With GDP growth at 8% and foreign investment up 40% to €6 billion, India is on the path to becoming a global economic heavyweight firing the imagination of business communities worldwide. The European Security Strategy document of 2003, called for building a strategic partnership with India on a par with other global powers such as the USA, Russia, Japan, China and Canada. Europe was late, but not too late to recognize India's potential that it is much more than just a big market.
The EU is India’s largest trading partner, a major provider of FDI, a purveyor of high technology and is also engaged in socio-economic cooperation. The elevation of the bilateral relationship to strategic partnership has opened new vistas of opportunity. Relations between the EU and India are now being held as a significant factor in shaping Europe’s plan to engage with Asia and to deal with issues of global importance.
Europeans want the EU to play a bigger international role but while the expectations of citizens remain high the Union's capabilities have only gradually improved. More than a decade after the CFSP was established at Maastricht, and despite playing a more assertive global and regional role, the EU continues to move forward at a slow pace in foreign and security policy. This prompted Indian leaders to describe the EU as a 'status quoist' power, in contrast to the US which is open to change, as it did with the nuclear deal.
Indian’s note that the EU has no policy on the issues they care most about. In cases where Brussels does have a unified foreign policy, New Delhi may not like it. It is not an easy task to assess the nature of the relationship for several reasons. The most important one is the unique composition of the EU, which is not a federation of states speaking with one single voice. Though negotiations on trade are done mostly with the European Commission when it comes to security issues, India prefers to focus on developing bilateral relations with key member states such as Great Britain, France and Germany.
During the last few years, the failure of the member states to approve the EU Constitution has thereby prevented a boost in its foreign and security policy with a fully fledged EU minister of foreign affairs. The fact that this coincided with the signing of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal has tilted India's focus in favour of the US.
Moreover, while the EU associates the concept of effective multilateralism with a strengthening of the UN, India tends to pursue a selective form of multilateralism in order to assert its national interest. Apart from this, on issues of international trade, non-proliferation, human rights, etc. both have different outlooks which inhibit the strengthening of a partnership.
Despite the differences all agree that the deepening of a strategic partnership between the two biggest democracies should support rather than undermine the international multilateral regime. The relations which at present are basically focused on trade and investment (though it is below its potential) need to be diversified and harnessed to include areas like the environment and climate change, energy, science and technology, space industry, information technology and telecommunications.
Shakti Prasad Srichandan is a senior PhD Scholar at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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