Three messages from New Delhi


HR/VP Blog – Last week I visited India for the G20 meeting of foreign ministers and the Raisina Dialogue. It was important to hear how many of our partners around the world see the war against Ukraine and a host of other pressing global issues. We need to invest in multilateral solutions for a world that is full of crises.


Last week I was in New Delhi where I attended both the G20 Ministerial Meeting and the Raisina Forum which brings together a substantial number of guests from all over the world. After attending the Munich Security Conference, which is mainly a Transatlantic forum, it was interesting to also know about the way many of our non-western partners around the  world perceives today’s troubled times.

From these two events, I came back with three conclusions. The first is to take seriously the new ambitions of India and the other countries that consider them self as part of the so called “Global South” ,the second is to deplore Russia's persistent denial and continuation of its aggression against Ukraine, and the third is to acknowledge the reality of a multipolar world facing an acute crisis of multilateralism.

The demands of the “Global South” and India`s ambitions for a leading role

India is already the most populated country in the world and the fifth world economy. As the current Chair of the G20, its geopolitical ambitions are an important element of the new global order. Before the G20 ministerial, it organised a virtual summit of 125 states under the banner of Voices of the Global South. Of course, the so-called “Global South” is far from being a homogeneous group, since it includes the poorest countries in the world as well as dynamic emerging one and even some of the richest by their natural resources. But beyond its immense diversity, it expresses three sets of concerns: a strong desire for being recognised by the countries of “the North” and the clear will of to take advantage of the contradictions of the global system to promote its own agenda. And finally, a certain number of demands, especially the wish to benefit from better representation in multilateral institutions. They want also that the North recognizes the principle of common but differentiated responsibility in terms of climate change and fulfil its obligations on financing the energy transition. They also stress the need to prevent a convergence between the climate crisis and the debt crisis in the most threatened countries, and finally, to avoid being the collateral victims of conflicts for which they feel they have no responsibility. These are demands that must certainly be addressed by us Europeans.

In fact, this is actually what we are already doing. In the field of climate change, the EU, together with member, is the world's largest contributor of public funding with €23 billion per year. In the field of energy transition, we even go beyond our obligations. So if the target of €100 billion per year to which the international community has committed itself is not reached, the fault does not lie with the European Union. Just recently, a member state like Germany proposed to commit €1.3 billion per year to the Indian Energy Transition Fund. We are also working hard to see India join the Just Energy Transition Partnerships. In terms of connectivity, which is essential for India and also for the Global South, we are working to see how the European Global Gateway could be mobilised for Indian projects, particularly in terms of infrastructure.

We must also ensure that the measures that we can take in the fight against climate change do not penalize the Global South. Regarding the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), we will have to work with partners to avoid the spread of the idea of a European “regulatory imperialism” or “green protectionism”. These fears were also expressed at the G20 by some of the representatives present in New Delhi.

It is often said that the G20 is a mere talking shop. Certainly a discussion among 20+ states, as among 27 EU member states, is not always easy. And the G20 is of course not a formal institution. But I do not share this view. The G20 brings together 85% of the world's GNP, 75% of world trade and 70% of the world's population. It offers an open space to express different points of views, coming from a more and more diversified and pluralist world, on the most challenging issues

Russia’s denial of its aggression does not pass

But the freedom of each country to express its point of view does not mean that all points of view are equally acceptable, including those based on lies, areas in which Russia is unbeatable. It was Russia, moreover, that prevented the Indian chairmanship from producing a joint communiqué since it blocked, with the support of China, any reference to the war in Ukraine. To note, the Indian draft text simply repeated the terms of the Bali Declaration adopted by G20 Leaders in September 2022. This Russian obstructionism is not surprising, however.  At the Raisina forum, Foreign Minister Lavrov went so far as to say that Russia was only defending itself against Ukraine's aggression, causing hilarity in the room. He also engaged in the usual diatribe against Europe, which he accused of aggravating the food and energy crisis in the countries of the South to put us at odds with them. He has used this manoeuvre many times before, but this did not make it any more credible. The food crisis is first and foremost a crisis of availability and price. Certainly, if Russia has not attacked one of the main breadbaskets in the world, the situation would be better since Ukraine alone feeds more than 400 million people. And, clearly, it is not Ukraine but Russia that has started this war. So it is the aggressor which must be blamed.

Besides, we have taken immediate action to resolve the food crisis that Russia created. The implementation of the European Solidarity Lines and the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) allowed the export of 51 million tons of Russian and Ukrainian grain. This led to a drop in prices, which, according to the FAO, have returned near to their pre-war level. It is Russia that now seems to want to call into question the BSGI agreement, either by deliberately slowing down inspections of ships leaving the Black Sea or by threatening not to renew the agreement, which is due to expire on 18 March.

By doing so, Moscow is deliberately slowing down exports and raising prices, due to high waiting costs. As for the idea that European sanctions would block Russian fertiliser exports, thus starving the countries of the South, it is simply unfounded. According to FAO data, Russian fertiliser exports are almost stable and directed towards large countries such as Brazil, China, India and Turkey.

As for the World Food Program, to which Ukraine is the main contributor, its deliveries have been directed towards countries threatened by famine such as Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Multipolarity without multilateralism

This brings me to my third message: the crisis of the international system. Why is multilateralism in retreat when the world is increasingly multipolar? It is a paradox. Because if in the global game the number of actors is increasing (multipolarity), the cooperative logic (multilateralism) should prevail. But the opposite is happening. The most important explanation for this paradox is that in a multipolar world everyone wants to express his or her own truth and believes when they are strong enough to do so. This can be a good thing provided that there is a common base of values and principles on which we agree.

But this common base is now being challenged by revisionist powers. We even see states questioning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which they subscribed and which they now tend to consider as products of the West. Yet the UN Charter remains the agreed common basis for the international community. And Russia has been condemned at the UN General Assembly by 141 states for its aggression against Ukraine. Will this vote at the UN change its attitude? Probably not. Some countries of the Global South underline that the Russian aggression against Ukraine, although perfectly condemnable, is only one war among others and they feel that the West only cares about Ukraine and is forgetting the other conflicts.

In New Delhi, my remarks both at the G20 and at the Raisina forum explained why the invasion of Ukraine has turned a page in the history of this century. And even if it affects primarily the security of Europe, its reproduction elsewhere is a major risk if this aggression is not stopped and those responsible not held accountable. Many territorial conflicts may resurface if the invasion of Ukraine continues. Our rather weak reaction to the invasion of Crimea in 2014 has cost us dearly. For it gave Russia the feeling that it could act with impunity in Ukraine. Respect for international legality is therefore an obligation for all and a life insurance for the weakest

Certainly, there are many other problems in the world apart from Ukraine. But dismissing the Ukrainian issue will not help to solve them. All problems are interrelated and I honestly think that the European Union is not willing to act as a hegemonic power. We are linked with many countries of the Global South by important economic and commercial relations. We are most sensitive to the global imbalances that affect the most vulnerable countries. We want to be a partner on which they can and does relay. But this responsibility is fully compatible with defending the principle of territorial integrity of States, which is now clearly violated in Ukraine.

HR/VP box
HR/VP Josep Borrell cartoon

“A Window on the World” – by HR/VP Josep Borrell

Blog by Josep Borrell on his activities and European foreign policy. You can also find here interviews, op-eds, selected speeches and videos.