The United States is preparing itself for a visit of India’s Prime Minister Modi, who already during the election campaign described Washington as India’s “natural ally”. When an American President met with Indian prime minister for the first time – Harry Truman and Jawaharlal Nehru – in 1949, there were basically only two issues on the agenda – China and Kashmir. Almost 60 years later, another American President will now try to persuade India’s Prime Minister to become more involved in international affairs and engaged with the international community. What a change!
The one-billion country has made a tremendous progress since 1949 and it is therefore no wonder that the European Union has chosen India to be one of its ten strategic partners worldwide. India’s potential and its aspirations to be a global power and become the world’s third biggest economy by 2025 should not be underestimated. Unfortunately, at least for the EU’s part, the strategic partnership between Brussels and New Delhi has been underperforming.
A good example of this would be that fact that EU-India free trade negotiations have already been going on for seven years and with 12 rounds having been held so far. The conclusion of the talks is still elusive. Despite the fact that India’s new Prime Minister Modi is a very pragmatic and pro-business-oriented leader, unlike Washington, Brussels has not yet grasped the opportunity to seize the positive momentum triggered by India’s new leadership. Trade is certainly not the only area in which the EU should try to foster relations with its 10th largest trading partner. Though scientific cooperation and research have been prominent components of the mutual relations but, much like in trade, the real potential has been so far untapped.
The new leadership that is taking over the helm of the European Union in a few weeks should certainly put priority on establishing a close collaborative relationship with Prime Minister Modi, despite the fact that the block is currently faced with disastrous developments in its Eastern neighbourhood. It is very important that the new EU team will reach out to India at an early stage in order to strengthen atmosphere of trust and cooperation between the two.
The EU should not ignore economic dynamism in emerging countries that are further away than Ukraine because the former can potentially compensate for EU’s deteriorating relations with Moscow. It is through careful strengthening of EU’s positions in prospective emerging countries that Brussels will be able to revive future prospects to its export-led growth. While growth has recently slowed down throughout the emerging world, political and business relations should certainly be developed now to be used later once growth in emerging countries resumes.
Although business should not be seen as the only important element in EU-India relations, finalizing the free trade agreement could be an important driver for developments in other areas as well. Bilateral dialogue and cooperation are necessarily in relation to other issues as well, such as energy, climate, human rights, maritime security, counter piracy, or peace and conflict resolution. All in all, the new European Commission should establish contact with the new Indian administration as soon as possible so that Europe does not miss the opportunity to help Washington encourage India to become a reliable, responsible, and assertive global democratic player. Therefore, the EU should enhance its political cooperation with India including foreign policy, security, and human rights on the top of its economic partnership. The new Commission should moreover focus on building cultural and education mobility and exchanges to foster people-to-people contacts and mutual understanding through various high-level meetings. All of this should be kept in mind even if the new leadership in Brussels and New Delhi will likely not manage to organize the 13th EU-India Summit before the end of this year.