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15 December 2022, Gateway House

The German Global Zeitenwende and India

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's essay on Zeitenwende emphasises a strong Germany as a guarantor of European security. It has attracted global attention - but has virtually no mention of India. In parallel, however, the visit of Foreign Minister Annalenna Baerbock reinforced Germany's interest in India, and suggested an upgrade to the bilateral. It is necessary, if India is to seek expanded economic ties with Berlin.

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made her first visit to India on 5-6 December, 2022.[1] This coincided with the publication of Chancellor Scholz’s important essay in Foreign Affairs on Germany’s new foreign and strategic policy,

The Global Zeitenwende: How to Avoid a New Cold War in a Multipolar Era [2] which has been attracting attention. Both the essay and Baerbock’s visit to Delhi, present the question: Where does India stand in Germany’s global Zeitenwende.

The coalition compact of Germany’s ‘traffic light’ coalition[3] was strained by the Ukraine crisis and the government’s approach to China. This is particularly so between the Chancellor’s Social Democratic Party and the Foreign Minister’s Greens, who differ on some of these methods. One major aspect that Scholz emphasises in Zeitenwende is that Europe, led by Germany, must be intent on becoming the guarantor of European security. However, in the entire essay there is no mention of a Common Foreign and Security Policy for Europe.

Scholz emphasises a stronger Europe, by having Germany invest more heavily in the security of Europe, besides its economy and technology. The technological edge that Germany wants to maintain over its Transatlantic partners will now also include defence-related industry, though this will take time to emerge. Germans are concerned that in the future, Europe should be able to compete against China and the U.S. in technological innovation and digitalisation in which they are lacking. Scholz mentions Germany’s business communities drawing their own conclusions from ‘the course of history’.

When the coalition took over, there was apprehension about the U.S. with whom Germany differed on defence expenditure, on dealing with Russia and China and on their autonomy.[4] The Ukraine crisis changed that. Germany and Europe firmly backed a NATO-led policy with a reduced emphasis on the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. Despite reservations, Germany increased defence expenditure including through a constitutional amendment to establish a new fund. Much of this initial expenditure goes towards buying American equipment rather than promote European alternatives.

Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia, and its Russian engagement is in tatters and unlikely to be resurrected. However, with regard to China, Germany is not in favour of isolating it, and wants to engage it, with riders. This is similar to their policy of engaging Russia though that had led to an energy dependence for which Germany is paying an economic cost to keep itself warm this winter.

With China, the engagement is much deeper, and cross sectoral. Because Germany’s economic sustenance for the next few years depends on its Chinese economic partnership, and it is less comfortable with the US aggressively challenging China even though there is no evidence that China hears German or others concerns on keeping calm. A Taiwan crisis could upset this aspect of Germany-China engagement.

India hardly comes up in the Zeitenwende. The essay is focused on Europe and the Transatlantic Alliance. Yet Baerbock’s visit indicates that Germany continues the revitalised relationship with India and intends to take it to the next level. Scholz initiated his Asian interaction, first with Japan, then with India before engaging China. When PM Modi visited Berlin for the inter-governmental consultations in May 2022, the discussions were substantive despite the media emphasis on differences on the Ukraine crisis. It is evident that at the governmental level, India and Germany  are moving ahead quite steadily despite differences on Ukraine and other matters. The Greens and the SPD agree on partnership with India as per their Coalition agreement.

What should India take away from these complicated signals?

Germany continues to seek a multipolar world much like India does, despite India and Germany both having a close relationship with the U.S. but a divergent relationship with China and Russia. India too does not want Germany and Europe to become satellites of the U.S. and prefers their independent role. Germany continues, despite Ukraine, to seek an autonomous role which meets Indian preferences.

But Germany is unwilling to delink itself economically from China. Baerbock’s Foreign Ministry will in 2023, introduce a new China strategy which will emphasise democratic values and an international rules-based order. On those counts, China is found to be defaulting while  India is seen as a partner because of such fundamental commonalities.[5] Common values, nevertheless, lead not to economic engagement for which China continues to attract Germany.

It is simply not good enough that Germany is India’s largest economic partner in the EU. The level of this partnership has to grow multifold. Baerbock clearly said that Germany’s China and India policies are running in parallel. This implies that Germany’s Indo-Pacific guidelines, which preceded the current German coalition, are now being fleshed out. Germany’s naval strength is not big enough to have several ship visits like the French or British flotillas in the Indian Ocean. A single ship visit in the last two years is continuously mentioned. This appears inadequate in the region but is symbolic of Germany’s new resolve to do more on defence capabilities. There is a flicker of hope in this.

On the whole, Germany will further engage India and other countries within the region. Germany has agreed to work on the Indian initiative of the Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). This makes Germany a consistent partner of Indian international initiatives like the International Solar Alliance, and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient infrastructure. These are essentially related to sustainability and green infrastructure, which will be the German focus in IPOI too.

The differences on Russia are clear. India and Germany both have deep relationships with Russia. Scholz’s view of the crisis and the Zeitenwende is largely European and to India, the Ukraine crisis is a war in Europe. German reactions to crises in Asia is more muted. The neighborhood-first principle evidently applies. For India, Russia is an important pole strategically, and New Delhi  does not want a defeated Russia which would cease to be a power and become a vassal of China. That will be detrimental to India’s multipolar aspirations and also further imbalance the relationship with China. Germany perhaps understands this better, though its media does not.

Germany is now seeking to return to the path of strategic autonomy. This includes having a Europe first policy, engaging with Russia to reduce the Ukraine crisis to manageable levels, to avoid isolating China and to engage with India and other Global South partners to enhance its stature.

This is India’s opportunity for expanded economic ties with Germany irrespective of its ties to China. The G20 Presidency and the trilateral partnerships in several countries[6] provide the fuel for this economic engagement.

Gurjit Singh was India’s ambassador to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN and the African Union.

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[1]  Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 5 December 2022 < dtl/35947/Visit_of_Federal_Minister_for_Foreign_Affairs_of_the_Federal_Republic_of_Germany_to_India_December_0506_2022>

[2] Olaf, Scholz, ‘The Global Zeitenwende, How to Avoid a New Cold War in a Multipolar Era’, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2023


[3] Gurjit, Singh, ‘India relations set to climb new heights as new coalition assumes charge in Germany’, First Post, 22 December 2021,


[4] Gurjit, Singh, ‘India relations set to climb new heights as new coalition assumes charge in Germany’, First Post, 22 December 2021,


[5] Transcript of Joint Press Conference of External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar and Foreign Minister H.E. Ms. Annalena Baerbock of Germany, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India,

5 December 2022,  < dtl/35946/Transcript_of_Joint_Press_Conference_of_External_Affairs_Minister_Dr_S_Jaishankar_and_Foreign_Minister_HE_Ms_Annalena_Baerbock_of_Germany_December_05_>

[6] ‘India, Germany sign agreements on triangular development cooperation’, The Print, 2 May 2022,