Four pillars for an EU-India partnership

Four pillars for an EU-India partnership

Bulletin article
02 June 2008

Until recently, neither the EU nor India took their relationship very seriously. That is starting to change, thanks to burgeoning economic ties. Two-way trade reached €56 billion in 2007 (though EU-China trade was €301 billion) and is growing at about 15 per cent a year. European foreign direct investment in India rose to €11 billion in 2007, while Indian firms have bought Europe’s two biggest steel companies, Arcelor and Corus, as well as Jaguar and Land Rover.

But the EU needs to pay more attention to its still under-developed political relationship with India. As the EU tries to extend its reach beyond its own immediate neighbourhood, India can help it to fulfil some of its key objectives, for example on climate change.

Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, does not see India as a priority. At last November’s EU-India summit in Delhi, the EU was represented by the prime minister and foreign minister of Portugal (which held the rotating presidency), Commission President José Manuel Barroso (also Portuguese) and trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. The Indians are not prejudiced against the Portuguese, but it is telling that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (according to his officials) devoted more time and energy to preparing for his bilateral summits with Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Officials in Brussels and Delhi whinge about each other. Those from the EU complain that their counterparts in Delhi are arrogant and under-resourced; the Ministry of External Affairs has only three officials covering all of Western Europe and the EU. Indians moan about the patronising attitudes of Europeans and the Byzantine complexities of the Union; they dislike having to deal with the EU’s institutions and member-states at the same time.

The EU and India are negotiating a ‘broad-based trade and investment agreement’, which – if all goes well – could be concluded next year. The EU hopes that the accord will bring down tariffs and allow its companies to invest more freely in areas such as telecoms, legal services and insurance. India wants its nationals to be able to work more easily in the EU. It also wants to sell more services (such as IT and back office processing) to Europe, and hopes for fewer barriers to its exports in sectors such as textiles, chemicals, leather and food-stuffs.

This year the two sides are due to review their ‘joint action plan’, an 80-page document that covers dialogues on a wide range of topics such as weapons proliferation, human rights, climate change, science, higher education, terrorism and space. When Indian and EU leaders hold their next summit, at Toulouse in September, they should seek to build the foundations of a genuinely strategic partnership, based on a few priorities that have long-term significance for both sides:

★ Climate change. Only a couple of years ago, many Indians thought climate change was someone else’s problem. That has now changed. Although they are unwilling to accept binding commitments to cut carbon emissions, India’s leaders know that they will have to be part of the global system that tackles the problem. Nobel prize winner Rajendra Pachauri has helped to raise awareness. Indians want access to European technologies that would enable them to use energy more efficiently, curb pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

★ Africa. India wants to increase its presence in Africa, which it sees as a source of raw materials and as a market. But China keeps beating it to contracts to extract natural resources, and also exports much more to the continent. Singh launched a new charm offensive by hosting 14 African leaders in Delhi in April. India already offers billions of dollars of cheap credits and it plans a $10 billion investment fund for Africa. India, like China, has tended not to criticise African regimes that abuse human rights. But many Indians view Europe as less of a direct rival than China and are prepared to go some way towards the Europeans in accepting that governance matters. An EU-India dialogue on Africa could focus on joint projects to pursue common interests – for example, rebuilding war-torn regions such as Northern Uganda – and on the importance of governance.

★ Post-conflict reconstruction. India is one of the world’s leading providers of peacekeepers, and currently has 9,000 blue helmets in Africa. However, India has had less experience of some of the broader tasks of helping societies to recover from conflict, such as co-ordinating the work of soldiers with civilian agencies and personnel. Recently, India has become a major provider of assistance to Afghanistan, where it (like the EU) wants to sustain Mohammed Karzai’s government. Both the EU and India would benefit from exchanging expertise on peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction.

★ Counter-terrorism. Indians care deeply about fighting the scourge of terrorism. The EU-India dialogue on counter-terrorism has not achieved much, perhaps because the EU itself has almost no competence on the matter. However, a dialogue between India and the ‘G6’ (an informal group of the interior ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain) and the ‘situation centre’ (Solana’s unit that collates intelligence from across the EU) could be productive.

Indians have regarded the EU as not much more than a trade bloc because it has had nothing to say on the subjects they care most about. For example, the Europeans are divided over which countries should have permanent seats on the UN Security Council (which India wants to join) and whether to support the putative US-India nuclear deal. Yet neither the EU nor India sees the other as any kind of strategic rival. If the EU could engage the Indians on the subjects mentioned above, it might seem more relevant to them.

The Europeans should also think about how they represent themselves to the outside world. The Lisbon treaty requires the EU to appoint a president, but that job in itself will not solve the representation problem. To quote one Delhi official: “If you want us to take the EU seriously, please appoint a president we have heard of.”