Although India and Spain are separated by a geographical distance of 7,937 kilometres, the year 2022 marks a completion of 65 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1957 between the two countries. It has been observed that India and Spain have a long tradition of cordial and peaceful relations. Utilising the lens of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), India and Spain are building synergies and combing their efforts towards development partnerships.
Bolstering India-Spain Development Partnership
Considering how India is bolstering a conversation around development focussed diplomacy, its act of providing development support goes beyond even before it achieved independence. This underscores its pivotal strength in sharing its developmental experience with other partner countries; giving way to a new and unique developmental model. It has stressed on its partnerships being ‘demand-driven with no-strings attached conditionality’ as compared to traditional aid. In addition, New Delhi has also been putting equal stress on a ‘human-centric globalisation’ for closing the gaps in broader inequities. In fact, these inequities were further reinforced after the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020. Moreover, India’s development partnerships, institutionalised under the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) as Development Partnership Administration (DPA) in 2012, are now gradually being based on channelizing people to people ties more effectively. On the other hand, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has come a long way since the enactment of the Act 23/1998. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it pooled in about USD 3.5 billion of assistance in 2021, which depicts about 0.25 per cent of its Gross National Income (GNI). As mentioned in the official documents and statements, Spanish cooperation is now ‘closely contributing to a new global social contract for sustainable and equitable development, defined by the 2030 Agenda, leaving no one behind’. Geographically speaking, its priorities are spread across Latin America, the Maghreb, West Africa and the Sahel.
Importantly, the visit of PM Shri Narendra Modi to Spain in May 2017 helped forge closer ties between the two nations. Apart from renewing the diplomatic ties with a fresh format and vigour, the Indian delegation focussed on increasing economic engagement, energy cooperation and security interactions between the two countries and several documents were signed in this context: MOU on cooperation in civil aviation; MOU on cooperation in renewable energy; MOU on cooperation in cyber security; MOU on cooperation in organ transplantation; Agreement for transfer of sentenced persons; MOU between Foreign Service Institute and Diplomatic Academy of Spain, and Agreement on visa waiver for holders of diplomatic passports, to name a few. The recent talks held between the Spanish Foreign Minister and his Indian counterpart External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar on the former’s one-day official visit to India in June 2022 has yet again brought the spotlight back on their bilateral relationship. Their commitment to ‘add new depth and content to the ties’ is noteworthy. Recognizing mutual areas of cooperation in addressing common challenges like climate change, global health, sustainable development and counter-terrorism is crucial in planning the future trajectory of the bilateral ties.
Given India’s growing prominence on the global aid architecture and its ability to be the ‘first responder’ in times of emergency, for instance Vaccine Maitri initiative during the pandemic, is one of the factors that will further enhance cooperation on collaborative projects. Two sectoral areas i.e., renewable energy (SDG 7) and infrastructural connectivity (SDG 9) are of particular interest here. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Spain’s progress on ramping up renewables in its overall electricity mix is commendable. As per its 2021 report, the share of renewables in the national electricity mix grew from 24 per cent in 2009 to 38 per cent in 2019 reflecting its efforts to meet its target of 42 per cent by 2020. Currently, the renewable energy boom occupies almost 50 per cent of its total mix. Globally, Spanish renewable energy companies are popular for their reputation in wind energy. This combined with India’s growing footprint through the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in the developing economies can counter the global challenge of energy poverty.
Infrastructural connectivity, whether physical or digital, is a major obstacle in some of the island nations of the Indo-Pacific particularly exacerbated by the pandemic. Owing to the failure of the global supply chains, it continues to be one of the key pillars for continuing growth of these small yet powerful economies. Furthermore, core infrastructure projects are crucial towards fulfilment of broader sustainability targets, such as disaster risk reduction, economic growth, greater digital integration, closing the gender gap amongst other things. Considering Spain’s expertise in mobility, (for instance a mobility stimulus programme called the MOVES plan for boosting investments in sustainable e-mobility), joint collaborative efforts with India can facilitate transformative recovery of the Indo-Pacific economies.
India-Spain-European Union (EU) Triad on Development Cooperation
As one of the largest providers of development assistance globally, covering almost 43 per cent of the total official development aid (ODA), the AECID operates in close consonance with the EU. As observed by the OECD 2022 Trends and Insights on Development Cooperation, 65 per cent of Spain’s total contributions to multilateral organisations in 2020 were allocated through the EU institutions.
Spain’s consistent engagements in Latin America, owing to its historical and cultural focus on the region, could be geo-strategically utilised by the Union in fostering a positive external representation and garnering support for itself. With the initiation of the Global Gateway project offering a boost to EUs Global Strategy 2016, Spanish cooperation and participation in EU development interventions will be mutually beneficial for the two. Factoring the sustainability obstacles requires not only new developmental pathways but also more robust actors to meet the targets in a time-bound fashion. Many of the LAC states have not graduated to middle-income countries, this is where Indian development cooperation steps in. Both Spain and India have echoed their sentiments on shared values of democracy, human rights, freedom, and rule of law. Over the years, India-EU relation has been cordial and during the recent India-EU leaders’ meeting via video conference on 8th May 2021 in Porto, the leaders of the world’s two largest democracies met and the meeting reinforced the EU-India strategic partnership. Building social resilience and launching a connectivity partnership in third countries (including Africa, Central Asia, and the Indo-Pacific) topped their agenda amongst other pertinent policy challenges. A coming together of these three actors in a geopolitical space like the Indo-Pacific in sectoral areas of infrastructural connectivity, renewable energy or disaster risk-reduction could possibly provide alternative modes of financing. On the brighter side, Spain assuming the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in second half of 2023 represents an opportunity to promote joint efforts between EU and its partners, the ambitious EU agenda on sustainable goals.
Looking in the future of India-Spain relations in this decade of action, it would be pertinent to point that their joint collaborative efforts on a majority of the sustainability targets, primarily SDG 7 and SDG 9 would be critical. A merging of the development cooperation initiatives in the developing regions of Latin America, Africa and the Indo-Pacific can play an essential role in geopolitical security construct. Moreover, with the backing of the EU, both New Delhi and Madrid can push their collaborative efforts more positively in the long run. A trilateral partnership in a third country would require building greater trust, cooperation and coherence of policies. However, it is an opportunity worth exploring in the years to come.