Spain which has a long maritime history takes enormous pride in its ships. On the eve of the visit of the Spanish Armada ship Cantabria in Goa soon, the Spanish Embassy in India and also a substantial number of Spaniards here are ‘emotional’ and ‘excited’ about the docking here in India. Cantabria, the second largest naval ship currently operated by the Spanish, behind the LHD Juan Carlos 1, is on its way back home after concluding a multinational exercise ‘Triton Centenary 2013’ in Australia.
On the eve of its visit, the Ambassador of Spain, Gustavo de Aristegui spoke to SP Guide Publications about the rich historical tradition of Spain and how it is unique not having any hegemonic aspirations. Here in an interview with the Editor-in-Chief of SP Guide Publications, Jayant Baranwal, the Ambassador spoke at length on various issues concerning India-Spain relationship. Here is the transcript of the interview...
Jayant Baranwal (SP's): Can you give us a little background on Spain’s relationship with India?
Ambassador: Spain established a relationship with India after we joined the United Nations in 1953. A full-fledged embassy was not established until 1955, though there was a Charge-de Affaires in 1954. These premises were first rented in 1956 after being three years in different parts of the city and then we purchased in 1970. In the beginning it was very much a formal relation and Spain was under dictatorship at that time and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was not particularly fond of General Franco. So the relations were rather distant for a long time. Spain became a democracy in 1975 with elections being held in 1977. Very soon the relation grew in intensity and importance but it was more a cultural and political relation not much economic, meaningful bilateral, commercial, investment relation.
Actually there was a state visit of the King and Queen in 1981 to India. Last year’s visit here by His Majesty the King was an important visit which boosted the relationship between India and Spain. There were visits, political exchange being rather low for many decades.
This was relatively a small embassy and we have outgrown these premises. We are absolutely full over here and this was conceived when we were four times smaller than this. We have 2/3rd of our offices in a bigger building in Connaught place where we have commercial, military and cultural sections. I would describe relations as cordial relation between 1977 and the late 1990s and there was a leap forward in the beginning of this century. Then little by little we went from 10 Spanish companies to over 250 companies today. We have two commercial offices one in Mumbai and one in Delhi. It has grown five-fold and we are considering the urgent need to expand the office premises, make it twice as big and still not have enough space for all the people who are going to join us.
Since I came to India in May 2012, we have created 14 new positions in this Embassy when Spain was undergoing very strict budgetary restrictions. Inspite of that Spain is extremely arrogant about boosting its relations with India. I have been in politics for 12 years and I was Member of Parliament and was senior spokesperson of the party on foreign policy and affairs. So when the Prime Minister won the elections and the Minister of Foreign Affairs called me and announced my appointment as Ambassador it was a political message to the Indian government that we mean business with India and that we have been ignoring this great nation for too long. We wanted to give boost in the number of people in the Embassy and also to increase the presence of Spanish companies here. It is in many ways an ambassadorial position that has quite a political punch... we are taking advantage of this interlock...
I can tell you that today the relations between India and Spain is a different one. We have a very fluid contact with political actors of the country. We have not covered all the States in India which is a complex and huge country. We have met the Chief Ministers of Karnataka, Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh and we intend meeting the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Odisha, West Bengal and Kerala and I am also going to Goa for the reception of the Spanish ship Cantabria. We will also be going to Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and we intend to open a consulate in Chennai. Right now, Spain is seriously investing in India. We have some of our most important companies present but not in the way and intensity that we would want.
Spain has seven of the top 10 infrastructure companies in the world, 11 of the top 20 water treatment companies of the world; one of the top three telecom companies in the world; the biggest bank in the Eurozone which is the Banco Santander which bigger than Deutsche Bank, BNP. Spain is a serious player but we don’t have hegemonic aspirations. This is what makes us different. That is why we are a mid-size as far as population and area is concerned. It is six and quarter smaller than India, but with a global culture, global language and global interests and growing global influence.
