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So near yet so far: the EU and India

By Rupakjyoti Borah - posted Tuesday, 29 June 2010


Relations between the European Union(EU) and India date back to the early 1960s with India being one of the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with the then European Economic Community (EEC). However, it was the 1994 co-operation agreement between the EU and India which took the bilateral relations to a different level. This was preceded by the Joint Political Statement signed in 1993 which opened the way for annual ministerial meetings and a comprehensive political dialogue.

The Lisbon Summit in June 2000 marked the beginning of the India-EU Summits. A major landmark in the relations was the 2004 India-EU Summit in The Hague which endorsed the proposal to upgrade the India-EU relationship to the level of a “Strategic Partnership”.

In the initial years, the EU and India had differing viewpoints on their respective roles in the world. India, after independence, preferred to remain non-aligned, although its close ties with the erstwhile Soviet Union was not to the liking of many European nations. However, the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union accompanied by India's economic reforms initiated a gradual shift in the way the EU and India perceived and dealt with each other.


Areas of co-operation

The EU and India have common interests in many areas. In 2005, a Joint Action Plan (JAP) was launched at the Sixth EU-India Summit to implement the multi-dimensional EU-India Strategic Partnership. This committed the EU and India to strengthening dialogue and consultation mechanisms, deepening political dialogue and co-operation in areas such as pluralism and diversity; democracy and human rights; peace-building and post-conflict assistance; regional co-operation; nuclear non-proliferation; and the fight against terrorism and organised crime. The Joint Action Plan was revised at the Marseille Summit in 2008.

Other areas of co-operation include climate change and agriculture; sustainable development; research and technology; people-to-people contacts; and cultural exchanges.

Terrorism is a common area of concern for both the EU and India. The 2009 EU-India annual summit reaffirmed the need for co-operation for combating the scourge of international terrorism. The Joint Statement at the end of the summit announced measures for strengthening the UN Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), enhancing negotiations between Europol and the relevant Indian agencies and noted EU’s support for India’s membership of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The Indian economy is one of the fastest growing economies worldwide with a growth rate of between 8 and 10 per cent. The annual trade in goods between India and the EU for the year 2008 stood at €61 billion (1.9 per cent of EU’s total trade). The EU is India’s largest trading partner while India emerged as the EU’s 9th largest trading partner in 2008. In 2008, total Indian exports to the EU in the services sector stood at €7.94 billion and total Indian imports from the EU stood at €8.56 billion.

Areas of divergence

One of the problem areas in the relationship has been that Indian foreign policy has tended to traditionally concentrate on four large member states of the European Union, viz. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy. However, following the addition of more countries into the EU, especially the East European countries, India and Indian policy makers need to make an extra effort to build up linkages with the new member countries.

Recent years have seen many of the European countries get involved with security issues in the Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af-Pak) region. While India understands the concerns of many of the European nations who have contributed troops to the NATO-led ISAF(International Security and Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, there is a scepticism about the role that the EU can, and is willing to, play in the region.


With the US and the NATO forces already deciding on an exit strategy in Afghanistan, Indian officials are worried as to the grave implications it would have for security in the region, especially India’s security, particularly because the idea of reconciliation with the Taliban is a frightening prospect for India.

Besides these concerns, there are issues regarding India maintaining substantial tariff and non-tariff barriers on imports of goods from the EU.

India has also been upset by what it sees as European interference in India’s internal matters such as human rights issues, the Kashmir issue, child labour and the Gujarat riots. There is also a perceived tendency among some sections of Indian officialdom to look at the EU as a "has-been"; an organization way past its prime with an untenable welfare state.

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About the Author

Rupakjyoti Borah is a PhD candidate at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, India. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge, UK.

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