By Arun K Singh
The 14th India- EU summit, held in Delhi on October 6, drew attention to an important dimension of India’s foreign policy and international economic engagement which normally receives scant public or analytical attention.
EU, with its present membership of 28 countries, constitutes India’s largest trading partner, accounting for more than 100 billion euros, in a balanced trade relationship. With investments in India of $83 billion over 2000- 2017, it is 24% of total FDI flows into the country. 6,000 European companies are present in India. The Indian origin community, at 2.1 million, is not insignificant, even though less than the 3.5 million in the US. France, a leading member of the EU, is an important strategic partner, with high technology cooperation in defence, space, and civil nuclear. 50,000 Indian students are in EU in higher education, with 5,000 having been provided ERASMUS scholarships.
EU also has a growing voice in international relations, even though on many issues its constituent members retain their independent voice and position. It has been part of the 5+1 talks on Iran, and the Quartet on the Middle East peace. Its members regularly coordinate positions. Germany, now emerging as the leader in Europe, so far prefers to stake a position through EU mechanisms. The European Commission, which was represented by its President, Jean Claude Juncker, enjoys transferred competence on several issues, including trade and agriculture.
It is, therefore, welcome that the process of India- EU summits, which was disrupted after the 12th summit in 2012, is falling into rhythm, with the 14th taking place soon after the 13th in 2016 in Brussels. Separate joint statements were also issued on combating terrorism, partnership for smart cities and sustainable urbanisation, and clean energy and climate change.
There was the inevitable focus on economic issues. The European Investment bank has committed Euros 1.5 billion for the year, with loans supporting the Bengaluru metro project and a solar project. Arrangements were worked out for exchange of scientists and researchers. On the Broadbased Trade and Investment Agreement, however, it was recognised that more preparatory work was necessary. This was expected due to ongoing reassessment in India of existing agreements, Brexit induced uncertainty in EU, and the global flux on trade norms introduced by the Trump presidency in the US.
Engagement with the EU also enables India to balance some of the unhelpful trends emerging from the US, and to reinforce those that meet its interests. Many of these were reflected in the joint statement issued following the summit.
On Iran, both supported staying with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, since Iran has maintained its commitment, contrary to the now anticipated decertification by the US administration. They also supported the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the EU reiterated its commitment towards $100 billion climate funding for developing countries.
There was a clear message on connectivity projects (an oblique reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative) emphasising good governance, rule of law, transparency, sustainability, avoiding financial indebtedness, similar to the statement India had issued on eve of the Belt and Road Forum convened in China.
There were repeated references in public comments and the joint statement to India and EU sharing core values, democracy, human rights etc. These are useful parameters to emphasise when the Asia pacific and the world has to deal with the consequences of a rising China, which works on different norms. In an op-ed on October 6, Juncker said “European Union and India are natural partners”, the “bond is built on our shared beliefs”, and that “the strength of the law outweighs the law of the strong” (the opposite of what China is doing in South China Sea), and there was a need to work “with like minded partners”. In an interview, published the same day, Donald tusk, president of the European Council, said that EU wanted to build a strong strategic partnership with India on the foundation of the common values of “freedom, democracy and a credible, rules-based global order”.
In view of their common interest, and also to meet the challenge of China’s growing presence, EU also recognised India’s interest and role in Africa, expressed commitment to enhance consultation and cooperation, and invited India to participate as an observer at the next EU- African Union Summit.
There were specific references to terrorist incidents in India, which India had linked to Pakistan, and Pakistan based terrorist groups and individuals. Several individuals and groups were specifically cited, including Hafeez Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Dawood Ibrahim, LeT, JeM. EU clearly has come a long way from its earlier reluctance to such specific references, no doubt because Europe itself has now been exposed to repeated terrorist attacks. It was also stated that “responsible states should take adequate measures to ensure that their territory is not used for terrorist activities”.
In another oblique negative reference to Pakistan “both sides stressed the responsibility of those who support DPRK’s nuclear and missile programmes”.
Aside from the bilateral advantages from a stronger partnership with European countries, there will also be spin offs in putting Pakistan on the defensive on terrorism, China on its deviation from rule of law, and in balancing some of the uncertainties in short-term US policies.
Hindustan Times, October 11, 2017