In the view of several French researchers and political scientists, the Indo-European Union summit is singularly lacking in substance.
The EU, while being the world’s largest economic power and trading bloc, continues to remain a political dwarf
It remains a second-rung power because of its inability to enunciate coherent positions on important questions
Since major EU nations are in competition for markets and influence, India can skilfully play one against another
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in Marseilles, southern France, to attend the ninth edition of the Indo-European Union summit that takes place today. The EU will be represented by French President Nicolas Sarkozy (since France currently holds the rotating EU presidency), the head of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana, Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
The EU is not just India’s largest single trading partner; it is also the single largest source of foreign direct investment and a source of sophisticated technology. Bilateral trade grew by about 15 per cent in the last six years to cross €55.6 billion in 2007. The FDI from the EU averaged €2.2 billion in 2004-2005 but registered a jump in 2007, touching €10.9 billion. Indian investment in Europe too soared to reach €9.5 billion last year.
However, this summit, which, in the view of several French researchers and political scientists is singularly lacking in substance, is likely to be eclipsed by tomorrow’s bilateral talks where the future Indo-French nuclear relationship and the probable signing of a nuclear agreement will be at the heart of discussions.
At the heart of this lack of substance, they argue, is the fact that the EU, while being the world’s largest economic power and trading bloc, continues to remain a political dwarf, its aspirations to adopt a common and unified foreign and security policy repeatedly stymied by parts of the EU electorate which has rejected calls for a EU constitution or even the new simplified mini Lisbon treaty. At the leadership level too, the EU is rife with divisions and internal dissensions with major powers such as France, Germany and Britain and, to a lesser extent, Spain, Italy and smaller nations like Poland battling for influence and control within the organisation.
In a seminal lecture recently at the French Institute for International Relations, its Director Thierry de Montbrial described both India and the EU as second-rung powers — India because it continues to remain on the periphery, and the EU because of its inability to enunciate coherent and unified positions on questions of vital geo-political and security importance.
A new book, New Delhi and the World, published by the prestigious Centre for Research on International Relations (CERI) almost totally discounts India-EU relationship. While it examines India’s foreign relations in the economic and political spheres in some detail, devoting entire chapters to India’s ties with Washington and New Delhi’s Look East policy, the work, a collection of essays by French political scientists, makes little or no mention of India’s ties with Europe.
At a seminar in Paris to mark the release of the book on the eve of the summit, Jean-Luc Racine, Director of research at the EHESS (School of Higher Studies in the Social Sciences), drew an unfavourable comparison between India’s fast developing, dynamic relationship with the United States and its ties with the EU which, he feels, are marked by pious platitudes and little action. House divided
“The EU has tended to see India from the perspective of economic opportunities, as an emerging market rather than as a true strategic partner or global player. The Joint Action Plan of the India-EU Strategic Partnership is just a series of declarations but there is very little concrete action. The former Foreign Secretary, Lalit Mansingh, put it very bluntly once when he asked what the EU could place on the table for India. The answer is, of course, very little for, the EU is a house divided; on the question of a permanent U.N. Security Council seat for India as on the nuclear waiver. From New Delhi’s point of view, developing strong bilateral ties therefore becomes much more interesting,” Mr. Racine told The Hindu.
This sentiment is echoed by Christophe Jaffrelot, Director of CERI, who is the book’s editor and a noted researcher, writer and commentator on contemporary India. “The Indo-EU dialogue lacks anything substantial on questions of a diplomatic or geo-strategic character. One would have imagined that the Marseilles summit would have a chapter on Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan — subjects where both India and the EU have definite ideas and points of view. But that is not on the agenda. The meeting is likely to be very short and formal with discussions on the WTO, customs duties and other technical subjects. We are headed for yet another high-sounding declaration of laudable intentions but there will be little real content.”
A point of view not shared by officials from both the Indian side and the EU who say that India and the EU will have substantive discussions on the global situation including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the subcontinent, on climate change and energy, the current financial crisis, trade negotiations and the WTO. India and the EU will attempt to redefine the Joint Action Plan for a Strategic Partnership and take the Joint Free Trade Agreement, on which there has been little or no progress, further. President Sarkozy’s suggestion that India be invited to become a full-fledged member of the G-8, like Brazil or China, will also be discussed.
Jean-Joseph Boillot, writer, commentator, President of the Euro-India Economic and Business Group and former senior French government official, who does not share the optimistic official version, also ascribes the lack of any real progress between India and the EU to Europe’s own internal failures. The EU could also have proposed the inclusion of India at top-level discussions on global affairs, a goal enunciated in the Joint Action Plan for a Strategic Partnership adopted by the two — over Iran or in the Middle East peace process, for instance. “Europe fails to do so because the major players in the Union wish to retain their diplomatic margin of manoeuvre. Taking a joint EU position would mean handing over the initiative to the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and that would be unthinkable for several countries like France or Britain. The lack of foreign policy coherence within the EU arises [not only] out of institutional factors but also from conflicting national interests,” he told The Hindu.
The emphatic ‘no’ by France and the Netherlands to the EU’s Constitutional Treaty and the more recent rejection of the revised Lisbon treaty by the Irish have crippled the EU to the point of paralysis. “We were supposed to have a single President for the entire Union, a foreign minister, a range of EU Ambassadors — all that has been postponed sine die. Whatever was to have been in place by 1st January 2009 by way of institutions or instruments for the conduct of a common policy has now been placed on the back burner without any indication of when the process might move forward,” says Mr. Jaffrelot.
Both he and Mr. Racine agree that not many are saddened by this development, which essentially reflects a reluctance on the part of individual nation states to cede power to Brussels. “The French are pro-European only when they hold the presidency of the European Commission. When they lose that they stop being pro-European,” says Mr. Jaffrelot. A case in point is the extremely low level of trust between President Sarkozy and the EU Commission leaders. The French leader, who is keen on retaining his popularity with the domestic pro-subsidies farm lobby, is openly and virulently critical of the EU’s Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson whose ouster he has been trying to manoeuvre.
This state of affairs appears to suit New Delhi to a T. Since major EU nations are in competition for markets and influence, India can skilfully play one against another. On the question of professional visas for qualified Indians, New Delhi has tried to leverage France by citing Germany’s comparative generosity. Had the EU been in a position to adopt a common immigration policy, such pressure would not have worked.
At the same time, in the present context marked by division and dissension, the creation of a multipolar world — something both India and the EU aspire for — becomes a distant chimera. Seen from New Delhi’s perspective, it is wise to cultivate Brussels, given that the EU is India’s largest trading partner, a major source of direct foreign investment, and one of the poles in a multipolar world. But when it comes to key issues, it is just that much more fruitful to go knocking on individual doors such as London, Paris or Berlin.
7 months ago