India-EU Ties A New Beginning
In May this year, the India-EU summit was held in the first-ever EU+27 Leaders meeting format, where not just the European Commission and Council but also 27 European heads of state interacted with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually, signalling the importance Brussels attaches to the EU-India partnership, says former Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar
The 16th Summit of India and European Union (EU), which took place in Porto, Portugal, on May 8, 2021, marked a watershed moment in India’s foreign policy. This meeting was different from the earlier India-EU summits as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with leaders of all 27 Member States of the EU, 19 of whom spoke at this meet, in addition to conferring with presidents of the European Council and the European Commission. This is the first summit in the EU+27 format hosted by EU with India. In the past, EU has organised such interaction only with the United States. It was during the Portuguese presidency of the EU in 2000 that the first ever EU-India summit was held. That decision provided a significant impetus to bilateral ties. Fifteen summits later, the recent interaction provided a fresh direction and momentum to the bilateral partnership between India and EU. India and EU, with populations of 1.3 billion and 450 million respectively, are the largest democratic spaces in the world. They are natural allies and have a common interest in ensuring security, prosperity and sustainable development in a multi-polar world. EU is India’s largest trading partner, the second-largest destination for Indian exports and the largest investor in India. The potential of this partnership is enormous.
The Big Takeaways
The biggest takeaway of the summit was the decision to resume negotiations for a balanced, ambitious, comprehensive and mutually-beneficial trade agreement. It was also agreed to launch negotiations on a stand-alone investment protection agreement as well as a separate agreement on geographical indications. This should facilitate the negotiation process practicable as the earlier format was cumbersome. For the success of the ‘Make In India’ initiative and to make India a global manufacturing hub, it is essential that India actively engages with the world. For EU, too, it was imperative in the post-Brexit phase, to showcase its openness to the world. A 2020 study by the European Parliament has put the benefits of a trade deal for the EU with India at upto 8.5 billion Euros (USD 10.2 billion). Negotiations for a Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement were launched in 2006. Discussions came to a grinding halt in 2013 as positions of the two sides on market access issues in goods and services (for automobiles and alcoholic beverages from EU to India), and temporary movement of skilled professionals from India to EU, could not be reconciled. In July 2020, the two sides decided to set up a ministerial group to break this logjam. Union Commerce Minister of India Piyush Goyal and EU Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis met virtually in February 2021 and again in April 2021. The high-level dialogue has been mandated to ensure progress on market access issues and supervise negotiations.
Another major outcome of the summit was the launch of “a sustainable and comprehensive Connectivity Partnership, which is focussed on enhancing digital, energy, transport and people-to-people connectivity, and which would uphold international law, conform with international norms and affirm the shared values of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for international commitments.” The partnership will uphold principles of social, economic, fiscal, climate and environmental sustainability. This partnership envisages enhancing cooperation between India and EU through projects, including those with third-world countries and regions, notably in Africa, Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
Medical, multilateralism and other meeting points
Being deeply conscious that the hybrid meeting was taking place in the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, India and EU committed to work together to better prepare for and respond to global health emergencies. They agreed to cooperate on resilient medical supply chains, vaccines, Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) etc. On promoting multilateralism, which has received several shocks over the last few years, the two sides agreed to enhance coordination on global economic governance, notably in the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and G20. They decided to set up an India-EU Senior Officials’ Dialogue to deepen bilateral cooperation on WTO issues under the supervision of the High-Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment.
Decisions to enhance cooperation in areas of space, transport, digital transformation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Quantum and High Performance Computing, 5G, protection of personal data and privacy, e-governance solutions, people-to-people exchanges in education, research, science and technology, and professional activities in areas like information technology, environment, climate, healthcare, business and tourism were adopted by the leaders. On international affairs, both sides affirmed their commitment to a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific space, underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, democracy and rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This is in total conformity with India’s outlook on the Indo-Pacific as articulated by PM Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018. In view of the recent enunciation by EU of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, both sides agreed to strengthen their cooperation in this area. The EU appreciated India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, designed to promote international coordination and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
Both sides reiterated their resolve to strengthen cooperation on international security, including on non-proliferation and disarmament, countering terrorism, radicalisation, violent extremism and maritime security as well as on cyber and other threats through regular consultations. They reaffirmed their full support for an open, free, stable and secure cyberspace, strongly condemned terrorism and underlined that it was crucial that perpetrators of violence and terrorism are brought to justice. Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution were other significant challenges that the leaders committed themselves to confront. They stressed the importance of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, including strengthening climate change mitigation as well as adaptation and resilience to the impacts of climate change, providing means of implementation, including finance. Credit for the initiative to hold the summit in the EU+27 format goes to the Portuguese Presidency of the EU. Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa underlined his warm sentiments for India by simultaneously holding up his Portuguese passport and his Indian OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card in his two hands. Through the summit, India and EU decided to enhance their engagement to promote peace, security and prosperity in their own countries as well as the world. The summit can be seen as a fresh beginning that promises to take India and the EU to newer heights in the coming years.