India@75 is no longer an emerging power, but has emerged as a credible regional and global actor of consequence. It is a rising power to be reckoned with. More importantly because India often takes a principled approach on international issues which is driven by strategic autonomy and her own enlightened national interest. Her global interventions and discourse are counted, be it the quest for International Yoga Day endorsed by unprecedented membership of the UN or push against Climate Change through International Solar Alliance (ISA) or for that matter Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), which is so much needed to protect the world and recede the disaster waiting to happen.
India has taken the lead in confronting the global challenges through the philosophy and policy of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’, dialogue and diplomacy for achieving peace and resolution of conflicts, and respect and adherence to UN Charter emphasizing the need for sovereignty and territorial integrity. This has been the consistent position even during the Russia-Ukraine crisis, where India being a non-permanent member at the UNSC, abstained a record 11 times.
World has been facing huge challenges from Covid pandemic to unnecessary wars and conflicts, especially when global economy has taken a terrible hit. Even the most developed countries have failed to grasp the intensity of the pandemic and their cumulative inadequacies to deal with it. But while the developed world was resorting to protectionism especially for medicines and vaccines, India not only catered to her own requirements by developing her own vaccines, but also created manufacturing facilities for other international players and emerged as a ‘Sanjeevani’ provider to the world. Her vaccine diplomacy became a gold standard for a mostly selfish world.
This has not been lost on the European partners, who do recognize India’s potential both strategic and economic. Hence their quest to woo India in a more realistic and not prescriptive manner, continues apace. They do realize India can’t be dictated or bossed around. She has a sane voice and solid following. No doubt the West have their own geo political ends, and they would like India to be in their camp or at least not in the opposing camp.
It was clearly evident during the recent spate of high-level visits and interactions by European leaders with their Indian counterparts. They may not have been satisfied with India’s stance on Russia-Ukraine war overtly because of their own myopic approaches and geo strategic compulsions, but they surely began to appreciate New Delhi’s logic for Peace and Diplomacy, and which is not entirely driven by her interests embedded with Russia. Also appreciated was the multilateralism and a multipolar world that India prefers and strives for.
Clearly from British PM Boris Johnson to German Chancellor Scholz to Nordic leaders, India became the flavour. At the 7th Raisina Dialogue, EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen was the Chief Guest with several European Ministers and others participating. Bilaterally they all seek India out for greater collaboration. The recent launch of the India-EU Trade and Technology Council will foster high level coordination on strategic aspects of trade, technology and security. The restart of negotiations on India-EU Agreements on Trade, Investment and Geographical Indicators are the key determinants for a mutually beneficial and burgeoning partnership.
It is in this backdrop that not only PM Modi had Summits with his QUAD counterparts, virtual or otherwise, but also undertook a whirlwind tour to Germany, Denmark and France, meeting eight European leaders including five from Nordic countries in just three days, conveying India’s principled position on the conflict and condemnation of the European humanitarian catastrophe caused by the Russia-Ukraine War. He also discussed the way forward for immediate cessation of hostilities and achieve peace through immediate dialogue.
India’s principled stand has made her into an honest interlocutor, as Russian Foreign Minister while visiting Delhi indicated. PM Modi also spoke to President Putin and President Zelensky several times among others. Even with French President Emmanuel Macron both agreed to work out a roadmap for peace. Sanity in international discourse is a supreme virtue often stunted by myopic geopolitics. India thus became the flavour in the last two months for dozens of European leaders and foreign ministers.
Although India’s bilateral relations with European countries moved in a graded manner with different countries, it was in 1962 that India established diplomatic relations with the European Economic Community, followed by Cooperation Agreement and Joint Political statements that have led to a multitiered, institutional and collaborative matrix across the relationship spectrum beyond trade and investment.
In 2018, at the 14th India EU Summit, the EU announced a vision to strengthen cooperation and partnership with India. At the 15th Summit, an India-EU Strategic Partnership Roadmap for 2025 was agreed upon. The Agreement on S&T Cooperation was extended for a further period of 5 years and the two sides issued a Joint Declaration on Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy.
The Summit also decided to establish a High-Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment at the level of Indian Commerce and Industry Minister and EU Commissioner for Trade.
The important outcomes of the meeting include resumption of negotiations for balanced and comprehensive free trade and investment agreements and also an agreement on Geographical Indications; announcement of dedicated dialogues on WTO issues, regulatory cooperation, market access issues and supply chain resilience; launching of an ambitious and comprehensive ‘Connectivity Partnership’; enhancing bilateral cooperation on digital and emerging technologies such as 5G, AI, Quantum and High-Performance Computing.
They also jointly began to work through the International Solar Alliance (ISA) to combat global warming through renewable energy.
