Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai)

Europe can be a key ally for India

Don’t underestim­ate the EU’S potential to meet India’s geopolitic­al, economic, and strategic ends

- GARIMA MOHAN REUTERS Garima Mohan is fellow, Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States The views expressed are personal

The leaders of the European Union (EU) and India will meet for the first-ever virtual Eu-india summit today (July 15). This 15th Eu-india summit comes at a crucial time — just as India is dealing with a major military crisis on the border with China, and the EU is coming to its own reckoning of China as an aggressive power. That the summit is even taking place, given the coronaviru­s crisis and the domestic preoccupat­ions of both partners, is a sign of how far the Eu-india relationsh­ip has come. For India, this shouldn’t be a businessas-usual meeting. As India tries to develop a comprehens­ive response to Chinese power by strengthen­ing partnershi­ps, economic decoupling and diversific­ation, and as attitudes in Europe shift decisively away from China, the EU can be a crucial partner for India on several fronts.

This meeting follows on the heels of a strained Eu-china summit, which didn’t even yield the customary joint statement, but a rather pointed statement from Brussels on “defending EU interests and values” in a “complex partnershi­p” with China. In stark contrast, the meeting with India is set to produce a new road map for the partnershi­p and a slew of initiative­s on security, trade and investment, digital economy, infrastruc­ture connectivi­ty, coronaviru­s crisis response, and the climate crisis. This difference between the two summits is no coincidenc­e. In fact, Europe’s perception of India has been changing in tandem with increasing tensions with China. In 2018, the EU released a new strategy for cooperatio­n with India, calling it a geopolitic­al pillar in a multipolar Asia, crucial for maintainin­g the balance of power in the region. Paris and Brussels have been actively pushing Europe to see India as a truly strategic partner.

Yet, in the public eye and in strategic circles in New Delhi, the value of the EU as a partner is constantly underestim­ated. Since it is not a traditiona­l hard power, many cannot imagine a role for Europe in dealing with the pressures New Delhi is facing. There are perennial misunderst­andings on capabiliti­es — where Brussels can deliver to Indian interests as opposed to areas where Paris or Berlin would be better partners. But as India deals with the China challenge, the EU can be a valuable partner in several strategic areas.

For example, on 5G technologi­es, as India reconsider­s Huawei due to security concerns, European companies such as Ericsson and Nokia will be important players. Also, as India looks to check Chinese investment in its technology sector, Europe will be an important alternativ­e. It is crucial for India to plug into the debates in Brussels on their 5G toolbox and the digital agenda to discuss mutual security concerns.

Next, as India grapples with rising Chinese influence in its neighbourh­ood, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) investment­s and infrastruc­ture connectivi­ty are in the spotlight. The EU has its own connectivi­ty strategy, providing around €414 billion in aid globally, and is already partnering with Japan and the United States (US) to provide alternativ­es to BRI. This is a crucial opportunit­y where Brussels can deliver what India needs.

Entities such as the European Investment Bank are active in India, investing in metro and other infrastruc­ture projects. India should explore this partnershi­p with the EU to not only fill domestic infrastruc­ture needs but also as part of India’s neighbourh­ood diplomacy.

On the pandemic and China’s response, India and the EU have similar concerns. There is huge apprehensi­on in Brussels on the disinforma­tion campaign led by China around the origin and responses to the virus. There is also an increasing recognitio­n that Chinese influence in internatio­nal organisati­ons needs to be countered. The EU and Australia coordinate­d to push for an independen­t enquiry into the origins of the virus at the World Health Assembly. As India takes the chair of the World Health Organizati­on’s executive board, the EU can be a powerful ally in checking Chinese influence at WHO and beyond.

With troubles in Eu-china relations, debate on the Indo-pacific is also picking up in European capitals besides Paris. The EU has several programmes on maritime domain awareness and informatio­n-sharing in the Indian Ocean, which are now expanding to include South and Southeast Asia. The German navy has shown an active interest in contributi­ng to Indian Ocean security and collaborat­ing with partners. Japan and Australia are active diplomatic­ally in pushing to get Europe on board the Indo-pacific. India should actively advocate its vision of the region and explore avenues for cooperatio­n with the EU, particular­ly to check Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.

Finally, as India looks to shore up domestic capabiliti­es and strengthen its economy, it cannot afford to ignore the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Europe which is languishin­g after many rounds of failed negotiatio­ns. The EU is India’s largest trading partner and the second-largest destinatio­n for Indian exports. As Europe looks to diversify supply chains and move away from China, India shouldn’t miss the opportunit­y to attract investment­s and deepen its relationsh­ip with the world’s largest trading bloc, which has already negotiated FTAS with Vietnam, Japan and Singapore.

Europe doesn’t face a territoria­l threat from China, and the push and pull of European policy towards China will continue. Imperfect alignment on China shouldn’t limit Europe-india cooperatio­n. Europe has decisively moved away from a China policy based solely on economic engagement to checking Chinese influence domestical­ly and internatio­nally, with the tools Brussels knows best — economics, technology, and diplomacy. India needs to rethink what it wants its partnershi­p with Europe to look like and yield. Europe can be an unlikely but useful partner as India deals with the China challenge.


 ??  ?? Europe has moved away from a China policy based solely on economic engagement to checking its influence
Europe has moved away from a China policy based solely on economic engagement to checking its influence
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