EU-India Meet : It’s Time to Revive the Strategic Partnership

The EU-India Summit should be utilised to tap potential on bilateral trade, writes Ashok Sajjanhar

4 min read
 EU-India Meet : It’s Time to Revive the Strategic
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Brussels for India-EU Summit must be welcomed as it takes place after four years. The long hiatus is indicative of a disarray in bilateral ties in recent times.

India-EU Strategic Partnership was established in 2004, four years after the decision to hold annual summits in 2000. There was considerable enthusiasm when this visionary document was concluded. It was followed by a Joint Action Plan in 2005 and launching of negotiations for the India-EU Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) in 2007. India had then set an ambitious target of two years to complete negotiations. No one had visualised that talks would drag on for nine long years with no end in sight.


India’s Bilateral Ties with the EU

Europe has witnessed shocking events over the last few months regarding refugee influx from Syria-Iraq and terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 Nov, 2015 and most recently in Brussels on 22 March, 2016. These have shaken Europe to the core. India has been afflicted for several decades with the scourge of terrorism emanating from its western neighbour. Europe and USA have not accorded it necessary seriousness.

Modi’s visit to Brussels is expected to impart fresh impetus to BTIA negotiations as also to relations in political, strategic and developmental areas.

Strategic Partnership has failed to realise the very promise that was initially visualised. It has continued to lose momentum over last several years particularly since 2009. EU was plagued by international financial crisis followed by Eurozone debt crisis in several member-states. Other  developments like “Arab Spring’’, conflict in Ukraine, rise of the Islamic State (IS), terrorist attacks and refugee influx induced paralysis in its decision-making.

India was riddled with scams like 2G, CWG, Coalgate, inability of government to take decisions or fresh initiatives, rapid decline in economic growth to sub 5% levels in 2013 etc. This was responsible for lack of focus on bilateral engagement with EU during UPA II rule.

Contrary to expectations, relations did not witness revival after NDA government came to power. Modi met EU leaders on sidelines of G20 Summits in Brisbane and Antalya in 2014 and 2015 respectively.


Bringing Back Lost Sheen

  • India-EU ties have continued to lose momentum particularly since 2009, a phase marked by the Eurozone crisis and Arab spring.
  • Contrary to expectations, relations did not witness a revival even after NDA government came to power.
  • Negotiations on bilateral trade agreement have been at a standstill since 2013 and has suffered due to IPR-related issues.
  • To provide heft to bilateral engagement, collaboration in strategic will need to be enhanced.

Bilateral Trade

Modi’s proposed visit to Brussels in April 2015 did not materialise on account of the reported objections by Federica Mogherini, EU Foreign and Security Policy Chief. Mogherini was the foreign minister of Italy before moving to Brussels and was against receiving Modi because of the ongoing case against two Italian marines, accused of killing two Indian fishermen in 2012.

Bilateral free trade pact will be a significant item of discussions during the visit. Negotiations on BTIA which have been at a standstill since 2013 were to resume in August last year but were called off by India at last minute due to unjustified ban by EU on sale of around 700 pharma products for alleged manipulation of clinical trials by Indian company. India protested because most of these drugs have been in market for many years ‘without any adverse report from any member state’.

EU28 is India’s largest trading partner. Total bilateral trade during 2014 was 95.51 billion euros. India’s exports were 48.21 billion euros and imports were worth 47.33 billion euros. Share of India’s trade with EU in EU’s total trade has been consistently declining since 1996-97.

EU is one of India’s largest sources of FDI with inflows valued at 5 billion euros in 2014.

After 16 rounds of talks, negotiations on BTIA are currently stranded in disputes over EU demands to raise equity cap on FDI in India’s insurance sector, reducing tariffs on imports of automobiles and auto-components, lowering barriers on imports of wines and spirits, protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) etc.

India seeks greater access for its services sector. It is concerned that EU demand for stricter implementation of IPR rules might affect its generic pharma industry. India is concerned about a recent move by UK to hike visa fees for skilled professionals.

India’s demand for granting “data secure status’’ by EU needs to be resolved amicably.

A woman carrying her baby in Athens participates in a protest against a migration agreement between the European Union and Turkey that is due to take full effect Monday. (Photo: AP)

Hopes of a Renewed Dynamism

Recently India has undertaken reforms in insurance, banking, defence, railways, telecom, single and multi-brand retail sectors. India has launched significant initiatives like Make in India, Digital India, Skill India etc. All this would be of considerable interest to EU.

After the signature of Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement on 5 Feb, 2016, it is imperative for India and EU to conclude negotiations on BTIA expeditiously.

A significant reason for terrorist sleeper cells in Europe is disaffection amongst the migrant population and their failure to integrate with the local population. India has centuries-old experience in peaceful co-existence of diverse thoughts, ideas and ideologies which Europe could benefit from.

To provide heft to bilateral engagement, collaboration in strategic areas like counter-terrorism, science and technology, climate change, education, green technology, clean energy, innovation, Afghanistan etc. will need to be enhanced.

Summit is expected to imbue India-EU ties with renewed dynamism.

(Ashok Sajjanhar is a former Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia.)

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