FEPS Fresh Thinking

Last week in New Delhi I had talks with politicians, journalists, diplomats and scientists on Indo-European relations. Europe is seen as an example of successful integration! India is looking with great interest towards Europe. Compared with the critical reflections on Europe, published yesterday by the outstanding German philosopher Juergen Habermas Süddeutsche Zeitung, this is a surprise. Should we not learn from our worldwide partners and be much more positive where Europe is concerned?

Habermas argues that the problems we face at global level are much more important than those we face in Europe. He names climate change, the world-wide risks of nuclear energy, the necessity for regulation of finance-oriented capitalism and the implementation of the human rights worldwide as among such global concerns.

These are exactly the topics where Europe and India should cooperate very intensively and, in the process, strengthen their relations. For too long, India has been underestimated by Europeans when compared with attitudes towards China and Latin America. The subcontinent is a powerful economic actor, has a huge economic potential in trade relations to be intensified and offers possible cooperation in foreign and security issues.

While the negotiations for the EU-India Free Trade Agreement are nearing completion, it is evident that the European focus has been heavily weighted towards China. The European Union is missing a valuable opportunity which could serve to strengthen our own economy and, in the process, improve the economic conditions of many in India.

The relationship between India and the EU should ultimately be based on values. Both are unions in which democracy is held as a fundamental ideal and both aim to unite many different peoples in one political community. Accords and agreements between India and the EU must reflect these common values. Many in Europe have expressed concern at certain human rights violations which still continue in India. Of particular concern has been the issue of child labour. The FEPS delegation raised such issues during the trip to India. In a frank exchange with Congress MP Dr Shashi Tharoor, he reiterated that nobody in the body politic of India would defend such violations. However, he reminded us that Europeans should not be overly sanctimonious. Given India’s history of colonialism, negotiators would not take kindly to being lectured by European politicians on such matters.

The challenge of climate change remains particularly pertinent for both the EU and India. Of course, some differences of opinion did emerge but there was very interesting discussion on strategies for developing a decarbonised economy. Journalist Prem Shankar Jha held discussions with the delegation on numerous – as yet untested – forms of renewable energy such as methanol. The greatest difference of opinion was over the issue of nuclear energy, which still has significant support in India, even after the recent disaster in Japan. However, it became evident that Europe would need to adopt a more coherent approach to energy if it is to be a serious force in combating climate change in tandem with partners such as India.

Security issues were brought in for considered and reflective discussion during the course of the delegation. We were given various perspectives on some of the most pertinent issues such as India’s relationship with Pakistan, the input of the EU and India in Afghanistan, and the internal dynamics in the Kashmir conflict. Once again, discussants were able to identify a key problem with the EU-India relationship whereby India is often more comfortable dealing with EU member states on an individual or bilateral basis on security matters. This is true for issues such as arms deals.

All the while, there is a developing dialogue on values and normative principles. This indicates that the European Union is not taken seriously as a partner in terms of so-called realpolitik but that there is certain openness when dealing in issues of soft power. A strengthening of relations with India would undoubtedly improve EU influence in terms of the values we hold dear. Crucially though, some work is needed on improving the coherence with which our member states behave so that short term gains do not ultimately undermine these values.


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