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22 July Webinar: EU-India relations

22 July 2020

On 22 July, the EU-Asia Centre hosted a webinar on EU-India relations with Caroline Vinot (Head of Division for India, EEAS), Samir Saran (President of the Observer Research Foundation) and Shada Islam (Managing Director, Global Horizons Project and Senior Advisor, EU-Asia Centre). Fraser Cameron, Director of EU-Asia Centre, moderated the event.

Ms Vinot emphasized that the positive outcomes of the 15 July EU-India leaders summit were only a starting point for building closer cooperation in the future. The Roadmap 2025, the joint-declaration and the circular economy declaration all set the ambitions higher going into the future. The EU is also for the first time engaging in certain strategic areas such as nuclear cooperation through Euratom and security cooperation through Europol. Though there was no progress towards a FTA, the elevation of trade and investment discussions to higher level was a significant step forward in addressing the underlying differences. Both the EU and India tend to take their time, but progress is now steadily building up with personal contacts being established. Covid-19 had made building stability the priority for a while, but going forward EU and India now have solid ground to continue working at the highest levels on a shared agenda including digital connectivity and data adequacy as priorities.

Mr Saran found that the summit, while a positive step, should have been more explicit and visionary addressing the most pressing strategic concerns of managing a more assertive China. The EU and India should also articulate their vision for rebuilding the global supply chains post Covid-19 and whether they should partner together. On climate change, Modi has emphasized his ambition for a green transition, an area where the EU and the old world should be more forthcoming with investment. Nonetheless, the EU and India are now the closest they have been in the past two decades and there is huge potential to work together on the economic front addressing India’s huge needs in nation building. China is no longer considered a trustworthy partner in India and the EU should decide whether it will remain committed to strong normative values or hedge more toward politics of convenience to please its partners, such China. There is an urgent need to build a robust coalition of responsible, democratic, liberal and pluralistic actors in the absence of a responsible superpower in the new multipolar world.

Ms Islam agreed that there was now more mutual understanding between Europe and India as well as geopolitics at play that could see the relationship develop quickly after years of impasse. Cooperation in areas that had not been in the cards before, such as security and nuclear, were signs of a new impetus as well as elevation of the trade talks to higher level to address the serious obstacles. The focus at the summit on multilateralism and the role that the closer EU-India partnership can play at different forums such as WTO and WHO, was implicitly about about addressing China’s new global role. However, India is important to the EU on its own right, not only in relation to China. The EU is now also addressing Indian states, instead of only New Delhi. There was a need for a multilateral approach to deal with connectivity and show that China’s BRI is ‘not the only game in town’.

The panelists agreed that South Asia as region needs to become more integrated economically to advance connectivity and trade with the world The India-Pakistan relationship still impedes the neighborhood from becoming a stronger actor on the global stage. Mr Saran added that India also needs to improve its internal ‘free trade’ as well before the region can truly integrate. The intentions in New Delhi to improve the relations with Pakistan were still to be matched by actions.

See the recording of the webinar here.