We are a country with no hidden agenda, no strings attached. It is true we are not a global military power but we have a respectable military which I think can and must be an essential part of bilateral relations between India and Spain. As is the case with India, it is a democratic military, very professional that is obedient to elected civilian military rule and it is prestigious in the society that serves the legitimate interest of the country. Armed forces of democratic nations by and large share the same values but what I must say India is historic exception in a positive way. Many countries which regained independence and India is a not a new nation but a new state... many people tend to forget. India is a very old nation and probably the oldest civilisation and that makes this country very special. India is the only case after a period of colonial rule has direct access to democratic which is not always the case in the later part of the 20th century. That makes it unique. The political culture is unique and vibrant and that makes the armed forces of India, probably among the most respectful and professional in democratic society. All Indians should legitimately feel proud of.
Today, we have made a huge leap forward in the economic side but it is still far from its potential. The capacities of the Spanish economy and the potential of India as a market and India as a partner, India is an extraordinary partner and I think we need to deepen that.
SP's: What all Spain can offer to have a strong base of partnership in India for the global market?
Ambassador: It is very complimentary. I see great opportunity in the emerging markets. When I see India it is not just great opportunity but great opportunity for meaningful and solid partnership. Why because India is known for intellectual property like Spain it is devoted to high technology, engineering, avante garde solutions, research and development, infrastructure, tourism, and defence. A very important part of India’s wealth and the way it has leaped into 21st century comes from intellectual property. Spain is extremely good in some of the fields where India’s needs are bigger and more poignant... look at water quality, desalination, power generation and transmission (both conventional and renewable) and Spain is good at that. It is in our own interest to use latest technologies and it will push your and our high tech capabilities. Today’s best technologies are tomorrow’s obsolete technologies. Of course, there are some obstacles and government regulators and trying to fix them. India needs stimulation in infrastructure projects and it requires direct investment and concession in PPP projects. If the 5 year plan is to be fulfilled you have to invest 200 billion USD in infrastructure and for that you need foreign investment and foreign investors need to feel secure, safe and that there is a certain flexibility to equity selling, to be able to refinance debt, look at making projects profitable because if they are profitable, it would be better for the banks and Indian banks will be financing and this will be good for the economy.
As regards defence, high technologies... we have sophisticated system of multi dimensional electronic and radar multi linked systems. Our coastline is protected. We have the 13th largest coastline (7800 km of coastline as peninsula) we have so many islands and we are a peninsula. This makes us a maritime nation, so is India between two oceans and you are in a complicated neighbourhood. It is not an easy neighbourhood. Spain is good at thwart terror threats, organised crime, illegal trafficking etc. Our systems are quite impressive and we are going to invite Indian officials to visit coastal defence systems... radar, motion detectors, infrared cameras cctv cameras and all combined gives us a picture of what is happening up to 10 miles into sea. It is extremely effective in search and rescue operations and response is much faster.
In the early years of this century, we had peaked at 250,000 illegal penetrations on the sea borders, now it is down to dozens as the Spanish Navy picks them up much before the border. We are doing extremely well as far as coastal protection. These systems have been developed by Indra and Amper. Indra is among the world’s giants in high tech, three out of every five air traffic control is built by indra and nearly 90 per cent used in India is by Indra. There are certain contracts with the defence sector which is catered by Indra and we are extremely satisfied with the level of expertise of the tree of excellence that Indra has developed. GMV, Technobeat etc have state of the art defence systems in very sensitive areas.
SP's: What is the proportion R&D investment in Spain?
Ambassador: It is not that much. However, the R&D budget has doubled from 600 million Euros in 2012 to nearly 1.4 billion Euros in 2014. Some of the most cutting edge technology is made by the private sector. Telefonica is one giant full-fledged technological company in the world and has huge R&D investment. We are only 49 million people and we take pride in our global companies such as Indra, Telefonica, Navantia, Airbus Military consortium of which we are a proud part. None of the other participants in the consortium had any kind experience in building military transport aircraft and it was Casa, the Spanish branch of EADS. This is how the A400M project was born which was an evolution of the capacities, the technologies and the design of many decades of brilliant work of Spanish aerospace engineers. That has given birth of the quality of C295 which is the doubtlessly best mid-sized military airplane in the world. This is used by the American coastguard. It has won dozens of tenders around the world. This is the plane we intend to replace Avro transport plane. It is used as a platform for anti submarine war, rescue, surveillance, border control, transport troops, and also midsize gunship... all of that technology is behind the world’s most advanced military transport plane A400M. It is bigger than the Hercules. It is the only turboprop that can fly at a cruising speed of a commercial jet liner which is 0.74 mach whereas others are flying 30 to 40 per cent slower than that. It cuts down transport time for deployment of troops and in military terms, it gives huge tactical advantage.
