'Time to de-ice' EU-India relations

Written by Neena Gill on 18 November 2014 in Opinion

India presents huge potential for trade and foreign policy agreements, and the EU must make relations with the country a key priority, argues Neena Gill.

As the founder of the European parliament's delegation for relations with India and its current first vice-president, strengthening EU relations with India is top of my agenda. Looking at the current state of play, however, I see a lot of untapped potential. A strategic partnership was launched in 2004 but a decade later, the initiative is yet to produce tangible results. Negotiations on the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with India, a key part of the partnership, have been on ice since 2011. If we want our economy to fully benefit from the potential offered by relations with India, an emerging global economic power that attracts soaring interest from foreign investors, it is high time that we take the FTA out of the freezer.

Businesses providing employment to scores of people are frustrated because huge opportunities to move forward are left untapped. Take Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), which has its head office and production plants in my West Midlands constituency. Despite being owned by Indian company Tata Motors, JLR encounters massive obstacles in dealings with India, because they are operating from EU territory - and will remain so until we commit to getting this deal through.

It is not only our economic interests that are at stake. As the world’s largest democracy and one of its strongest military powers, India plays a pivotal role with regard to developments in south east Asia, where the US and China are engaged in a battle of giants to shape power relations which will ultimately define the future of the entire region. Through its activities in Afghanistan, India is playing a major role in advancing stability in a region presenting major foreign policy challenges - including security threats.

Climate change is another key area. Together with China, the EU and the US, India is part of the ‘big four’ in the worldwide conversation on climate change. Protecting people against the detrimental effects of greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution will be simply impossible without New Delhi on our side.

"Through its activities in Afghanistan, India is playing a major role in advancing stability in a region presenting major foreign policy challenges - including security threats"

Taking all these areas into account, I find it hard to understand why the EU is taking a backseat. While the new Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has made it a priority to shake hands with the leaders of China, Japan and the US, the EU is yet to feature on his agenda. I was pleased to hear EU high representative Federica Mogherini promise that India would be a key priority in our foreign policy, during her grilling in parliament last month. Her words must now be backed up with action.

The organisation of an EU-India summit in 2015 will be crucial in making sure New Delhi is put back on our agenda - and vice versa. Bringing relations under an EU framework will allow us to deliver results that far exceed the combined outcome of bilateral agreements with individual EU member states. If we want the strategic partnership with India to be worthy of its name, we will need to develop a substantive agenda for the summit, have a clear idea of the results we want to achieve, and secure the budget necessary to make this happen.

It is high time to fire up the circuits, and de-ice the EU-India relationship.


About the author

Neena Gill is a vice-chair of parliament’s delegation for relations with India.

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