By Dr. D.K. Giri
(Prof. International Politics, JMI)
The India-European Union 14th Summit meeting in New Delhi on 6th October focused on closer cooperation on counter terrorism actions. Importantly, the joint declaration named Hafeez, Saeed, Dawood Ibrahim, Zakir-Ur Rehman, LeT and JeM et al as those perpetrating terror.
In fact, terrorism has become a common focus and gained currency as Europe has been subjected to repeated terrorist attacks recently even though India has been in the throes of cross-border terrorism for long.
Besides this, trade was another key issue as there has been a clear mismatch both in India’s and EU’s external relations. Notwithstanding, the EU has been functioning internally and in foreign relations as a trading bloc.
Undoubtedly, while New Delhi’s external ties were politics and security driven at the cost of its vital economic relations, EU emphasized more on trade and economy ignoring its political objectives like promotion of democracy, protection of human rights, rule of law etc. The EU’s heavy trade relations with China at the cost of its international political objectives, is a case in point.
Alas, the Summit meetings and a plethora of bilateral meetings including the important strategic partnership have failed to correct this imbalance. Significantly, India is one among 10 select countries with whom EU has strategic partnership, launched in 2004.
Tracing the relationship between the two, India was the first developing country to make diplomatic contact in 1962 with the EU, then known as the European Economic Community (EEC). Today they are celebrating 55 years of diplomatic contact. Even as not much of this festivity is seen or felt in the public domain.
In fact, there is not much awareness of the role and functions of EU in India. In most Summit or bilateral meetings, there is repeated reference to the shared core values of democracy, pluralism, human rights etc. Whereby the European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote in the India press, “India and EU are natural partners, the bond is built on shared beliefs and the strength of law outweighs the law of the strong.”
This is an oblique reference to China’s belligerent territorial aggression in the South China Sea. Echoing this perspective, the European Council President Donald Tusk added, “EU wants to build with India a strong strategic partnership on the foundations of common values of freedom, democracy and credible rule based global order.”
Prime Minister Modi was equally effusive about relations. Said he at the Summit, “India values her multifaceted partnership with EU and we attach high importance to our strategic partnership as the world largest democracies we are natural partners and our close relations are based on shared common values.”
Undeniably, these statements are political rhetoric and diplomatic niceties. Actually, the strategic partnership is under-performing. An instance: The Free Trade Agreement, a one of its kind supposedly to promote India’s growth and development and for which negotiations started in 2007 is stuck.
Indian negotiators feel that the Europeans are less flexible and patronizing whereas Europeans think that India is not open to lifting trade barriers, giving market access, making geographical indications and straightening public procurement. In addition, there is concern about intellectual property rights (IPR). Whatever be the bottlenecks, the unending and stalled negotiations do not behove a strategic partnership.
Certainly, India and EU relations have a strong potential to prosper into a strong partnership as the EU is New Delhi’s largest trading partner accounting for 13.7 per cent ahead of China’s 11 per cent and US’s 9 per cent. And EU is India’s 9th largest trading partner with exports amounting to 37.8 billion euros in 2016 and the total value of trade was 77 billion euros in 2016.
Also, about 24 per cent of total FDI flows from EU to India and around six thousand European companies are operating in India. Bilateral trade in commercial services has nearly tripled over the past decade increasing from 10.5 billion euros in 2005 to 28.4 billion euros in 2016.
The European Investment Bank has opened an office in New Delhi and has committed 1.5 billion euros for the current year. The Lucknow and Bengaluru metro projects and many solar ventures are supported by the Bank. Further, India, is the leading the International Solar mission.
True, investment would come. But is the Indian market ready to absorb such investment flow? The Alcatel chief profoundly remarked, “Indians are wonderful people, but India is a terrible market”. How much has it changed?
On political front, EU has recognized India’s regional role in international politics. It has taken serious note of SAARC as a regional body and jotted New Delhi’s role and interest in Africa. Pertinently, it has invited her to participate as an observer at the next EU-African Union Summit.
Both held discussions on regional and international issues which included the Muslims Rohingya crisis, their radicalization in particular, Iran’s nuclear programme, North Korea’s missile adventurism, civil war in Syria as also rebuilding of Afghanistan. Both “committed to a sustainable, democratic, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan”.
It also wanted the responsibility for abetting and aiding DPRK’s nuclearisation to be fixed. Obviously fingers were pointed towards China wherein both EU and India sought to send a clear message that Beijing should follow the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for resolving all maritime territorial disputes.
Furthermore, the apprehension that India, following Britian’s exit from EU, might lose interest in EU relations is misplaced, asserted the European Commission’s Vice President and High Representative on EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. On the contrary, India’s deep and growing relations with major countries like Germany and France are likely to deepen.
Recall, after the 1994 Cooperation and Development Agreement relations were expected to cover people-to-people contact and a multi-faceted collaboration. This was followed by the EU-India Strategic Partnership in 2004 and a Joint-Action Plan in 2005 updated in 2008.
The Strategic Partnership Treaty recognized India as a “regional and global leader engaging increasingly on equal terms with other world powers. However, despite these institutional growths in India-EU bilateralism relations between Brussels and New Delhi have failed to live upto their potential, remarked German Ambassador to India Martin Ney. He singled out the joint -failure on resumption of talks to FTA and investment.
Evidently, there has been progress by EU and India. From a common market, EU now has a common currency and has evolved from a Community to a Union. India has also progressed economically following the financial restructuring post 1990s.
There was change of guard in Indian leadership in April 2014 and in EU in November 2014. However, there has been no visible swift progress.
Clearly, India and EU have to do some serious re-thinking on their relations. They need to re-orient their respective bureaucracies to be more visionary, open and accommodative. Therein lies the future of the mutuality of India and the EU. —— INFA