New Delhi: It could be a baby step in diplomatic parlance, but there is some resemblance of initial breakthroughs and successes. In the words of President of European Commission, EU’s powerful executive branch, Ursula Von der Leyen, the EU shares a special bond with India vis-a-vis “democracies and values”, while its relationship with China is “complex”.
At a post virtual Summit parleys briefing from Brussels, Ursula Von der Leyen of course said the EU shares “important” relationships with both India as well as with China. But she hastened to add: "The difference indeed that we share with India that we (India and EU) are democracies and are committed to defending our values". Von der Leyen had earlier served as a German Defence Minister and also visited Delhi; and thus was aware of geo-political situations in the region.
At the talks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited European companies for investing in India taking into account India's "efforts" to improve ease of doing business.
“Of the broad-based trade and investment agreement, the leaders recognised that economic recovery priorities offer opportunities to unleash the full potential for their economic ties, including discussion on supply chain linkages between India and Europe,” said Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs.
“Relations with China did come up and the current situation was discussed by Prime Minister Modi,” Swarup said at a press conference. Both sides also pledged to intensify maritime cooperation and security issues and this could also help in the long run Indian plans to sustain pressure on China and 'isolate' it at global stage to a large extent.
There were some apprehensions that the post-Covid announcement of the ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ have given rise to 'protectionist tendencies'; but the Indian side dispelled such notions by stating that a self-reliant India plans can always be 'integrated' in global value chains.
In fact, sources say Prime Minister's statement that Atma Nirbhar Bharat plans would be also welcoming foreign collaborations would give a new boost and confidence to several European nations and companies.
The Summit that came post-Galwan standoff between Indian and Chinese forces certainly have its significance as the deliberations included cooperation in the areas of security, climate, environment, trade and investment, digital economy, and connectivity. The EU is also one of the largest investors in India with cumulative investment of over $91 billion.
Of course, trade and investment were the main focus of the 15th India-EU virtual summit that was attended by Prime Minister Modi and the EU was represented by by Charles Michel, president of the European Council and Ursula von der Leyen.
Another big takeaway was reviving the stalled Free Trade Agreement talks since 2013. The 2017 Summit also could not make much headway, but this time around Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan would be taking the parleys forward. Of course, no deadline has been fixed for the trade pact which is called the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement.
“There is no time frame set for the conclusion of the BTIA but both sides have agreed that the two ministers mandated to take the discussions forward should meet as early as possible,” said Secretary West Mr Swarup.
“EU is our largest trading partner for goods with trade exceeding $100 billion. We also have a large services trade of approximately $40 billion,” he further said. In his remarks, Prime Minister Modi emphasised that India and EU are "natural partners".
Terrorism and Pak
Both sides went into considerable detail in exchanging views on the shared challenge of terrorism.
"Pakistan came up in the context of activities it has been continuing against India and other countries in the region as well as in the context of global terrorism," Vikas Swarup said.
The Joint Statement reaffirmed India and EU's strong commitment to global peace and security, disarmament and non-proliferation and to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including its financing and countering radicalization.
Both sides "welcomed" the launch of negotiations on a working arrangement between the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) and Europol to support law enforcement authorities of India and the Member States of the EU in preventing and combating organised crime and terrorism.
"They underlined the need to increase global cyber resilience, including the health sector. India and the EU will continue to cooperate on international and regional issues of common interest including Iran and Afghanistan," the Joint Statement said.