| Michel Caillouet
Calcutta, Nov. 10: The European Union is poised to intensify its involvement with India through both bilateral trade and social-sector projects.
“We want to make EU more visible in this country of over one billion people,” Michel Caillouet, ambassador, European Union, told The Telegraph.
Appropriately — arithmetically, at least — the EU has set aside a corpus of 1 billion Euro for development projects here, covering areas like primary education, health sector, water and sewage management.
“We are looking for concrete, feasible proposals from the Indian authorities,” said Caillouet, in town for the Consular Corps golf tournament, after meeting chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation chairman Somnath Chatterjee over the weekend.
The head of the delegation of the European Commission to India, Nepal and Bhutan, took the opportunity to mix birdies with business by meeting some captains of industry in Calcutta. “This, my third visit to the city, is intended to promote business-to-business co-operation,” Caillouet made clear.
The EU has set targets for itself to be seen “politically, socially and economically” active in the world’s biggest democracy.
On the trade front, the 15-member Union has set a target of 35 billion Euro as annual bilateral trade volume between India and EU by 2005. At present, the EU-India annual trade stands at 25 billion Euro.
Admitting that there wasn’t enough EU-linked activity in the state, Caillouet stressed the importance of having committees to address specific issues to increase the Union’s involvement.
“We have been working with NGOs on the social front here for sometime. And now we are working towards promoting business-to-business co-operation with associations like the CII and Ficci,” said Caillouet.
Helping higher education and management of cities also figures high on EU’s India agenda. A 40 million-Euro project to link major universities of Europe with Asian universities is being executed.
“Calcutta can make use of this Asia-Link programme to set up a school of medicine with EU aid to train local doctors, and also IT education centres. We know Bengal is a seat of learning and would welcome concrete proposals from educational institutions here for mutually beneficial exchange programmes,” said the ambassador. The city can also utilise a special EU programme to help in management of cities, the authorities willing.
The ambassador, impressed with Bhattacharjee’s “level of preparedness”, told the chief minister that EU was looking at the possibility of direct transfer of money to the end-users.
“About Rs 24 crore has already reached West Bengal from the EU’s 40-million-Euro health-reforms aid package for India. The chief minister has requested me for more, but the competition is intense and other states are also in the fray.”
While listing the “things to do” to broaden the scope of economic co-operation between India and EU, Caillouet referred to the importance of India’s image.
“Branding is so essential to alter perception. Look at how countries like Thailand, Singapore, and even Chile, where conditions are very similar to India, have improved trade with Europe. In this respect, Calcutta has a lot of catching up to do, even with other Indian cities like Bangalore,” the ambassador said.
He urged Delhi to speed up economic reforms. “EU countries find it difficult to access the Indian textile market because of high import duty, whereas accessing the Pakistani market is much easier. The Indian government must address these issues related to market access,” said Caillouet.