Script: DIPANKAR CHAKRABORTY, Senior Journalist
The first-ever meeting of Heads of 27 European Union member states and India was held in what has come to be known as ‘EU+27’ format Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated through video conferencing. The decision to resume trade talks after a gap of about eight years marks the beginning of a new chapter in further strengthening the ‘partnership’ between India and the EU countries.
The meeting took place in the backdrop of an unprecedented global health emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has taken a heavy toll on the lives and livelihoods of people across the world.
Prime Minister Modi was invited by European Council President Charles Michel. The meeting was held at the initiative of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Mr Modi thanked his Portuguese counterpart, António Costa, for his initiative and according ‘high priority to India during his country’s presidency of the EU Council.
Setting the tone for the negotiations, the Indian Prime Minister said India-EU ‘stronger partnership’ is essential for achieving peace and prosperity for their respective peoples. He also welcomed the resumption of negotiations for Trade and Investment Agreements, as well as the new Connectivity Partnership between India and the EU.
The discussions primarily veered around the issue of further strengthening of India – EU strategic partnership based on ‘shared commitments to democracy, fundamental freedoms, rule of law and multilateralism.’ The leaders exchanged views on the core subjects of foreign policy and security, Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and environment, trade, connectivity and technology.
Expectedly, the Covid-19 pandemic overshadowed the deliberations as leaders underlined the need for forging closer cooperation to effectively deal with it. The aftermath of the pandemic and economic recovery also came up. Prime Minister Modi appreciated the prompt humanitarian assistance provided by the EU and its member states to help India combat the second wave of Covid.
Both the Indian and the EU leadership made no secret of their intention to resume negotiations for balanced and comprehensive free trade agreements and their early conclusion. Accordingly, it was decided that negotiations on both Trade and Investment Agreements will be pursued on parallel tracks with the goal of achieving an early conclusion. Such a step, the leaders felt, would enable the two sides to realise the full potential of their economic partnership.
A decision to hold comprehensive dedicated dialogues on WTO issues, regulatory cooperation, market access, supply chain resilience has also been announced as a part of efforts to ‘deepen and diversify’ economic engagement between India and the EU.
An important outcome of the meeting has been the launch of an ambitious India-EU comprehensive ‘Connectivity Partnership’ with a focus on increasing digital, energy, transport and people-to-people connectivity.’ The Partnership, according to an Indian government note, is ‘based on the shared principles of social, economic, fiscal, climate and environmental sustainability, and respect for international law and commitments.’ The proposed partnership seeks to be catalytic for private and public financing for connectivity projects. It also seeks to foster new synergies for supporting connectivity initiatives in non-India-EU countries, including in the Indo-Pacific.
There has been unanimity among the two sides on their resolve to achieve the objectives of the “Paris Agreement” and efforts needed for mitigation, adaptation and resilience to the impacts of climate change. India appreciated the EU move to join the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure or CDRI.
The two sides have also decided to activate a Joint Task Force on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digital Investment Forum at the earliest to facilitate cooperation in the fields of 5G, AI, Quantum and High-Performance Computing.
At the 15th India-EU Summit held in July 2020, both sides had firmed up a 118 point India-EU Roadmap-2025.
The meeting of 27 EU Members states and India once again underscores the need to work within the framework of cooperation covering the whole gamut of economic and bilateral matters. It can be described as a fresh beginning that promises to take India and the EU to newer heights.