The future of EU-India relations

With India celebrating its 70th Republic Day on 26 January, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell is seeking a closer strategic partnership, however MEPs are now calling for greater progress on trade negotiations.
Photo credit: Fotolia

By Rajnish Singh

27 Jan 2020

Speaking in New Delhi before India’s Republic Day, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell, said “The relationship between India and Europe must become more strategic given the importance of the Indo-Pacific region.”

The newly-selected High Representative stressed the importance of close ties saying, “In Europe, everybody is rushing to Davos, but me being here with you is much more important.


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With geostrategic politics increasingly dominated by US-China rivalry, Borell said the multilateral rules-based system - which the EU believes is fundamental to international law and avoiding conflict - was now under ‘siege’.

“We Europeans cannot accept the idea that the world should organise around a new Sino-American bipolarity coming to replace the Soviet-US bipolar world that divided Europe.”

“It’s high time to restart trade negotiations so as to at least conclude a separate Investment Protection Agreement as a step towards an ambitious FTA in the medium term” Geert Bourgois

Borell wants the EU and India to work together to support multilateralism, key to guaranteeing the survival of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which he says is now ‘jeopardised’.

With the US now blocking judges’ appointments to the WTO’s Appellate Body, basically the supreme court for international trade.

Another opportunity for closer relations was cooperation on maritime security, highlighting the joint antipiracy operations off the coast of Somalia which has brought attacks down from 200 in 2010 to one in 2019.

“That is why it is essential that we develop a new roadmap for our strategic partnership, covering cooperation in areas from security, to digital or climate change. Negotiations started only yesterday, and I hope it will be ready for approval at the next summit India-Europe on 13 March.”

The Spaniard also highlighted strong collaboration on fighting terrorism. In December 2019, an EU-India counter terrorism workshop was organised investigating the ISIS terrorist network.

This focused on building up the capacity of the Indian police services to deal with networks trying to infiltrate southeast Asian countries.

In 2022, India will celebrate both its 75th independence anniversary and holding the presidency of the G20. Borell said, “Let’s use the time in the run-up to 2022 to listen to your views of how the world should look in this century and what can be done together”.

“The relationship between India and Europe must become more strategic given the importance of IndoPacific region” Josep Borell

Belgian ECR deputy Geert Bourgois pointed out that India was one of the world’s fastest-growing economies in world, growing at seven percent in 2018, (though falling to around five percent in 2019).

Despite the impressive economic figures and the tremendous potential as an export market for EU businesses, he said “this market remains largely untapped as India accounts for only 2.3 percent of EU trade and only ranks ninth in EU trading partners”.

With a new decade and rising global trade tensions, the Belgian believes “it’s high time to restart trade negotiations so as to at least conclude a separate Investment Protection Agreement as a step towards an ambitious FTA in the medium term.”

He wanted to see the upcoming EU-India summit as a springboard for a ‘positive and renewed’ trade and investment agenda. “As chair of Parliament’s Trade Monitoring Group on India, I am happy to my part and give this my full support”.

Like Bourgois, Dinesh Dhamija, Chair of the Parliament’s delegation to India has been pushing for better trade relations.

“Since being elected Chair of the EU-India delegation, I have been working towards a partial trade deal, with the plan for a full deal during this parliament’s term.” He stressed that the EU needed the trade deal, with one in seven jobs depending on exports and current GDP growth at an ‘anaemic’ 1 percent.

Although climate change and cutting Co2 emissions were a priority, he warned against linking this to any future trade agreement.

S&D deputy Neena Gill felt that the UK MEPs were at the ‘forefront’ of promoting closer ties; their departing Parliament on 31 January could hinder progress to closer EU-Indian relations.

“This was not only because of historical reasons but also because of the UK’s sizeable and influential Indian community; Indian investments in the UK also makes them one of the top employers in the country”.

However, ECR deputy Geoffrey Van Orden was more positive about the impact of Brexit. “At a stroke, the nation with the deepest relationship with India will be outside the EU bloc and will develop an even stronger bilateral relationship”. He believed the Commonwealth could play a bigger role in UK trade relations.

However, EU-India expert Shada Islam was more upbeat about relations between Europe and India after Brexit. Pointing out that relations have got off to a ‘dynamic’ start in 2020. With Indian Prime Minister Modi expected to meet EU leaders in Brussels, early in the year.

The Friends of Europe director welcomed Borell’s push to create a new EU-India Action Agenda for 2020-25. “Policymakers in Brussels and New Delhi are talking optimistically of increasing coordination on multilateral issues”.

However, according to Islam, a vital question remains; “Are India and the EU going to persist in their so-far unsuccessful effort to negotiate a bilateral trade and investment agreement or will they shift focus to a more doable investment agreement and open up trade in the services sector?”.

Despite all the early positive signs, Nena Gill warned EU-India relations had a history of moving forward ‘sporadically’. “In 2009, we were in striking distance of completing an FTA. Yet a decade later, we are no further forward.”

Gill wants the future partnership to look beyond trade, “Establishing one based on like-minded principles such as democracy, rule of law, human rights and upholding the international rules-based system.”

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