The French election results (and the chaos in Greece, which has been plunged into a second election because no government could emerge from last month's ballot) prompt some reconsideration of India's relations with Europe. The European Union (EU) is India's second largest trading partner,
The French election results (and the chaos in Greece, which has been plunged into a second election because no government could emerge from last month's ballot) prompt some reconsideration of India's relations with Europe.
The European Union (EU) is India's second largest trading partner, with 68 billion euros of commerce in 2010, accounting for 20 per cent of India's global trade. But Europe's contribution to India's overall global trade has been shrinking even while the Indian economy grows.
India has a number of affinities with Europe and with the European Union, not least since we, too, are an economic and political union of a number of linguistically, culturally and ethnically different states.
Both are unwieldy unions of just under thirty states, both are bureaucratic, both are coalition- ridden and both are slow to make decisions. But in practice these affinities have not translated into close political or strategic relations.
Though India was one of the first countries (in 1963) to establish diplomatic relations with the European Economic Community (EEC), and the India-EU Strategic Partnership and Joint Action Plan of 2005 and 2008 offer a framework for dialogue and cooperation in the field of security, it will take time for the EU to develop a common strategic culture, which is essential for meaningful strategic cooperation between the EU and India.
The India-EU Joint Action Plan covers a wide range of fields for cooperation, including trade and commerce, security, and cultural and educational exchanges.
However, as the Canadian diplomat David Malone has observed, 'these measures lead mainly to dialogue, commitments to further dialogue, and exploratory committees and working groups, rather than to significant policy measures or economic breakthroughs.' Indians have an allergy to being lectured to, and one of the great failings in the EU-India partnership has been the tendency of Europe to preach to India on matters we consider ourselves quite competent to handle on our own. As a democracy for over six decades (somewhat longer than several member states of the EU), India sees human rights as a vital domestic issue. There is not a single human rights problem about India that has been exposed by Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch or any European institution, which has not been revealed first by Indian citizens, journalists and NGOs and handled within the democratic Indian political space. So for the EU to try to write in human rights provisions into a free trade agreement, as if they were automobile emissions standards, gets Indian backs up. Trade should not be held hostage to internal European politics about human rights declarations; the substance of human rights is far more important than the language or the form. On the substance, India and the EU are on the same side and have the same aspirations.
Once this irritant is overcome, the negotiations for an FTA, which has been long in its 'final' stages, should be concluded and should transform trade.
Of course there are structural impediments that will not disappear. Ironically given its human rights professions, the EU has long favoured China over India, and China is clearly the preferred investment destination: for every euro invested in India from the EU, 20 euros are invested in China. (This is partly India's fault, in not creating a comparably congenial climate for foreign investment.) An EU ambassador to India, quoted by Malone, observed that 'each has a tendency to look to the most powerful poles in international relations rather than towards each other, and each spends more time deploring the shortcomings of the other rather than building the foundations of future partnership'.
A major element in the equation is India's well-advertised preference for bilateral arrangements with individual member states of the EU, over dealing with the collectivity. This is arguably necessary, given the lack of cohesion in European institutions on strategic questions. Since Maastricht in 1992, Europe has claimed to have a 'common foreign policy', but it is not a 'single' foreign policy. (If it were, EU member states would not need two of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council, and be clamouring for a third.)
The case for India-EU cooperation could be strongly made, since the bulk of the problem areas in the world lie between India and Europe (or, as Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt once put it, between the Indus and the Nile).
To take two examples: more people have been killed in Europe by drugs coming in from Afghanistan than the total number killed in two decades of fighting in that country. India's security interests in Afghanistan and its greater proximity to that country offer important intersections with Europe's interests. India's increasing salience in the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean, and especially in the security of the Gulf, the source of much of Europe's energy,
suggests another area of cooperation.
India-EU relations currently lack substance and strategic weight, despite the conclusion of a strategic partnership in 2004. The oxymoronic lack of European unity undermines the credibility of the collectivity; policy-makers in New Delhi will not be able to find many instances of the EU, rather than its individual member states, engaging with or standing up to the United States, Russia or China on any major issue. The ongoing eurozone crisis has also not served to enhance India's confidence in Europe.
The EU provides very little value added to India's principal security challenges. In the immediate priority areas of strategic interest to India - our own neighbourhood, the Gulf region, the United States and China - the EU is almost irrelevant, and the story does not get better if one extends India's areas of security interest to Central and Southeast Asia.
On the big global security issues - nuclear proliferation, civil conflict and terrorism - the problem is the same, while the EU has almost nothing to contribute to India's search for energy security. Even in India's quest to be part of the global decision-making architecture, including a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, it is not the EU but the existing European permanent members, the UK and France, which bring more value to the table for India. India certainly needs European cooperation in counter-terrorism and European remote surveillance technology, but it would obtain these from European nation states, not from the EU.
