As a consequence of the COVID19 pandemic, the 15th India-EU Summit took place in virtual format. Emphasizing their shared values and endorsement of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for human rights, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to effective multilateralism and a rules based multilateral order centring the UN and the WTO. The Summit was not only an opportunity to review the relations but in the backdrop of the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic, it adopted the “EU-India Strategic Partnership: A Roadmap to 2025” that sets out a trajectory to further build the relations. Thus, expanding the scope of joint action, the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and the EU Council President Mr. Charles Michel and the Commission President Ms. Ursula von der Leyen have agreed upon how to operationalise this new roadmap of strategic partnership that is responsive to the current challenges.
Both sides emphasised global cooperation and solidarity to address the public health issues and also stressed that the COVID19 vaccine be treated as a global common good. The EU is India’s largest trading partner and in the current geopolitical climate that shows the need to enhance cooperation against a rising China. The two sides agreed to have talks to address trade impediments and set up a new high-level trade dialogue. Thy reaffirmed commitment to keep the global trading system open. However, the Summit also sought to redefine the scope and depth of engagement between New Delhi and Brussels beyond trade. The other focus areas are environment and climate change, open and fair trade, foreign and security policy, digitalisation, human rights, sustainable modernisation and research and innovation.
The big shift is the expansion of political engagement between India and the EU. Brussels welcomed India’s G20 presidency in 2022 and its membership in the UN Security Council in 2021-22, both of which are signs of New Delhi’s growing capacity at political leadership. A big push was given to enhancing the scope of political cooperation on foreign and security policy by agreeing to “Strengthen cooperation and work towards tangible outcomes on shared objectives of non-proliferation and disarmament, maritime security, counterterrorism (including counter-radicalisation, anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing and cybersecurity”.
India and EU agreed to cooperate on international and regional issues such as Iran and Afghanistan. Amongst the list of agreed objectives in the Roadmap 2025 is expanding the range of consultations on various dimensions of foreign and security policy, strengthen the military to military contact and exchange, and establish regular consultation on security issues. A growing field of collaboration is to launch a maritime security dialogue that goes beyond addressing counter-piracy issues.
As the Indo-Pacific Ocean grows in strategic significance globally, this is a very positive development between New Delhi and Brussels and both “underlined the need to preserve safety and stability in the Indian Ocean”. Clearly, both sides see great value addition in expanding this push for institutional engagement and consolidation which is a sign of maturing in the political relations.
In addition to this, the two sides emphasised the need to have a “rules-based approach to connectivity to ensure that projects are environmentally, socially and fiscally sustainable and provide a level playing field for businesses”. The India-EU partnership can play a key role in economic reconstruction and building a human-centric globalisation in the post-Covid-19 world, Prime Minister Modi said in his opening remarks. This is important in light of the implementation of the Joint Declaration on Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility (CAMM) between both sides. It was also agreed to resume the human rights dialogue and enhance civil society engagements and exchange.
In addition, both sides also concluded a civil nuclear cooperation and adopted a joint declaration on Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy. While the COVID19 epidemic prevented a physical meeting in March this year, in hindsight, a lot more areas of bilateral cooperation were identified due to its consequences. The new Roadmap 2025 is indicative of the political commitment on both sides to enhance the strategic output of this partnership between India and the EU.
Script: Prof. Ummu Salma Bava,Jean Monnet Chair, Centre For European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University