Search Asia Times

Advanced Search

South Asia

EU, India cement strategic ties
By K Gajendra Singh

BUCHAREST - India's global significance received a major boost from the European Union this week with the signing of a broad "strategic partnership" agreement, a deal that will substantially tighten economic and political ties between the two sides, including the promotion of stability on the Asian subcontinent, United Nations reforms, proliferation and, of course, the fight against terrorism.

In a joint press statement issued in The Hague on Monday after the fifth India-EU Summit between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the EU team led by European Council President and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, the two sides unequivocally condemned all forms of terrorism and outlined a five-point action plan to combat the scourge of terrorism and resolved to enhance collective action to fight the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

As part of the action plan, the two sides will seek to step up international efforts to combat terrorism, reduce the access of terrorists to financial and other economic resources, ensure effective systems of border control, address issues that create an environment conducive to terrorism, and explore ways to strengthen counter-terrorism dialogue by covering other security-related issues. "The fight against terrorism must be carried out in full respect of human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law," with both sides continuing to "support the work of the United Nations to ensure universal adherence to, and full implementation of, all UN Security Council [UNSC] resolutions", including the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, sponsored by India in the UN, the statement said.

India and the EU would also set up a mechanism for a dialogue on disarmament and non-proliferation to signal their new strategic partnership. The agreement says that disarmament and non-proliferation are articles of faith for both sides despite differences in approach. "India and EU are resolved to be partners in promoting global peace and security and remain committed to the goal of universal disarmament." The two sides call for effective control measures for dual-use goods - used for civilian and military purposes - which can play an important role in preventing proliferation.

Both sides observed that their commitment to democracy, pluralism and rule of law and to multilateralism in international relations was a factor for global stability and peace.

Meanwhile, the EU expressed its interest in the Indian unmanned lunar-exploration mission Chandrayan-1, as the two sides agreed to support and encourage cooperation between the Indian Space Research Organization and the European Space Agency. The 25-member body also welcomed "the positive evolution" of the relationship between India and Pakistan and said the grouping looked forward its consolidation through ongoing composite dialogue in an atmosphere free from the menace of terrorism and violence.

The signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement means that India will become a special EU partner alongside the United States, Canada, China and Russia. The EU is both the leading foreign investor in India and its biggest trading partner.

The European Commission issued a communication to the European Council on June 14 outlining a policy for developing the "India-EU strategic partnership". It recognized India's rapid metamorphosis into a regional and global leader, playing an increasingly important role on all fronts, and the exponential growth in the scope and intensity of its relationship with the EU, which necessitated a re-evaluation of the existing framework and the development of a partnership with a strategic edge.

Before leaving New Delhi for the summit, Manmohan described India and the EU as natural partners, and said, "In recognition of India's growing stature and influence, the European Union has proposed a strategic partnership with India. We warmly welcome the development." He added that Europe was an important political and strategic factor in the international sphere. Recently the EU's membership went up from 15 to 25, thus erasing the fault line that had divided the European continent for over a century.

The prime minister said the EU was emerging as a politically influential, economically powerful and demographical diverse regional entity in the world, and that "our partnership has evolved over the years from economic development and cooperation to broad-based engagement on a wide range of issues: globalization, terrorism, proliferation, energy and environment." He added that the EU "is an important source of technology and home to a large and influential Indian diaspora". During his stay at The Hague, Manmohan also had an interactive session with prominent chief executive officers of the EU business and industry sectors and senior representatives of Indian industry to identify opportunities for greater trade and investment in India.

A mutually beneficial relationship
Despite initial strident criticism by some European countries over India's nuclear tests in 1998, the EU now recognizes India's "impeccable record in non-proliferation". The upgradation of the EU-India relationship to a strategic partnership is indeed a milestone in the history of relations between the two sides.

While the EU's support would be helpful in India's quest to join the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member, for the EU India could prove to be a multilateralist ally in resisting what the EU perceives as US unilateralism.

The EU also received a firm commitment from India to participate in its multibillion-dollar Galileo navigation-satellite project, which is due to come online in 2008 as an alternative to the United States' Global Positioning System. China has put up 230 million euros (US$297.5 million) to join. India had discussed a possible sum of 300 million euros.

Meanwhile, the United Progressive Alliance government headed by Manmohan has announced that it will set up economic zones with advantageous taxes, tariffs and labor laws to encourage foreign investment. Manmohan, who was the architect of Indian reforms in the early 1990s and already has good rapport with the West, is expected to cut red tape further and scrap rules that restrict foreign investors to minority shareholdings in sectors such as civil aviation and financial services.

