The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
- Indian foreign policy is too preoccupied with Pakistan and the US

The last week of November witnessed important meetings between leaders of the European Union and the government of India, a major event following the Indo-European summit to which the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, went last year. The president of the European Commission (former prime minister of Italy), Romano Prodi, and the commissioner for foreign relations, Chris Patten, visited India. The Italian prime minister, who is the current president of the European Union, Silvio Berlusconi, was also supposed to visit India but had to cancel it due to health reasons. Prodi and Patten had not only high-level discussions with the top leaders of the government of India, but also interacted with apex-level think-tanks and business organizations like the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

In a message for this occasion of Indo-European dialogue, Berlusconi asserted that relations between India and Europe are based on shared values. He went on to state that this expanding relationship is because of better communications and knowledge regarding each other, resulting in substantive contacts in the sphere of economy, culture, tourism, development cooperation, science and technology. He concluded by stating that India is a primary partner of the EU, both politically and economically. Romano Prodi in his assessment stated that India’s image in Europe is changing towards that of a dynamic trail-blazer in the knowledge-based economy. Europe invites India to work with it to develop a vision of how they can bring together the collective intellectual capacities, entrepreneurial abilities, enhanced mutual prosperity and cooperation.

On all counts, Indo-European relations have stabilized and are developing on positive lines. Whatever assertions there may be about the world having become unipolar with the United States of America as the central prism, the accompanying reality is that of there being other centres of political and economic importance. Europe collectively is such a centre. With the enhanced membership of the European Union which would consist of 25 members, in the near future, Europe is becoming a collective political and economic entity matching India in territorial size. It has a large market for Indian exports and is a source for investment and technological inputs into the Indian economy. Europe is an important political and strategic factor influencing international power equations, affecting major international political and economic developments. The membership of the countries of the EU in the United Nations and other multilateral fora makes it a desirable partner to cultivate (for India) in influencing many dimensions of collective international cooperation in the spheres of security, development and globalization.

The integration of Europe has valuable lessons for India in strengthening regional cooperation in south Asia, despite the tense relationships between India and Pakistan. It is interesting that Chris Patten, in one of his addresses in New Delhi (on November 28), said tongue-in-cheek that India-Pakistan relations could not be worse than those between Germany and France for nearly a hundred years. So there is no need to despair much about slow progress in south Asian regional cooperation.

Formal relations between India and the EU began in 1963, India being one of the first developing countries to set up separate diplomatic relations with the European Economic Community, the Indian Ambassador in Belgium being given separate accreditation to the EEC. In 1968, the European monetary system was created, in 1973 a single market, and in 1993 a single currency arrangement for the whole of Europe. From 1999, India’s relations with the EEC expanded, parallel to these developments.

Regular annual discussions between the European presidency and the government of India commenced from 1992. The arrangement got institutionalized at the apex level with annual Indo-Europe summits being held from 2000. High-level discussions between the government of India and the EU officials became more intense from the beginning of 2002. From the beginning of 2002 to the middle of 2003, the European commissioners for enterprise and information, development of humanitarian aid, the commissioner for external Relations and the EU high representative for common foreign and security policy have visited India. This was followed by the visit by the European commissioner for trade, and culminated in this latest November visit of Prodi and Patten.

In the political sphere, there is parallelism and convergence of policy orientations between India and Europe — the belief in democracy, human rights, pluralism in civil societies, liberty, having independent media and judiciary, shared between Europe and India as a corner stone for a stable world order. As far as the phenomenon of political and military unilateralism characterizing conflict-management by the US goes, India and Europe have the shared conviction that this should be replaced by effective multilateral ar- rangements under the umbrella of the UN. India and Europe are strongly opposed to terrorism, subversion and secessionist forces threatening state structures and civil societies. Both also believe in the management and resolution of conflict through peaceful means. This has resulted in growing political relations within the frame-work of what the EU secretariat considers “a strong and institutional architecture manifested in consultations at various levels from the summit to ministerial meetings, joint commissions, exchange of parliamentary delegations and so on.”

Countries of the EU are India’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade has increased to more than twice of what it was in 1990-91. The current volume of bilateral trade is 25 billion euros, which is likely to increase to 35 billion by the year 2005 and 50 billion by the year 2008. Europe is also the largest source for foreign direct investment into India at present.

Economic, particularly commercial, transactions between India and Europe account for 25 per cent of India’s foreign trade. EU investments in India have increased from 78 million euros in 1991 to four billion in the year 2003-2004. These investments are particularly important because most of the investment-flows have been in the infrastructure sector of India’s economy, namely, power, oil-refineries, telecommunications and transport sectors. The European Commission has agreed to provide resources to India for making elementary education universal, and for building “human capital” and rural development as well as natural resources.

India and Europe are also engaged in a cooperation programme to strengthen civil aviation structures and maritime transport activities. This would include civil air-safety, airlines management, air-traffic management and the building and maintenance of airports. The maritime transport cooperation project has as its objective the improvement of the efficiency of Indian ports and for building electronic data interchange for the port trusts, particularly those of Mumbai, Chennai and Tuticorin.

Similar cooperation agreements have been signed in the spheres of science and technology based on the complementarity of needs. The European community, at present, is engaged in nearly 55 research projects with Indian partners, focused on agriculture, environment, utilization of natural resources and information technology. India is also the largest receiver in Asia of non-governmental funds from the EU. These funds are generated for tribal empowerment projects, educational projects, income generation projects and food security projects.

There are two important issues on which there are some differences between the EU and India. The first is related to nuclear non-proliferation. Although the controversies of 1998 and 1999 have died down, there are reservations about India’s nuclear weaponization in Europe. The second issue is the differences of opinion on the management of international trade under the World Trade Organization. Senior figures from the EU have expressed the view that India and Brazil took particularly negative stands at Doha and Cancun. There seems to be some lack of understanding of the social and economic compulsions under which India has to adjust to the process of globalization. One hopes that the continuous interaction between the EU and India on this particular issue will temper the differences, even if there is no complete agreement.

India’s foreign policy seems preoccupied with relations with the US, with China and with Pakistan, and with security issues related to India’s proximate and extended neighbourhood. What one has to keep in mind is that a good relationship with Europe provides an important equation in the long-term to further India’s interests.

Email This Page