Mixed signals: EU continues to blow hot and cold on India relationship

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Christian Leffler, EU Deputy Secretary-General for Economic and Global Issues speaking on the EU-India relationship in the Capital.

NEW DELHI: A top EU official has raised eyebrows in the Capital with his remarks on Jammu and Kashmir. Christian Leffler, EU Deputy Secretary-General for Economic and Global Issues says that while he respects the right of India to safeguard its ‘legitimate security concerns’, he also believes that the ‘fundamental rights of Kashmiris’ need to be maintained.

‘Our position has been quite clear. While we understand and respect India’s legitimate security concerns, we also realise that more needs to be done to secure the fundamental rights of Kashmiris. Though things have improved in the Valley (since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5) we are not quite there yet.’

India has gone out of its way to assuage concerns of European Union member nations that no human rights violations have been taking place in the Valley. The visit by a 23-member delegation of EU parliamentarians to J&K last month was a step in this direction. But if Leffler’s remarks are any indication, New Delhi may need to do more in its EU outreach.

The European Union has been ambiguous about its India relationship for quite some time now. As former foreign secretary Shyam Saran points out, India-EU relations have so far been a ‘missed opportunity’ for both sides. Despite both sides sharing many similarities such as being ‘multi-party, multi-ethnic, and pluralistic democracies’ there has been little been done so far to build upon these similarities.

‘The biggest chance for EU-India relations to take off was in 2004 when the stabbing of Theo van Gogh by a man of dual Dutch and Moroccan nationality brought home the fact to the EU that radicalisation and terrorism were issues that it now had to deal with at home,’ Saran says.

‘This was a chance for the EU to make a common cause with India which has been facing these problems for a long time now. But events such as the global financial crisis in 2008 caused Europe to look inwards. Then the China growth story caused the EU to turn its eyes towards Beijing and the EU-India relationship went down and then subsequently went off the radar.’

In 2004, India and the EU had begun work in a number of areas – especially in the fields of   civil nuclear energy and trade  – before the EU turned its eyes towards Beijing. For instance, while much is made of the India-US nuclear deal what is less known is that India and the EU had embarked on a spirit of cooperation in nuclear energy with the India-EU Energy Panel set up in 2005. Jointly headed  by Shyam Saran and Francois Lamoreux, the then Director General for Energy and Transport in the European Commission, the panel saw the EU agreeing to a number of key issues on cooperation in civil nuclear energy before the momentum was lost.

What is also significant is the EU at this time helped facilitate India’s membership into ITER – one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world today. On the trade front, Saran says, India and the EU had come very close to signing a free trade agreement something that could have led to a ‘close strategic relationship’ then.

But is the environment of 2004 still conducive and relevant to today’s world? Do India and the EU still have the same need to come together? Saran believes so. ‘Today’s global landscape suggests that the issues that concerned us in 2004 are even more pressing today. Threats posed by international terrorism, climate change, cooperation in maritime security need to be acted upon urgently and there is where India and the EU have a certain commonality of interests.  It is also beginning to become clear that how we work together will determine the global order of the world today.’

 

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