Wednesday

23rd Sep 2020

Opinion

Is the EU-India strategic partnership really strategic?

  • After five years of stalled negotiations, free trade talks have finally begun to pick pace again (Photo: derajfast)

At a time of crisis, the EU seems to be interested in improving relations with emerging India. EU High Representative Chief Catherine Ashton recently wrapped up a 2-day visit to India, where she met with top Indian government officials as part of the EU-India strategic partnership. Trade and security, including antipiracy, cyber security and counter terrorism were the main issues on the agenda. But has the partnership been rendered more strategic?

Ashton’s visit came as a much-needed sign of political engagement to a relationship that struggles to find momentum. As the EU seeks to intensify consultations with India ahead of the EU-India summit (postponed to February 2012), at least things seem to be going in the right direction.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

After five years of stalled negotiations, free trade talks have finally begun to pick pace again. The 14th round of FTA talks was held in New Delhi just a few days preceding Ashton’s visit. It managed to iron out key issues. While cooperation at the technical level has advanced in recent times, divides persist given the limited political interactions and an inadequate understanding of each other. Other pending issues include tariff barriers, procurement, sustainability clauses and automobiles, among others.

While it is highly unlikely that the bilateral trade and investment pact will be concluded at the February summit, talks have been put in final gear thanks to the political impetus. Now what the EU and India need is a concrete roadmap for both trade and security cooperation and in particular, to advance with the FTA.

A free trade agreement is crucial for both partners. Not only will it ease economic difficulties and promote growth on both sides, but it also has the potential to send out an important message to the international community. Conversely, the FTA might herald a shift from the mired Doha agenda to bilateralism given the scope of the deal and the market size of the two giants. It thus becomes even more imperative for both global actors to increase efforts to advance the multilateral trading agenda as well. The upcoming summit provides an opportunity to achieve at least some sort of political agreement of sorts.

Catherine Ashton also discussed the EU-India summit agenda. In Bangalore, the High Representative co-chaired a ministerial meeting with the Indian Foreign Minister, with talks spanning from trade and investment, to immigration, energy, science and technology, counter-terrorism, and other regional and multilateral issues. This is another area where the EU errs. Instead of trying to cover (superficially) almost every single issue of the bilateral relationship, Ashton’s visit could have had maximum impact had it focussed on just a few priority dossiers of immediate significance.

While a strategic partnership must clearly allow for both partners to discuss a range of issues, contentious or not, the EU-India strategic partnership is different to that of the EU and the US. The transatlantic relationship has been traditionally close for historical reasons and comes with a high level of understanding. Meanwhile, the EU finds a rather compatible partner in the US when it comes to global and strategic affairs.

With India, despite commonalities, the EU needs to cultivate a greater synergy for it to become a real strategic partner. This requires an in-depth understanding of each other’s visions and roles in the new global order. Issues like Iran, where the EU and India have clear ideological differences, were discussed at length. India declared its intentions to continue importing crude oil from Iran, brushing aside US sanctions and the High Representative’s message that India had a responsibility to deliver the right message to Iran.

High-level visits are valuable for confidence-building, especially if such visits do not occur very often. This year will certainly see a renewal in the EU-India relationship, especially if the FTA is signed. While the European External Action Service has begun an internal review of its strategic partnership with India, India too sees a greater responsibility towards the Union.

Foreign Minister Krishna reiterated that Europe’s economic recovery and growth lay central to India’s interests. While the EU has made constructive advances regarding the strategic partnership, a positive response from India will undoubtedly pave the way for better relations. In this regard, greater visibility of Indian politicians in Brussels will be essential too.

The writer is researcher and head of the Agora Asia-Europe programme at thinktank FRIDE.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Emerging nations crafting plan to come to Europe's aid

In a stunning reversal of fortune, it has emerged that the so-called Brics nations, the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - who almost alone in the global economy have weathered the financial crisis sitting atop huge international reserves - are planning to come to Europe's aid.

Analysis

EU and India must converge in Kabul

As the US threatens to withdraw, the EU and India will have to step up and take on a leading role in support of Afghanistan.

News in Brief

  1. German foreign minister in coronavirus quarantine
  2. Report: Roma life expectancy '10 years lower'
  3. US corona death toll passes 200,000
  4. Greece and Turkey agree to resume talks in Istanbul
  5. Seven countries found MidEast energy forum, without Turkey
  6. Four more states join EU medical strategic stockpile
  7. Malta police arrest chief of staff of ex-PM
  8. EP pushing for effective rule-of-law mechanism

How EU can help end Uighur forced labour

A recent report noted apparel and footwear as the leading exports from the Uighur region - with a combined value of $6.3bn [€5.3bn] representing over 35 percent of total exports.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link
  2. EU states struggle to better sync Covid-19 measures
  3. EP groups drop homophobe from Sakharov prize
  4. Legal complaint filed with EU Commission over migration
  5. Coronavirus: Will a second wave divide Europe again?
  6. Coronavirus: the Swedish model was worth emulating
  7. Time to fix Europe's broken migration and asylum system
  8. Covid-19: How is Eastern Europe bracing for a second wave?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us