EU-India economic relations
India first established diplomatic relations with the EU in the early 1960s, when it was known as the European Economic Community. Progress in economic relations has been rapid. EU-India trade has grown from 4.4 billion euros in 1980 to 28.4 billion euros in 2003. Indian exports amounted to 14 billion euros (covering mainly textiles/clothing, agricultural products and chemicals) while exports to India amounted to 14.5 billion euros (covering mostly machinery and chemical products). Indian exports benefit from reduced tariffs under the Generalized System of Preferences. Trade with the EU represents almost a quarter of Indian's exports and imports, but it represents just 1.6% of total EU imports of goods and 0.8% of services imports. The EU invests 10 times as much in China and its trade with Beijing is five times as great as that with India.

The economic exchanges are covered by a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoU): Agreement on Trade and Textiles, 1986 (amended in 1991 and 1992); MoU on technical cooperation in electronics and new technology signed in 1990; Third Generation Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development, 1994; MoU on mutual market access in textiles, 1994; MoU for an EU-India economic cross-cultural program, 1996; Financing Agreement on Support to Health and Family Welfare Sector Development, 1997; and the Financing Agreement on Maritime Transport, 1999.

A science and technology agreement was signed in November 2001 that entered into force in October the following year. It was aimed at enhancing scientific cooperation with India and extending it beyond the more traditional subjects. The agreement covers sustainable development by themes; health, agriculture, natural resources management and includes a legal framework for the protection of intellectual property rights. The Customs Cooperation Agreement was signed on April 28, 2004. The scope of this agreement is cooperation between the parties with a view to simplifying customs procedures and developing trade facilitation actions in customs matters in accordance with international standards.

The EU and Asia
Together, the EU with its 25 member countries is an indispensable partner for economic prosperity and peace. The EU now has some 455 million people with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 10 trillion euros. It is in the EU's interest to cooperate with the large up and coming economies of Asia, more specifically China and India. The Asian region now produces 23% of the global GDP, and that share is rising. According to a report by Goldman Sachs, the dollar size of the Chinese economy would surpass that of the United Kingdom and Germany by 2007, while India would surpass France by 2020 and Germany by 2023.

To meet the suffocating US challenge, apart from ensuring that the EU remains a major economic player by making full use of its internal market and implementing social and economic reforms, it must develop a much more comprehensive dialogue with Asia than it has done so far. Europeans should see beyond a zero-sum choice between human rights and trade. Asia's development is good for Asia, good for the EU and good for the world. Relations between the EU and Asia must be a matter of give and take. Apart from international trade, Asia and Europe must work together, for example, in an effective and legitimate multilateral system, with a strong UN at its core.

It is indeed difficult to justify low Asian representation in the Security Council, when an EU with less than half the population of India is represented by two countries - France and the United Kingdom - and could even have three of its members in it if Germany is successful in its push for a permanent seat.

Also, Asia is an indispensable partner in the struggle against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. China's important role in the six-party talks over the Korean crisis is very important. China has also supported EU efforts to resolve peacefully US-Iran tensions over the latter's uranium-enrichment program, but unfortunately China's role in non-proliferation has also been questionable. Likewise, the campaign against terrorism cannot be fought successfully without cooperation between the EU and Asian countries.

Problems within
The EU itself is facing many problems in the wake of its continuing expansion. Many EU diplomats involved in formulating EU foreign policy say that trying to reach a consensus has become "a nightmare". Since the historic expansion of the EU five months ago - which brought in Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia - the new members are against other countries wishing to join: Slovenia against Croatia, Cyprus against Turkey and Hungary against Serbia. Formerly communist members that used to take orders from Moscow are unaccustomed to working in the give-and-take system of the EU. Meanwhile the UK, whose entry was long opposed by former French president General Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, still remains a kind of US Trojan horse.

The US also tried to play new members such as Poland against older EU members, calling the former the New Europe. The differences between the US and France and Germany and among EU member states came out in open during the illegal US invasion of Iraq last year. Many new EU members who joined with the US in the "coalition of the willing" are now not that willing. The occupation is a quagmire, and many now want to bring their troops back home. "It has always been difficult reaching consensus among the old 15 countries," said one EU diplomat, "but this time it is different."

When the EU expands further by adding Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey (Bulgaria and Romania are on course to join in 2007; Croatia will begin accession talks next year; and EU leaders are due to make a decision in December on whether to begin negotiations with Turkey), it will become even more difficult to reach agreement. Of course, the Christian nature of the EU and the tussle between the Christian right and the secular social-democrat parties became a running debate when the EU Commission recommended that Turkey be given a date for commencing negotiations to join the EU . The question of Turkey's admission into the EU remains a Gordian's knot to cut.

K Gajendra Singh served as Indian ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan from 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf War), Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies and editorial adviser with global geopolitics website Eurasia Research Center, USA. E-mail

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

Nov 10, 2004
Asia Times Online Community

Beijing boosts Delhi's bid for UN council seat (Oct 26, '04)

Waiting for the next tsunami (Oct 20, '04)


No material from Asia Times Online may be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright 2003, Asia Times Online, 4305 Far East Finance Centre, 16 Harcourt Rd, Central, Hong Kong