India-EU Strategic Partnership Challenges and Prospects

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The EU is gradually acquiring a strategic profile, which would accord it greater thrust to fulfil its aspirations for a larger role in global affairs. However, some questions do arise. Does India perceive EU to be an emerging security actor than merely as an economic entity? Will EU raise its arms beyond its institutional framework to rise as a global security actor? Will it surpass the US supremacy in the Asian Century?

The security environment across the globe is build around several traditional and non-traditional threats and challenges such as terrorism, piracy, cyber security, energy security, human security, economic aspects of security and political relations. This makes the actors in the international community widen their scope of relationships, be it political or economic, to a new sphere of influence.

The rise of new powers in the 21st century eclipses the concept of bipolarity. Giovanni Grevi, former Director at the Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue (FRIDE), elucidates that the world is becoming ‘interpolar’, which he defines as ‘multipolarity in the age of interdependence’. The world is increasingly becoming multipolar, and interdependency is a factor that can be illustrated at various instances that makes one country to depend on another to protect and safeguard their own national interest. In this context, every nation needs to develop a closer cooperation and understanding with the other in the form of what is been called as a ‘strategic partnership’ depending upon the range of areas of cooperation and collaboration that requires interdependency to accelerate and eventually overcome conflicts.

The term ‘strategic relationship’ is one of the most frequently used phrases in foreign policy discussions today. However, strategic partnerships in case of the European Union (EU), post European Security Strategy (ESS) of 2003, and further to its implementation, has made EU raise its arms with an objective defined to build a strategic partnership globally with major powers at present comprising of 10 major countries, including (United States, Russia, Japan, China, Brazil, India, South Africa, Canada, Mexico and post-Lisbon with South Korea). It has cooperation and agreements inked with each individual country, based on the historical, cultural, and the political relations. This marks a central question on how the EU maintains its strategic partnership with these major nations and what is different in all the strategic partnerships it has inked so far. Looking precisely at the prospects and challenges both India-EU have in the 21st century; let us begin with a statement made by Chris Patten, a former EU External Relations Commissioner, “If there is a natural partner for Europe in South Asia, then surely it is India. This statement does symbolise a true picture of the deepening and widening relationship between India and the European Union.”

The 13th India-EU Summit

After a gap of 4 years, finally a political inclination from both ends to boost the strategic partnership, the 13th summit between India and the EU, was held on March 30 in Brussels this year. This gap certainly has various implications on the political, economic and security levels. With the recent attacks in Paris and later in Brussels this year, it has once again brought the attention of the EU and its member states to restructure the polices and agreements pertaining to declaration on international terrorism and many other political and security agendas. The summit also included a wide range of areas for cooperation such as foreign and security policy, trade and investment, economy, global issues as well as people-to-people contact. If one does a critical analysis of the EU-India summits since its inception, one might see a lot of recurrence of the joint statements and declarations, though amended from time to time. However, the ground realities remain unclear. The summit highlights, as published on the official EU delegation website, is the platform for the EU-India Agenda for Action 2020 that is a common roadmap to jointly guide and strengthen the India-EU Strategic Partnership in the next 5 years. Furthermore, on the economic agenda, declarations on Clean Energy and Climate Partnership and parallel declaration on India-EU Water Partnership and promoting India-EU Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement until 2020 are some of the major highlights of the summit. There is enormous potential for the EU-India collaboration in science and technology. Strategic dialogues have also been developed in areas such as transport sector, biotechnology and space partnership.

Prospects and Challenges for India and the EU

The India-EU ties hold wider prospects in major areas for support and cooperation in dealing with global security threats. Areas of closer cooperation include counter terrorism, money laundering, cyber security, non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), piracy, climate change, energy security, and many more. India and the EU hold major potential as far as strategic partnership documents and declarations are concerned. However, pragmatically, it is completely different in both cases. The complex institutional framework and policies of the EU makes the case for India extremely difficult to address and coordinate issues of security concerns. Although, at bilateral levels, India also shares strategic partnership with major individual member states such as UK, France, Germany and Sweden. It becomes challenging for India, while dealing with the EU as a bloc. The two democracies have a bulk of security agencies operating within and outside their territory. Effective and coordinated efforts between the central security agencies such as Europol, Eurojust and EASO (European Asylum Support Office) within the member states and outside the EU, in partnership with India to counter terrorism and extremism, can give positive results.

