Guest article: “India-EU relations: What does the future hold?”

World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it. Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.

The aforementioned is an excerpt from the historic speech delivered on the 9th of May, 1950 by Robert Schuman; one of the arch steersmen of the European Union. The EU primarily started as European Coal and Steel Community or ECSC, in order to prevent another Franco-German war and unifying the production of steel and coal under a common authority looked like a credible way to do the same (Ambassador K.P. Fabian, ‘Future of European Union?’, India and the world: through the eyes of Indian Diplomats, Wisdom Tree, 2015, pp. 32). EU is the successor of the European Economic Committee and it was in 1986, when the Single European Act was signed in Luxembourg which committed its member countries to a timetable for their economic merger and the establishment of a single European currency and common foreign and domestic policies. With a foundation like this, the EU with 27 members now stands as the strongest regional conglomerate in the world.  Many question the assertion of it being a political union but in strict monetary terms, it stands unionised.

Tracing the relationship

It is common knowledge that India’s connection with Europe is old because of her being a former British colony. While the transfer of power and consequent independence coupled with one of the brutal most partitions in the history of mankind, may not have been exactly ‘peaceful’ or even affable, over the years India and EU have managed to transgress past the archaic colonial animosity and they now stand as strong trade partners. EU is the largest trading partner of India but if we split the share of each European country, the variables shift. India has been associated with Europe right from the inception days of her integration but formal diplomatic relations with European communities were established in 1962. It would be fair however, to trace this relationship from the Joint Political Statement of 1993 and the consequent Cooperation Agreement of 1994; which steered relations beyond trade and economic cooperation to broad based negotiation. After India was accorded the status of a ‘strategic partner’ in 2004, the Joint Action Plan (JAP) of 2005 was revised in 2008 which aids in realizing the full potential of this partnership in key interest areas.

Current framework for Cooperation

The communiqué between the two unions is facilitated at different levels, the highest level being the Summit arrangement which began in June, 2000, next is Foreign Ministerial level talks followed by the Senior Official level or Foreign Office Consultations. The Joint Action Plan is effectuated through a hierarchical system of several bodies like bilateral joint working groups which conduct dialogues and formalize directions on migration, mobility, consular issues, non proliferation and disarmament etc. There is also parliamentary interaction, which is a formalised way of getting the parliamentarians from both ends to indulge in dialogue and deliberation. In light of the same, D-In or the ‘Delegation for Relations with India’ was formally constituted by EU in 2007 to trace relations with India.  Besides this, other professionals from the civil society also touch base with each other from time to time to discuss crucial issues.

The 13th EU-India Summit: What were the takeaways?

The 13th European Union-India Summit held in March earlier this year, earmarked a major progress in EU-India relations. It was particularly poignant to hold the exchange in the backdrop of the terror attack in Brussels just a week before the Summit and leadership at both ends was united in vocal condemnation of the same. The Summit was focused on the economic interaction of the two where India made a case for attracting more investment. The Summit conclusively effectuated seven outcome documents including six Political Declarations and one Financial Contract Agreement. The following were a part of the same: India-EU Joint Statement, India-EU Agenda Action 2020, Joint Declaration on Counter-terrorism, Joint Declaration on India-EU Water Partnership, Joint Declaration on India-EU Clean Energy & Climate Partnership, Joint Declaration on India-EU’s Common Agenda for Migration and Mobility, G20 Skills Strategy, Common Agenda for Migration & Mobility and Arbitration procedure on Italian Marines Case. This was accompanied with a loan agreement for the first portion of Euro 450 million for the Lucknow Metro Project.

Blatant impediments and the way forward

Whilst the picture thus painted looks rosy, nobody can overlook the elephant in the room which simply can’t be swept under the rug- the BTIA or the Bilateral Trade & Investment Agreement. The negotiations for the facilitative and ambitious project should have been concluded (13 rounds conducted thus far) by now, but there remain a few contentious grey areas- issues relating to tariff regulation, phyto-sanitary measures, public procurement, intellectual property rights, competition policy and disputes redressal mechanism.

Setting aside the BTIA deadlock, India and EU also seem to be holding convergent positions on certain crucial issues. In a research conducted by Stephan Keukeleire and Bras Hooijimaaijers, which studied the voting cohesion of EU members states and India in UNGA and WTO, it demonstrable that the consensus on international security issues fluctuates between 20 and 40 per cent. The UNGA resolutions on human rights and development issues see identical votes in almost 30 per cent cases but split votes have been cast on the situation in Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Myanmar and North Korea. EU and India also seem to be holding cross swords in WTO on issues pertaining to agriculture, textiles and services.

The strategic partnership was formalised in 2004 with heaps of enthusiasm and it supposedly matured the relationship to a level of trust, leading to focused cooperation but somehow this relationship still lacks a sturdy political synergy. The India-EU story hasn’t caught the public fancy as much as it rightfully should have which partially stems from EU’s visible trans-Atlantic focus and also India’s preoccupation with other pressing geopolitical issues. A couple of years ago, Dr Shashi Tharoor insight-fully pointed out that both India and EU 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.

This is, by all means an opportune time for the nerve centers in Delhi and Brussels to reshape the narrative of their relationship and perhaps take stern measures to strengthen it. A difficult yet irrepressible raw material for strengthening India-EU ties is also democratization and strengthening of the EU itself. EU member states lack convergence on many issues which is also the reason for the stalemate on its TTIP negotiations with the US. Nonetheless, the time is ripe to even out the slight wavering antics of EU-India relations by way of bolstering cultural exchange, soft diplomacy, appreciation of mutual strengths and geopolitical integration.

Additional References

 Article written by Parnal Vats

*The views expressed by the author in this article are her own.