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Event Report: 5 December: Rebooting EU-India Relations

6 December 2018

Opening a panel discussion on EU-India Relations jointly hosted by the EU-Asia Centre and the European Policy Centre on 5 December, Giovanni Grevi, Head of Europe in the World Programme at the EPC, explained how the current volatile geopolitical environment has led India and the EU to reassess and strengthen their partnership. With the ink of the European Commission’s Communication on India still drying, this event was an excellent opportunity for both Parties to exchange views on the future of EU-India relations. 

Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific at the EEAS, provided a short overview of the current EU-India relationship and its future potential. The Commission’s India Communication, which served to document the wide array of existing EU-India cooperation platforms and mechanisms as well as to set new and higher ambitions, touches upon a wide field of areas of cooperation, including transport and energy connectivity; the countering of violent extremism; climate change; and regional security cooperation. Inia and the EU were not merely trade and investment partners – together, they form the world’s largest rules-based democratic space. The common values on which both societies are based should be expressed not only in their bilateral cooperation, but also externally in foreign policy undertakings (e.g. Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East). 

Gaitri Issar Kumar, Ambassador of India to the EU, commended the EU’s communication and said her government was content on the level of ambition. This was illustrated by the many concrete action points listed. Prime Minister Modi, speaking at the G20 in Argentina last week, expressly welcomed the communication. Unlike the previous communication, dating back over 10 years, the communication adopted in November considered India to be an equal partner to the EU. The EU and India were both bastions of democracy and multilateralism – and it was only natural that they take common positions on regional and global issues. India would support the EU in a number of proposals made relating to the WTO’s Appellate Body and broader WTO reform, which the EU will present to the WTO General Council on 12 December. The strengthened engagement of the European Investment Bank in India was to be welcomed as was the efforts by the EU Member States to better coordinate their policies towards India. 

Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, hoped that the communication would give a new impetus to the relationship but warned that the public and media would still view relations rather negatively if there was no free trade agreement. While the EU and India had many similar views they also needed to be candid about their differences eg on climate change, Myanmar and democracy promotion. There was considerable scope for greater cooperation on foreign and security policy, including Iran and China. There was a need for more experts on the EU in India and vice versa. More track 2 dialogues should be encouraged. There was also scope for EU member states to link up with Indian states.

Vidhya Sampath, Director for EU Affairs at Tata Consultancy Group, alluded to the success of her company (part of the Tata group employing 400,000 people) in Europe. Her company was a global leader in software codes. They had an impressive 19% growth rate in 2017 with Europe accounting for 25% of revenues. Recent EU legislation, such as the GDPR and PSD2 regulations, has been conducive to the growth of fintech companies operating in the EU. India and the EU must jointly press issues such as transparency in the financial sector and the free movement of data and talent to the top of their agenda.

Discussion

Asked about the impact of Brexit, Ambassador Kumar underlined that any new bilateral UK-India relationship cannot possibly be at the expense of the EU-India relationship. The Indian government did not have more information on Brexit than the EU did. She also mentioned that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) could only properly function when all of its members were on board – which is currently not the case. Gunnar Wiegand added that the Council, next week, is set to endorse the Communication. It was then time to move from dialogue to action.