India and the European Union (EU) share a rich history of interactions and trade, forming the bedrock for potential collaboration and mutual growth. Over the years, both India and the EU have recognized the immense opportunities that lie in forging a closer alliance, characterized by shared values and common objectives.
The significance of India and the EU cannot be magnified in today’s globalized world. India, with its burgeoning economy, vast population, and strategic geographical location, has emerged as a key player in international affairs, while the EU stands as a citadel of regional integration and economic might. The EU, with its 27 member countries and a combined GDP that rivals the United States and China, represents a formidable force in global trade and geopolitics.
As of 2022, the trade of both economies stood at $ 120 billion, making EU, the second largest trading partner of India, only after the United States. Certain challenges do exist. However, there is an optimistic outlook for strengthening bilateral ties and building a robust partnership.
The historical context of India-EU relations is rooted in the colonial legacy and the enduring impact of European powers’ influence on the Indian subcontinent. For almost two centuries, India was under British rule, resulting in deep impacton its socio-economic fabric. The exploitation of resources and suppression of indigenous industries during the colonial era created enduring economic disparities between India and Europe, significantly altering India’s trade relations with the world
After independence, India pursued a mixed economy model, emphasizing self-sufficiency and industrialization, while European countries, particularly those in Western Europe, pursued regional integration and cooperation through the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC) and later the European Union (EU). This divergent economic development path has shaped their perspectives on trade, investment, and economic cooperation.
Furthermore, during the Cold War, India’s adoption of a Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) policy and European countries’ Atlanticist (belief in or support for a close relationship between western Europe and the US, or particularly for NATO) approach, being aligned with the United States through NATO, influenced their diplomatic and strategic cooperation. Although both India and the EU have made efforts to forge closer ties over the years, there are certain challenges that need addressing for these regions to form strong mutual ties.
Geopolitical and strategic considerations play a pivotal role in shaping the dynamics of India-EU relations. India’s historical non-alignment policy, contrasting with the EU’s Atlanticist approach and alignment with NATO, has often limited its scope for deeper security cooperation. Moreover, divergent interests in the Indo-Pacific region, where India perceives it as its strategic backyard while the EU emphasizes economic interests and stability, can lead to further complexities in its strategic outlook.
Furthermore, Various systemic challenges hinder the full realization of their economic cooperation. Various trade barriers like protectionist policies, disagreements over intellectual property rights, the differences in regulatory frameworks and standards etc. have created tensions and barriers to market access.. This has affected the trade between economies.
Another key factor that diverges the regions is human rights and democratic values. The EU places a significant emphasis on human rights promotion and democratic principles as fundamental pillars of its foreign policy. It closely monitors and raises concerns about human rights issues in various countries, including India. The EU has expressed reservations about India’s human rights record, particularly regarding issues such as freedom of expression, religious freedom, and the treatment of minorities.
On the other hand, India values its democratic credentials and takes pride in being the world’s largest democracy. It sees democratic values as integral to its identity and governance structure. India also upholds the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs and regards human rights matters as a sovereign issue. Consequently, it sees external scrutiny of its domestic policies as interference, leading to divergent perspectives, disagreements and tensions between India and the EU.
Last but not least, the role of China and Russia also becomes important in understanding the EU-India relationship. While China is a significant trade partner of the EU, and the regions have direct land connectivity, increasing their stakes in a strong relationship. On the other hand, India has its own security concerns with China, making it difficult for India -the EU to be on the same page while dealing with China.
With regard to Russia, it is a major security concern for Europe, and an arch-rival of the United States, while the nation is an old strategic ally of India and an important partner in securing its energy security.
Convergence in Relationship
Security cooperation is a crucial aspect of India-EU relations, with both entities facing various security challenges in their respective regions. India’s strategic location in South Asia and its complex neighbourhood, including security concerns related to terrorism and regional conflicts, necessitate closer cooperation with international partners like the EU. Similarly, the EU’s engagement in addressing security issues within Europe and its neighbourhood, such as migration, terrorism, and hybrid threats, underscores the importance of collaborating with countries like India to address global security challenges.
Efforts to enhance security cooperation between India and the EU encompass multiple dimensions. Counterterrorism cooperation is a key area where both sides seek to share intelligence, best practices, and capacity-building measures to combat the growing threat of terrorism. Addressing transnational organized crime, cybersecurity threats, and maritime security are also part of their shared security agenda.
Further, both regions have very good economic ties, both believe in the values of democracy and liberalism and we often find them on the same side of the debate on environmental issues.
Despite various challenges, the prospects for future cooperation between India and the EU are promising.
One of the key drivers of future cooperation lies in identifying common interests and shared values. As democracies committed to upholding human rights, pluralism, and the rule of law, India and the EU can work together to promote these principles on the global stage.
Economic collaboration also holds immense potential for growth and mutual benefit. By addressing trade and economic issues, such as trade barriers and protectionist policies, both sides can unlock new opportunities for investment and market access. Exploring sectors like technology, renewable energy, and infrastructure can create a conducive environment for trade and cooperation.
Security cooperation offers another avenue for strengthening their partnership. By jointly addressing counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and transnational crime, India and the EU can enhance their resilience against common threats. Dialogue and information-sharing mechanisms can foster trust and enable more effective collaboration in this domain.
Further, cultural exchanges, academic partnerships, and people-to-people ties can also contribute to closer cooperation between India and the EU. By fostering greater understanding and appreciation of each other’s cultures, societies, and traditions, they can build bridges and facilitate a deeper connection between their citizens.
While historical legacies and geopolitical considerations might continue to present challenges, the commitment to constructive engagement and dialogue is essential for overcoming these obstacles. As global power dynamics evolve, India and the EU can find common ground in addressing regional and global challenges together. By leveraging their respective strengths and working in a spirit of partnership, India and the EU have the prospect to generate a more comprehensive and strategic relationship in the future, aiding not only their citizens but also contributing to global peace, stability, and prosperity.