The population of the EU, which is 5 times greater than Russia and NATO’s European members, makes it an independent actor to defend its own member states and launch military missions outside Europe. Its involvement and commitment to resolve disputes in major conflict prone regions of the world as peacekeeping forces, makes it the most experienced player in international affairs. Its role in regional organisations and its willingness to contribute its resources for the development of the international community requires it to understand the comprehensive nature of security issues and frame complex security architecture. Although, the EU is still perceived as an economic entity, its exposure and involvement outside Europe will give the bloc the title of a security actor. Its strong relations with Asian giants such as China, India and Japan also make the EU more accepted than the US in the Asian continent. The EU needs to realise its true potential and surpass US supremacy in the 21st century, more specifically in Asia. Long-term challenges will inevitably present themselves in Asia, where potential conflict in the South China Sea and eventual competition between China and India will also demand engagement by the EU. Be it the ‘Arab Spring’ in Middle East to the al Qaida in the Af-Pak region and the present threat of ISIL in Syria, EU’s involvement to resolve conflict and threat from terrorism cannot be ruled out. Most of foreign fighters involved in the ISIL are from Europe, which indirectly impinges on the homeland security of the member states. It needs to realign its technical agencies and institutional policies to counter such threats both externally and internally.

There are various reasons, both at bilateral and at institutional level, where the probability of divergence between India and the EU might arise in the near future. The major challenge faced by the EU and its member states is the rise of China. Although, the EU does share a strategic partnership with its member states, it has various hurdles in dealing with China in terms of economic relations. India and China both are the rising powers in the Asian continent, given their fast growing economies even in the global economic turmoil. Another obstacle in the EU-India relations is with the Europeans insisting that so long as the so-called ‘major emitters’ such as China and India remain outside the emissions reduction regime, their own efforts will make little difference to the global goal of reducing and stabilising anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

The EU role to bring international peace in the war and conflict states such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Middle East does create more opportunities for India to cooperate both at civilian and military levels. However, EU criticism and participation in the internal problems of India such as in Kashmir and soft approach towards Pakistan creates irritants in the EU-India relations, diplomatically. While India tends to be more cautious in preserving state sovereignty, the EU is usually eager to promote international action in order to stop or prevent mass violations of human rights even if it is not able to react speedily and adequately in most situations. However, the partnership poses challenges due to EU objectives and role that still needs to be articulated in a better manner to India, in developing a common understanding and cooperation towards the foreign policy in the 21st century.

In case of Europe and India, the illegitimate use of internet by terrorist groups termed as ‘cyber terrorism’ is a major concern for both. Cyber threats are a growing menace, spreading to all industry sectors that rely on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Systems. Recent deliberate disruptions of critical automation systems, such as Stuxnet, prove that cyber-attacks have a significant impact on critical infrastructures. Disruption of these ICT capabilities may have disastrous consequences for both and EU member states’ governments and social well-being. E-banking and e-commerce across the world has become a soft target for the cyber criminals. In addition, with 90 percent of the EU’s external trade and more than 40 percent of internal trade taking place via maritime channels, officials insisted that comprehensive protection of the vital goods being trafficked must be treated as continental priority. In case of India as well, cyber terrorism has become a bigger threat to India’s security; cases related to online fraud, attacking government websites, private companies, and online credit card fraud are all common challenges facing the nation. The role of the EU in global affairs is certainly aimed at building a multilateral institution. The EU is gradually acquiring a strategic profile, which would accord it greater thrust to fulfil its aspirations for a larger role in global affairs. However, some questions do arise. Does India perceive EU to be an emerging security actor than merely as an economic entity? Will EU raise its arms beyond its institutional framework to rise as a global security actor? Will it surpass the US supremacy in the Asian Century?



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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.

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