Letter from India
Dear EU leaders,
Questions related to jobs, business, security, migration and climate change have assumed enormous importance in the last decade or so. But, amidst the din of internal issues besieging the imagination of European people, it may help to look beyond your borders for opportunities to not only address internal concerns, but also make a significant impact externally.
This is particularly important because new and important actors have emerged in the global landscape. They are crucial to ensure shared prosperity and stability in today’s world, which is very different from the last time you voted.
India is one such nation with which your relationship should matter more now than ever before. We started our strategic partnership in 2004, but for many reasons have been unable to keep up momentum, particularly since 2009. A new India is emerging after a huge majority to the ruling party, BJP, in the recently held national elections on a wave of nationalism and security, which will be an important dimension of the partnership.
We have to recognise that the fulcrum of global power has shifted very rapidly to the East, coinciding with a wave of domestic populism around the world. This has led to new strategic concepts, like the ‘Indo-Pacific’, which denotes the greater international influence of this region. But it has also created a sentiment of protectionism around the world.
As a result, some of the old relationships have started to shrink, and new ones are emerging. For Europe this has been a matter of consternation, especially in the context of its relationship with the United States. It was therefore no surprise when seasoned European diplomat Maurice Gourdault-Montagne said, “Europe has no choice but to actively engage in the Indo-Pacific and work closely with India.”
Implicit in this statement is the fact that India is far more important to Europe now than ever before, and a relationship between India and Europe needs to be built up accordingly. This means that India and the EU need to engage more constructively in the future, which can be accomplished only if they partake equally in the rule-making process to meet their strategic and commercial goals.
Europe and India can do this by establishing a channel of dialogue on multilateral issues, and by associating foreign affairs and security aspects with trade and economic objectives. This is articulated as one of the actions proposed in ‘Elements for an EU Strategy on India’ unveiled by the European Commission last year.
With this being the premise to move forward, there are a number of key issues on which India and Europe can work. First, for Europe and India to generate greater synergies, the EU needs to align its strategy for India with the UN SDG framework. In doing so, due care needs to be taken to understand the relevance of the SDG framework in promoting the development and interests of both partners. This will be crucial to move from adoption to execution. In other words, there must be concurrence on the interpretation of each SDG and the expectations arising from such interpretation.
Second, India’s position as a leading South Asian country can only be as strong as the region itself. Currently, the region is one of the least connected in the world. Collaboration on regional connectivity, especially among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal, is particularly important for regional prosperity and stability. Therefore, the EU and India must develop a framework for regional connectivity and together mobilise the financing required. Such a project will benefit if coupled with similar initiatives being lead by the United States and Japan.
Third, it must be remembered that the construct of the Indo-Pacific stretches from Africa’s eastern coast to the west coast of the United States. In this context, the EU and India can strengthen the future discourse on the Indo-Pacific by fostering deeper engagement with other developing countries, particularly in Africa, through trilateral development cooperation. Different models for such cooperation must be explored between India and the EU.
Fourth, India and the EU need to collaborate more closely on the Euro-Asian connectivity project. Currently, the initiative offers little scope for India’s direct engagement. There is a need for both India and the EU to spell out a common vision for a rules-based connectivity model between the two and invite other countries to engage with that common vision.
Finally, while both the EU and India want a meaningful trade agreement, there appears to be a degree of stalemate on a number of issues. These include barriers to trade in the form of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, customs duties, data localisation, deviation from international standards and alleged discrimination based on legislative or administrative measures by India that affect a wide range of sectors, including goods, services, investment and public procurement. For India’s part, a main reason for lack of progress on trade-related issues is EU unilateralism in the rule-making process. The EU’s recognition of India as a co-partner in the rule-making exercise would be a crucial step forward.
Let me conclude by underlining that India and the EU face unprecedented opportunities to help create not only a better, more workable relationship within and across borders, but also in partaking equally in writing new rules for the global governance architecture. Collaboration in the areas identified in “Elements for an EU Strategy on India” could produce a comprehensive trade, development and security partnership based on principles of sustainable development. Both India and the EU, including its member states, need each other as equals. They should look towards the next decade with that as their starting point.
About the author
Pradeep S. Mehta – Secretary General, CUTS International Jaipur, India