So New Delhi strengthens relationships with a number of individual European countries that it considers reliable partners, but fails to think of Europe collectively as one of the potential poles in the evolving multipolar world. New Delhi sees an affinity with London, Berlin or Paris that it cannot bring itself to imagine with Brussels or Strasbourg. The danger is that New Delhi will write Europe off as a charming but irrelevant continent, ideal for a summer holiday but not for serious business. The world would be poorer if the Old Continent and the rising new subcontinent did not build on their democracy and their common interests to offer a genuine alternative to the blandishments of the United States and China.
- The writer is a member of Parliament.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium, where he attended the 13th European Union-India Summit in addition to a bilateral summit with Belgian officials. Modi additionally met one-on-one with his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel and offered India’s support in the wake of last week’s devastating terror attack in the Belgian capital that killed 32 and injured more than 300 people. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, met Modi in Brussels and presided over the 13th summit. The last EU-India summit took place in 2012.
The summit, like preceding iterations, resulted in a broad joint statement that captured the full gamut of India-EU ties. Though India’s relations with individual EU member states vary in closeness, India considers the European Union as a whole a “global partner.” The document covers a range of topics, including trade and investment ties, security cooperation, climate and energy cooperation, science and technology, and even people-to-people ties, but doesn’t contain any landmark accomplishments that would suggest that the EU-India relationship has broken out of relative stagnation.
This time around, both sides focused on the economic aspects of the partnership. Modi has made a point of using state visits abroad to tout India’s economic potential and the EU summit was no exception. Speaking in Brussels, Modi highlighted India’s uniquely high growth rate, which continues to be the highest among large emerging economies, outpacing China, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa–once its bedfellows in the BRICS grouping. Modi told EU leaders that India was the “lone light of hope” in the world economy. At a lunch meeting in Brussels as part of the India-Belgium bilateral component of the visit, Modi pitched India to business leaders.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
On energy, the joint statement refers to the outcomes of the December 2015 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) outcomes, including the India-led International Solar Alliance (see a recent feature inThe Diplomat for more on India’s progress on the ISA). “Both parties agreed to explore ways to work together to further the ISA’s objectives,” the joint statement noted. The EU-India free trade negotiations received relatively little attention in the joint statement, with both sides noting that “both sides have re-engaged in discussions” on the matter. The EU and India began negotiations for a possible Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2007. Trade volume between the two sides stood at 72.5 billion euros in 2014. The EU remains concerned about trade barriers in India.
Seizing on the aftermath of last week’s terror attacks in Brussels, Modi placed perhaps a greater emphasis on counter-terrorism cooperation than he might have done at the EU summit had the attacks not taken place. During the bilateral component of the visit to Brussels, Modi joined Michel to lay a wreath at the subway station where one bomb in last week’s attack was detonated. Modi and EU leaders adopted a Joint Declaration on Counter-terrorism and renewed a 2010 declaration on terrorism. The joint statement alludes to increased cooperation between the EU and India “to counter violent extremism and radicalisation, the flow of Foreign Terrorist Fighters, sources of terrorist financing and arms supply.”
Notably and somewhat unsurprisingly, the EU-India summit failed to produce any resolution for a long-running dispute between India and Italy over the fate of two Italian marines accused of murdering two Indian fishermen. The case remains in arbitration proceedings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. Italy has compensated the families of the fishermen who were killed and maintains that the marines were immune to prosecution as they were in international waters, escorting an oil tanker on a United Nations anti-piracy mission.
As Reuters reported, though the marine dispute began as a bilateral spat between Rome and New Delhi, it has broader implications. For instance, without Italy’s acquiescence, India cannot join the Missile Technology Control Regime. In October 2015, Italy blocked India’s application to the grouping. In addition to the issue of the marines, Modi, Juncker, and Tusk also discussed “the case of fourteen Estonian and six UK Guards sentenced to prison by an Indian court,” per the EU’s press release.
While the latest EU-India summit doesn’t foreshadow a sea change in the relationship, there are some important differences from the outcomes of the 2012 summit. For instance, the EU appears more interested in India’s regional role as a major power. Where the 2012 joint statement omitted any mention of Afghanistan, for example, the 2016 statement states a “commitment for a sustainable, democratic, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan,” suggesting that the EU recognizes India as a significant regional player. Moreover, Wednesday’s joint statement mentions the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), unlike the 2012 statement.
Moreover, in what represents a victory for the Modi government, the EU-India summit emphasizes India’s position on recent political developments in Nepal (with regard to the country’s new constitution) and the Maldives (with regard to Abdulla Yameen’s increasingly anti-democratic tendencies). Among other global topics, the joint statement references the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, North Korea’s recent nuclear testing, and peace in the Middle East.
Though the EU-India summit might have seemed like a perfunctory pit stop before the Indian prime minister’s journey to Washington for the four and final Nuclear Security Summit, the joint statement makes it clear that India’s relationship with the European Union has room to grow. Though challenges no doubt persist in the relationship, primarily centered around single issues like the ongoing row with Italy and difficulties in trade negotiations, both sides see each other positively and sense opportunities going forward.