SP's: A400M is a transcontinental project, what is the share of Spain in that?
Ambassador: The share of Spain in the consortium is relatively low at 5 per cent. In the MRTT that project is over 47 per cent. The Boom is the most advanced refuelling system in the world. The Boom is totally computerised and it is a Spanish design. The A330 has substantial component from Spain, the tail and belly, parts of the cabin. This boom is unbeatable. It consistently defeats Russian and American technology. Even in the US, when there is unbiased assessment of technology it has defeated Boeing.
SP's: What roles can this aircraft play other than fuelling tanker?
Ambassador: Technology is so advanced... we don’t take any space from the passenger area. It still has a sizable amount of cargo capacity. It can be used for troop transportation and transformed into a super VIP military plane. I think there is great need for such planes India as it is quite a safe plane for a Head of State to fly as it can effectively thwart a missile attack. It is a multi-purpose aircraft and not just a refuelling jet. It can transport 300 troops and also high ranking officials in a business class environment. It is very versatile and you can change the configuration of the plane rapidly to use for different purposes... you can have a medical version too.
SP's: Can you elaborate on the objectives and sentiments behind the arrival of the Spanish Armada Cantabria?
Ambassador: We are proud of this. It is the first time in the history of our bilateral relationship, a ship is coming to an Indian port. The visit of Cantabria is an emotional moment. We have been waiting for a long time for a Spanish ambassador to be receive is momentous. We have a beautiful protocol. We have the oldest marine corps in the world and all the tradition is there. Our naval officers are finest... they have been deployed with the Royal Australian navy for a year. It is an essential ship for modern naval warfare... this is a ship which has 25 bed hospital, ICU and dental clinic. It is one of those multi-purpose ships in concept. We have created newer version of long helicopter dock which is a Spanish invention of long platform dock and an aircraft carrier, a mix of these two concepts. The Royal Australian navy has received two of these ships. In the Indian configuration of the ships it will be a long helicopter deck and will have combat, submarine, rescue capabilities. The ship is conceived a projection of amphibious warfare. It has a dock in the stern of the ship that has capacity to launch six assault boats with capacity for dozens of troops in each of them. Just imagine you reach the beach, the back of the ship opens and the six fast attack boats go out. It is state of the art. It has many command and control systems.... thousands of troops can be control in sea. It can control air traffic hundreds of miles of the ship. It has the most advanced pod propeller system. A 30,000 tonne ship actually manouveres like a small ferry. Everything that commands the ship is above the floatation line which is again a novelty. It can transport 5000 people. It can be used in humanitarian relief work such as the earthquake in Haiti. The ship can go to the coast and be transformed as a relief centre... it can have war tanks, trucks with humanitarian aid. This is the most versatile warship in the world right now.
SP's: What is the contribution level of Spain in EU towards infusion of technological knowhow?
Ambassador: We have some of the best engineers in the world. The engineering design company of Delhi metro is a Spanish company. They have projects in many countries ... They are at the pinnacle of their trade and a number of engineers are working out of Bangalore. Spanish engineers are really up there. European universities cannot match with regard to US universities if you consider campus facility, dormitory, urban environment etc but if you go purely on academic criteria, there are few schools in Spain which are top in the world. Nobody can get Masters degree if they don’t go through six years of rigorous college and now the engineers can communicate in English and are extremely proficient in their trade.
European Union is a world leader in the making and it is a world leader in economic, commercial power in the world, far beyond the US. The defence expenditure if you calculate the EU it is greater than the US or the Chinese. The stock exchanges in the world are in London, Milan, Madrid , Paris... if you add technological excellence of so many European companies like Phillips, Siemens, Telefonica.... Look at the banks, Banco Santander from Spain, BNP, Deutsche Bank etc.. a lot of financial muscle and technological muscle. Look at the educational universities in UK, France, Germany... they are the brain factories of Europe. We have three top business schools in the world.
SP's: Coming to the defence trade in India, does EU play an effective role?
