony region was the most affected with 69 crimes reported, 66 in Berlin and 40 in Bavaria. The Left Party first came up with a report stating that the rise of attacks against police was owed to the Coronavirus Protest where there were 64 instances registered. The left party spokesperson said, “Recorded crimes against media professionals reached a sad new high in 2022. This also applies to violent crimes, one-third of which — as in the previous year — were committed in connection with COVID-related protests.” (“Germany sees record number of crimes against the press: report," Deutsche Welle, 13 March 2023)

Shooting in Hamburg Jehova’s witness hall kills seven 
On 09 March, seven people were killed in a shooting sphere at Jehovah’s witness hall in Hamburg. The suspect Philipp gunned down for allegedly having “ill feelings” towards to religious community, it is to be noted that he was previously was a member of the said community. Additionally, eight people were injured among those were Ugandian and Ukrainian nationals. The suspect then went ahead and killed himself when the police were looking to apprehend him minutes after the said attack. The Jehovah’s witness community issued a statement: “Deeply saddened by the horrific attack on its members at the Kingdom Hall in Hamburg after a religious service.” (Jenny Hill in Hamburg, Jaroslav Lukiv, “Hamburg shooting: Seven killed in attack on Jehovah's Witness hall,” BBC, 09 March 2023)

The UK
Junior Doctors to hold three-day strike for higher pay demands
On 13 March, Financial Times reports that NHS junior doctors are planning to go on major strike for three consecutive days demanding higher pay. This walkout is different as unlike nurses and ambulance which maintained their emergency services, Junior doctors walkout have not agreed to such arrangements for maintenance services. This comes as a major hit to health and emergency services and might lead to major unpredictable mass casualty by postponing consultancy. According to the BMA survey, 98 per cent of junior doctors proposed a strike. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “It is very disappointing that the junior doctors union are not engaging with the government. We are actually having constructive dialogue with other unions who have accepted our offer to come in and talk . . . I would urge the junior doctors to follow suit.” (Sarah Neville, Bethan Staton and Philip Georgiadis,“ NHS braced for three-day walkout by junior doctors,” Financial Times, 13 March 2023) 

Rishi Sunak proposes to increase defence spending by EUR five billion 
On 12 March, UK's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plans to push for military spending of EUR five billion for UK defence amid threats from Russia and China. The funding would be provided in a span of two years to revive the ammunition stocks that have been depleting due to exports to Ukraine. The plan further looks into modernizing submarines to further strengthen defence capacity. This comes in light of the US, UK and Australia pact which plans to provide Australia with submarines to keep Chinese aggression in check. Sunak said: “The UK will remain a leading contributor to Nato and a reliable international partner, standing up for our values from Ukraine to the South China Sea.” (Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in San Diego and John Paul Rathbone, “Rishi Sunak promises to ‘fortify’ Britain against threats from Russia and China,” Financial Times, 13 March 2023)

SIPRI forecasts increase in arms exports of the US and France 
On 13 March, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reports that there has been a significant rise in arms export in the European regions with US exports reaching record highs. The arms imports to Europe from the US increased by 47 per cent and by 65 per cent by NATO. This rise is owed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine where the five main exporters in order are the US, Russia, France, China and Germany. The US accounts for 40 per cent of global arms trade with a recent hike of 14 per cent included, there has been a record shift in France’s arms trade seeing a record high 44 per cent increase and reaching position number three. Germany’s latest visit to India can bee was seen to aim at encouraging India to stop relying on Russian arms supply and work with Europe. China has seen a dip in arms trade with only 23 per cent in exports while Russian arms trade is majorly providing for Africa surpassing China. (Christoph Hasselbach, “SIPRI: US arms exports skyrocket, while China's nosedive,” Deutsche Welle, 13 March 2023)

Dutch farmers hold protests against nitrogen emission-cutting plans
On 11 March, 10,000 farmers protested in The Hague against government plans for limiting nitrogen emissions. The Dutch protestors came in tractors to join in the protest and held signs reading, “No farmers, no food” and waved upside-down flags protests. The massive livestock and heavy usage of fertilizers aid in the increased production of nitrogen oxides in soil and water.  The Dutch government plans cuts emission by 50 per cent by 2030 a provision reasoned to facilitate the quality of land and water. Another protest was held nearby by climate activists demonstrating against the fossil fuel subsidization provisions. (“Dutch farmers, climate activists hold protests in The Hague,” Deutsche Welle, 11 March 2023)

Belarusian president to reach Iran for their 30 years anniversary of bilateral relations
On 18 March, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko will be meeting Iran officials as the country celebrates their 30 years of diplomatic relations. The discussion plans to look into developing their bilateral relations and cooperation and the meeting will be focused on expanding trade and economic provisions between the two countries. They plan to further focus on relations on developing industry, agriculture transport and logistics and to work as a region. (“Lukashenko off to Iran on an official visit,” Belta, 12 March 2023)

Silicon Valley Bank collapse, UK government finding provisions to fund 
On 13 March, The Guardian reported on the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank which would be protected by the UK government as they look to establish an emergency deal. The SVB is a venture capital financing that has sent shockwaves to Global markets. It's estimated that USD 175 billion of customer deposits in under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which ensures full access by the depositors. The issue came when the customer's withdrawals led to the liquidation of securities caused by Federal Reserves interest rate hikes.. The rise in customers' withdrawals was owed to their securities being sold for less prices than they bought them from. The UK PM Rishi Sunak has proposed to look to provide for cash lifeline to support startups. The US has announced its own emergency support for the affected customers, with other regulators offering USD 25 billion in emergency lending. Bank of London Chief Executive said: “Silicon Valley Bank cannot be allowed to fail given the vital community it serves.” (Kalyeena Makortoff, Aubrey Allegretti, “UK racing to secure a deal to protect firms from Silicon Valley Bank collapse,” The Guardian, 13 March 2023)

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