22nd Mar 2018


Brussels and Delhi's shared interests in the Indian Ocean

  • The Indian Navy. The EU and India must first move from an intermittent towards strategic cooperation. (Photo: Michael Scalet)

Whether due to the wealth of its natural resources, the centrality of its sea lines of communication for trade, or its propensity for conflict and natural calamities, the Indian Ocean is critical for the future of Europe and India.

For too long, however, biased perceptions have hindered EU-India cooperation in this region, particularly in the Western Indian Ocean, which they share as an extended neighbourhood. New Delhi saw the EU as a strategic non-entity and thus irrelevant to security challenges beyond its borders.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Similarly, Europeans saw India to be hesitant or unable to take on a leadership role beyond South Asia, and unwilling to work in partnership with other nations.

Not surprisingly, while in practice Europeans and Indians are now both working towards similar objectives, including a rules-based order, cooperative multilateralism, and sustainable growth and stability in the Indian Ocean region, they have persistently failed to pursue these interests together.

Against the background of a more assertive and powerful China and a changing security architecture, the EU and India now face an opportunity to update mutual perceptions by aligning their initiatives, which are far more congruent and complementary than usually expected.

Gulf of Aden

To do so, the EU and India must first move from an intermittent towards strategic cooperation. Indian and European navies have operated side by side in the Gulf of Aden to counter piracy but such ad hoc coordination must now give way to cooperation across different domains, beyond just patrolling.

Indian and European naval forces must institutionalize their engagements, for example through a regular dialogue to share threat assessments in the Indian Ocean region, and also consider regularly holding a joint naval exercise between EU NAVFOR and the Indian Navy, which would be the first of its kind.

Second, Brussels and New Delhi should focus on leveraging their expertise in non-traditional security domains, for example by exchanging best practices, promoting joint exercises, and taking coordinated action on issues relating to Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).

This could include disaster mitigation and expatriate evacuation operations, as well as issues relating to the preemption of environmental degradation and monitoring migration. Given the risks of instability in the Gulf and the larger Middle East regions, including in Afghanistan, the EU and India should foster a close dialogue on preempting and managing refugee flows.

Third, on the hard security front, European and Indian defense agencies must study opportunities to jointly develop and transfer naval equipment. Congruent with the EU’s CRIMARIO project, an EU project on maritime security in the Indian Ocean, in recent years India has sanctioned radar systems, coast guard launches, and naval reconnaissance aircrafts to Mauritius, the Seychelles and other states in the region.

Besides delivering such assets separately, Delhi and Brussels should develop channels to coordinate efforts, for example through a regular security dialogue on the Indian Ocean region. To expand the capacity of small island states, they should also jointly train coast guard and naval personnel, and partner in the development of defence technologies that increase maritime domain awareness.

Fourth, the EU and India must cooperate to invest in infrastructure to connect the Indian Ocean region and strengthen links between Mozambique, Mauritius and Malaysia. The EU’s Blue Growth Initiative, which seeks to harness maritime wealth, corresponds with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for India to embrace a “Blue Revolution.”

With reference to the International Maritime Organization’s 2017 Maritime Day theme, “Connecting Ships, Ports and People,” the EU and India should develop a strategic plan that fosters regional integration across the Indian Ocean.

Rules-based order

Finally, European and Indian initiatives must leverage their shared normative commitment to strengthen the rules-based order. Reflecting their democratic nature, the EU and India have dedicated vast resources to institutionalize cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.

Striking a contrast with China’s approach, Brussels and New Delhi should emphasize the rule of international law for governing the Indian Ocean as a global commons, support the centrality of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to maritime conflict resolution, and engage in a dialogue on existing legal mechanisms to settle disputes peacefully.

At the institutional level, the Indian government should ensure that the EU becomes a partner member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and is involved in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), while the EU, in turn, could facilitate India’s engagement with the IOC and other initiatives on the East African littoral region.

Whether on the narrow naval security front or on the wider, multilateral, normative and economic fronts, Brussels and New Delhi must take further steps to actualize the potential for cooperation and joint action. Greater Indo-European convergence and engagement will help to ensure that the Indian Ocean region can attain sustainable growth and stability through a rules-based order.

Constantino Xavier is a fellow, and Darshana M. Baruah a research analyst at Carnegie India. This article is based on their co-authored policy brief “Brussels and Delhi: Converging Interests in the Indian Ocean”, in partnership with the Global Public Policy Institute, under the EU India Think Tanks Twinning Initiative.


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.

EU-India: reincarnation of a strategic partnership

Although the ultimate panacea of the long-stalled EU-India free trade agreement continues to remain elusive, Wednesday's summit in Brussels managed to relaunch the long-static strategic partnership.

'Denial' - is meat the new climate change?

The European Parliament's agriculture committee meets on Tuesday, with speculation that the EPP will vote against a report on the EU plant protein plan if it mentions switching away from animals to plant-based diets.

Column / Brussels Bytes

EU e-privacy proposal risks breaking 'Internet of Things'

EU policymakers need to clarify that the e-privacy should not apply to most Internet of Things devices. The current proposal require explicit user consent in all cases - which is not practical.

News in Brief

  1. EU to have 'immediate' trade talks with Trump
  2. Separatist activist renounces Catalonia leadership candidacy
  3. EU puts conditions on Bayer-Monsanto merger
  4. Hard Brexit would hit poorer Irish households hardest
  5. Finland hosts secretive North Korean talks
  6. EU to unveil 3% tax on digital giants
  7. German elected S&D leader in European Parliament
  8. Germany: nearly €350m child benefit goes abroad

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  2. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  3. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  4. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  5. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  6. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions
  7. EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints
  8. Five east European states prevent new CAP consensus

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections