14th EU-India Summit: Mark of a new beginning

The only constant in the field of international relations is a changing world order – changing in terms of partnership, alliances and power equations – it acts as a defining feature of the world structure and relations of that time period. So how does the European Union’s (EU) relation with India play in this larger construct of world politics? How has it transformed over time? Where will it lead? Is this a sign of a shift in power from a US-dominated world order to one where true multilateralism reigns?

A glance across relations that the European Union has shared with India shows how, while formal contact was established by 1962, the initial phase of the relationship was marked by a sense of ignorance and lack of interest by both the European Union and India. However, inevitably with the growing trade and economic relations the ties strengthened – as can be seen in the 2004 declaration of the European Parliament declaring India as one of the ten strategic partners for Europe. A rational and obvious choice considering the fact that it is the largest democracy in the world and has a rapidly growing economy. Even so, the truly landmark moment of the EU-India relation is the 14th EU-India Summit, which was held in New Delhi, India on 6th October 2017.

Why we point towards the 14th Summit is simply because of the level of maturity in terms of engagement by both parties. This summit showed a more aware and responsible outlook by both the European Union and India in dealing with matters concerning not only their bilateral relations, but also joint responses to international crises like that of migration, climate change and terrorism.

While the 14th Summit is the benchmark of the potential relations between the EU and India, it was the 13th Summit held in Brussels in 2016 that set the context. The 13th EU-India Summit endorsed the EU-India Agenda for Action 2020- a roadmap with practical actions for the following five years covering political, security, human rights, global issues – such as climate change – and the Sustainable Development Agenda-2030, sector policy cooperation, for example vis-à-vis energy, environment, ICT, research and innovation, and people-to-people contacts. Beyond the specified technicalities, the 2016 Summit essentially acted as the foundational work that set has set the much-required tone and direction for future collaborations.

The 13th and 14th EU-India Summits, in the long run, show the increased European attention to Asia and their perception of India as a key global player. In the short run, they have delineated certain areas of collaboration and partnership, on which joint decisions were taken during the summits.

While the 14th EU-India Summit resulted in a fifty-three point declaration, there are the three critical domains that are truly representative of the maturity of the relations between EU and India: Terrorism, the Middle East & Afghanistan and Climate Change. These points were again explicitly discussed, a month after the 14th Summit, when the European Parliament through its Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET Committee) invited the Indian Ambassador to the European Union and explained the success and expectations of the summit.

Starting with the theme of terrorism, it is not surprising that a key area of discussion was that of the scope of cooperation in countering radical terrorism- the fear and threat of which grips the entire world today. In the 14th EU-India Summit, taking a secular democratic view of terrorism, both parties reaffirmed that “terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group” which is a much needed perspective in dealing with terrorism. By taking a more contentious stance on terrorism beyond the binaries of religion and geopolitics, the EU and India have set forth a precedent.

A consequence of this was the formation of a joint commitment to expand cooperation between the relevant institutions on both sides, to, inter alia, share information, best practices, and to engage in capacity building activities. In the context of rising radicalism and the destruction it has caused both in the EU and India, a joint security mechanism is essential for safeguarding and preventing future attacks.

Therefore, the discussion of terrorism in the 14th Summit not only provides an alternative attitude towards dealing with terrorism but has also built infrastructure to counter it, creating a more prepared and resilient Europe and India when faced with the violence of terror outfits.

A striking feature of the 14th summit was the decision to cooperate on Afghanistan and Africa, and maintaining a united policy towards the peace building process in Middle East. As individual entities both the European Union and India have policies towards probably the most volatile and violent part of the world today – the Middle East and Afghanistan. This region has been the recipient of a multitude of aid and assistance from countries and organisations across the spectrum; what makes all the efforts futile and ineffective is the lack of a more united and systematic involvement. With a joint EU and India policy, not only can we anticipate better results but also a more positive response, it is a start towards a more cohesive and planned engagement in the Middle East.

Rather, with the new Trump administration in the US, there seems to be increased protectionism and domestic focus, and lack of involvement in all global theaters. In such a situation, this particular decision by the EU and India can fill the lacuna left by a withdrawn USA.

Another relevant dimension of the summit was the assurance of EU and India to their commitment to the Paris Agreement. Here again, in the context of the American withdrawal from the agreement, many fear it will derail the progress towards combating climate change at a global level. The world, therefore, needs more climate champions beyond the EU; with the joint efforts, India can achieve a sustainable economic development. The initiation of these efforts can be seen in the form of cooperation in the domains of green cooling, solar energy, energy storage, solar pumping, electric mobility and renewables. This is supplemented with partnerships for smart and sustainable urbanisation, where the priorities and objectives of the enhanced cooperation are laid out.

The process of this joint sustainable development program will be built on the new EU Consensus on Development and India’s “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” (“everyone together, everyone will develop”) policy initiative. A long-term investment in the EU-India Platform on Climate and Energy Cooperation and the bilateral Partnership on Sustainable Urbanisation will effectively cement the perception of the EU as a strategic partner in New Delhi, confirm the EU’s commitment to promoting sustainable development in India, and foster the inchoate role of partners as international climate leaders.

The 14th EU-India summit came at a very interesting and critical juncture in the relation between the two parties. For more than a decade now, the relation between EU and India has been fragmented, slow-moving and has lacked momentum. It has primarily revolved around set piece summits and conferences instead of working towards creating a dynamic link. A lot of the bilateral talk was centered only on the negotiations of the Free-Trade Agreement (FTA), which has been in the pipelines since 2005. In 2016-17 we see that, while the FTA still remains an important bilateral focus, it no more acts as a hurdle in talks on other relevant issues.

To nurture a more informed and involved stance on the global events and successfully negotiate the FTA, the ‘Track II diplomacy’ discussion among civil society composed of think tanks, academia, business and media, can be the ideal platform for deliberation and preparing constructive relation between EU and India, which was in a very nascent stage introduced in the Joint-Statement released after the 14th Summit. A more thorough and in depth formulation and set up of Track II Diplomacy would enable and nurture a more close knit relation which is crucial.

This transitional period in India in which it is restructuring its foreign policy under the leader of Prime Minister Modi, is the ideal opportunity for developing relations; the Indian scope of involvement in international issues of migration, maritime security, human rights and disaster management and preparedness is only set to increase in the foreseeable future. Of all viable entities, the EU-India alliance is that of substance and foreseeable growth.

The way we see it is, that the European Union and India have been brought together more by circumstances than by their free will. As for a demographically increasing and economically rising India, the European Union proves to be a stable and beneficial partner. And, for the European Union, with a dynamic geopolitics centered around Asia in context of a rapidly rising China, India proves to be a reliable partner.

Thus, an EU-India partnership based on mutual trust and dependence can act as a propeller of a stable and peaceful world. As mentioned by President Jean Claude Juncker, the EU and India are natural allies, in the sense that they provide a credible and sustained resolve in dealing with global security and developmental concerns; may it be in form of condemnation of North Korea for its Nuclear tests in September 2017, or assistance in the resolving the Syrian Crisis or providing aid to Rohingyas. As the world once again restructures itself for the nth time the scope for EU-India relations rises. This partnership can provide the much needed fresh and distinct perspective in response to global events. It would be the ideal representative of the vision of a multipolar world order, working towards a sustained, open and inclusive world order.

This piece was a joint effort between InPRA and GA  monitoring 

Varya Srivastava

Varya Srivastava

Intern at InPRA
Varya Srivastava is presently pursing her undergraduate degree in Political Science from University of Delhi. Her work with the United Services Institute, Global Youth India and SheSays has nurtured her interest in security studies, international relations, conflict analysis and feminism. As a part of her undergraduate research she is writing on the application Democratic Peace Theory as foreign policy tool and the conception of positive peace.
Varya Srivastava