Ambassador: It is getting there. I see it happen. There is an excellent EU Ambassador here. The EU is a project in the making. You cannot count the things it has not yet achieved as flaws, but it will be achieved. India has very cordial bilateral relations with individual countries of the EU... but they don’t see the usefulness of the EU yet. However, it is the responsibility of the EU with regard to foreign trade, regulation, trade etc. Negotiations are going along a safe path and mutually beneficial result in due time. I heard that Union Finance Minister P.Chidambaram stating that there was window of opportunity from now to February if the negotiators made a breakthrough and signed the FTA, if not negotiations will continue with new EU commission and with the new Indian government next year.
SP's: Would you like to indicate the key milestones of Navantia?
Ambassador: The most advanced frigate in the world is the F100 which is Spanish design. The F100 frigate is the basis for AF85 frigate Navantia built for the Norwegian Navy. It has some of the most advanced large...it would be like small frigates (BAMS – Maritime Action Boats). It is a boat of 4000 tonnes and has a crew of less than 40. It is totally automated. We have an extremely efficient Navy because of the new concepts... No other nation has the BAM concept... they have corvettes which is smaller version of a frigate. BAM is a Spanish invention. It has more firing capacity with 30 per cent less displacement and more speed, lot less manpower. It is a revolution in maritime warfare. The submarine project is a little delayed but the S80 concept is absolutely amazing. It has the most advanced autonomous energy systems and definitely the safest. It is a multipurpose firing system developed by several companies in the world. It has some of the most silent navigational capacities in the world and very interesting underwater speed and silent. It has command controls which can coordinate land, sea and air attacks at the same time and is considered as a NATO command post.
SP's: What is the level of country’s aerospace and military complex contribution towards Spains economy?
Ambassador: It is important it is not huge. Spanish economy is over 1.4 trillion dollars. We are sure will be 1.8 or 1.9 trillion dollars in 10 years and we are going to be a serious player. Defence industry is important for many aspects. In an economy of our size tourism with 70 million arrivals this year is 12 per cent of GDP. Defence is much lower. However, it has so many technological breakthroughs in the military R&D and are incorporated in civilian use such as safety of boats, cars, aircraft etc. We have limited resources and keep our country more efficient and safe. It is not about having lot of people. For instance on board a Spanish navy ship there is no foot sailor, the least you can be is a first class corporal. Everybody has some kind of technical proficiency.
SP's: In India, there is lot of debate of having own aerospace complex in terms of self-reliance, does Spain support the idea?
Ambassador: We want to be a partner with Indian companies and we are keen on participating. We are not going to withhold any kind of technology. We are going to be transparent. Offsets are going to be real and we are going to give you the latest not first generation technology. There is lot of potential for both private and public companies to go to world markets after developing synergies. Navantia is partnering L&T and they are going to participate in tenders of Indian Navy and Airbus Military is looking for Indian partner for replacement of Avro aircraft. Everybody has legitimate aspiration to indigenise their military, however there will be joint ventures. For instance the weapon systems of submarines are with US collaboration. We have taken hardware and systems from others and we built a totally Spanish product. Our LHD is a floating electronic war machine.
SP's: Recession, how do you perceive the future now?
Ambassador: A lot better. We have safe fundamentals. We have bad private debt crisis. The problem is of the debt of citizens... they need to get out of it. Fiscal consolidation and discipline, structural reforms, budgetary restrictions have worked. We are out of recession... we are going to peak at 1 per cent in 2014. We have tightened our belts and now we have to fight unemployment and we have done that without sacrificing the welfare state. We have not overspent, we over invested in roads, high speed trains, airports etc. The Madrid (airport) has a capacity of 100 million passengers, it peaked at 70 million and it fell to 45 million. It will come back. We are pushing for direct flights between Delhi and Madrid and that will help us in raising numbers. Indians can go to Latin America through Spain. We are cutting down on unnecessary expenses. Spanish ministers are driving 10 year old cars... everybody is doing their bit.
SP's: What is your perception about FDI in defence in India and what it should be?
Ambassador: It is a very delicate matter of sovereignty. It has to have some kind of special regulation. We cannot be fuzzy about our defence sector for investment and similarly other country’s reasoning. FDI should be open in other sectors, defence you have to be careful. It needs regulation from government. There are delicate matters pertaining to security and stability, geopolitical interests have to be taken into account. We have to take necessary caution.