Economy Minister Robert Habeck in the “Indian hype”

Wakken? As a subject in New Delhi? At least for a while, it’s all about Wacken, the open-air rock festival. While the name of the place comes from his native Schleswig-Holstein, Robert Habeck smiles briefly. “Rock festival” he explains.

On Thursday, Habeck visited the German company SFC Energy, which manufactures fuel cells near the Indian capital. According to CEO Peter Podesser, they can power outdoor events through a generator. Wacken, for example: “350 liters of methanol replaces 9,000 liters of diesel”.

Shortly after, Habeck and Podesser open the production plant. So far, 30 people work here, soon there will be 100. Forecast turnover: one million euros per employee.

In six weeks, the Chancellor will be back

Three days, until Saturday evening, Habeck is touring India: New Delhi, Mumbai, Goa. For eleven years there has been no Federal Minister of Economy in India. Suddenly there is great interest in India.

Olaf Scholz (SPD) was already there this year, and the chancellor will be back in six weeks for the G-20 summit. India proudly boasts of its presidency. “One Earth, One Family, One Future” reads on the giant G-20 billboards. Several traffic light ministers have visited India, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) is also there.

Karl Lauterbach and Steffi Lemke will soon be visiting. Around 2,000 German companies are already active in India. Upward trend.

The curious gaze of Germany

Green energy, trade, skilled labor – Germany is watching India with curiosity, not least with the aim of emancipating itself from India’s adversary, China. The two countries share a 3,000 kilometer border, with China claiming territory.

Germany is therefore interested in India. Habeck is fueling the new Indian hype. But he does not hide that non-aligned India is not one of Germany’s closest friends. “Big, important and difficult” – this is how Habeck characterizes the Reich with its 1.4 billion inhabitants.

Berlin gets along well with India

“Difficult”? Granted, India is a democracy, albeit ubiquitous on the streets of New Delhi with authoritarian tones struck by Prime Minister Narenda Modi. There are human rights violations. So far, Modi’s government has not condemned Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. “It is not correct. It has to be formulated by the Indian side,” Habeck said ahead of his meeting with Foreign Minister Subrahmanya Jaishankar.

Energy partnerships are never neutral. Economic questions are always questions of power.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Russia’s former energy dependence.

“But India is moving away from Russia,” says Habeck. Military cooperation between India and Russia used to be much closer. Berlin is on good terms with India at the moment.

War and the climate crisis shape European politics like the fate of Habeck. Before last winter, the Minister of Economy and Climate was struggling with a situation of gas shortage. In the debate on the newspaper “Heizhammer” (“Bild”) he suffered scratches. Habeck lost confidence, and his party even more.

India is supposed to provide energy

No one is talking about heating here right now. “All over the world it’s getting hotter and hotter,” Habeck said at a sweltering 35 degrees Celsius outside the Safdarjung Mausoleum in New Delhi. All the more reason for an “energy partnership” with India. The idea: India should export green hydrogen to Germany.

On the way to India, the government plane, like all other civilian planes, had to make a detour; the airspace of Ukraine and Russia is taboo. So you flew over Greece. Even from a height of 12,000 meters, one could see the huge plumes of smoke from the forest fires in the Athens area. As concrete as the consequences of war and the climate crisis are, the tone of voice is changing.

“We are finally talking about a free trade agreement with India again,” said Habeck, a representative of a party that has already fought such an agreement with Canada. “We need to expand our economic relations, not just look to China,” he said. New partners are requested, such as India, and: more trade. Everything happens as if Habeck still had work to do to convince the Greens.

Habeck’s definition of the old commercial world

He is already building an argumentative bridge for this. “In the old world, trade was opposed to climate and environmental protection, to social standards. Today, it’s the opposite. Habeck knows that a number of countries are vying for India’s favor. India is more coveted than ever as skepticism towards China slowly grows.

After its former energy dependence, Berlin wants to learn from Russia. It’s a “painful lesson,” says Habeck: “Energy partnerships are never neutral. Economic questions are always questions of power. Risk reduction and diversification are the buzzwords today.

Germany has some catching up to do. Trade with India is only one tenth of trade with China. The free trade agreement should be negotiated by the end of the year, optimists in Brussels hope. Elections in India and the EU in the spring of 2024; before and after nothing works. A relevant criterion for democracy in India, unlike the dictatorship that Germany has so long trapped: China. Incidentally, Habeck, who will be in post for almost two years, has not yet visited China.

Tristan Lowe

Coffee buff. Web enthusiast. Unapologetic student. Gamer. Avid organizer.

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