According to ministry of External Affairs, the EU is India’s largest trading partner for goods with trade of Euro 88.1 billion in 2021 (increase of 35% over 2020) and services trade of around Euro 35 billion in 2020 (Source: Eurostat). The EU’s share in foreign investment inflows to India more than doubled from 8% to 18% in the last decade making the EU, India’s largest source of FDI.
During April 2000 to September 2020, FDI inflows from the EU to India totalled USD 86.82 billion (Source: DPIIT). Indian investments in the EU are estimated at around Euro 50 billion. India and EU have also established an Investment Facilitation Mechanism (IFM) in 2017 under which a single window entry point for EU companies proposing to invest in India has been created. During the visit of EU Commission President, who was also the Chief Guest at the Raisina Dialogue in April, wide ranging discussions were held with PM Modi and other leaders.
During the visit of UK PM Boris Johnson, several MoU’s were signed in the Innovation, Nuclear energy Partnership and Offshore Wind Development areas. With Denmark, India has established a Green Energy Strategic Partnership and during PM Modi’s visit the joint statement underscored this and several other dimensions. The two sides agreed to work towards an enhanced strategic perspective for a Comprehensive Green Strategic Partnership, once the existing Joint Action Plan ends in 2026.
The two Prime Ministers welcomed the Letter of Intent on the establishment of a Centre of Excellence on Green Shipping, which will further strengthen the bilateral maritime cooperation. The two leaders also agreed to expand the cooperation on agriculture by a Joint Declaration of Intent establishing among others a Centre of Excellence on Dairy.
The two Prime Ministers welcomed the decision for a joint call for research and development projects in the area of green Hydrogen and green fuels. They noted the targeted areas of the joint call for action particularly with regard to green Hydrogen and other green fuels for transport and industry, where there are no cost-effective alternatives to fossil energy, the joint statement added.
There are newer areas of collaboration which have emerged. EU has come up with a connectivity and infrastructure project called ‘Global Gateway’, occasionally considered as a viable substitute to Chinese BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). India has begun to partake in some of its ventures which will also enable her in creating viable regional and global value and supply chains in sun rise sectors which will mostly be driven by AI and technology. Likewise in India’s Hydrogen Mission some of these countries could be credible partners. Recently during PM Modi’s visit to Germany a special Task force was set up to follow up on this project.
EU and several European countries including Germany, France and Netherlands and UK have declared their Indo-Pacific Strategy in which they look at India as a key strategic partner to counter hegemonistic and aggressive behaviour of China while ensuring the freedom of navigation and rule of law in the maritime domain.
France has emerged as a major strategic partner for India over the years and is often referred to as another Russia for India due to the mutual trust and support and personal bonhomie between President Macron and PM Modi. PM Modi was the first foreign leader to have visited Macron when he was elected first time and again this time he felicitated him in person on his re-election.
The joint statement issued after the whirlwind tour clearly sums up the crux of this vital relationship saying that India and France have been strategic partners since 1998. The strategic partnership is anchored on the solid bedrock of deep and consistent mutual trust, abiding faith in strategic autonomy, unwavering commitment to international law; and belief in a multipolar world shaped by reformed and effective multilateralism.
Both are committed to the shared values of democracy, fundamental freedoms, rule of law and respect for human rights. In a post-pandemic word, facing global geopolitical challenges, India and France reaffirmed their commitment to prepare for the future together by further deepening their cooperation, expanding it in new domains to meet emerging challenges and broadening their international partnership.
India holds on her own as it launched the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign with a global context inviting more and more countries from Europe as well to “Make in India’ for the world. It has been seeking collaborative partnerships with European countries in trade, investment and technology while trying to work on mobility for her professionals across the continent.
India is attractive if judged in a dispassionate manner. It is the largest democracy with a mind of her own. Its youthful demographic dividend is second and might cross China’s rather soon. It is the fastest growing economy with a huge market and purchasing power of its teeming billion plus people. It is an IT power and robust knowledge economy. It is a restrained nuclear power and an expanding space giant. It follows collaboration and 1+1=11 approaches in her international discourse. It is a trusted partner who is willing to work in multi-alignment matrix but abhors politico strategic alliance with a cold War mindset. Hence, even if shrouded in mystery, it shines a light of hope for the world.
For the EU and other European countries even the logic of geo-economics holds good as India working for the global goods and commons, develops her dependable regional and global value and supply chains. No relationship is without some irritants, but the fact that with adequate institutional mechanisms having been created and presence of mutual synergy and complementarity, one can safely see the trajectory of the India and Europe relationship moving into a much higher orbit.
This article was first published in Chanakya Forum as India on the European Horizon on 17 May 2022.
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About the Author
Anil Trigunayat, former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Distinguished Fellow and Head of the West Asia Experts Group at the Vivekananda International Foundation