An open letter to the Prime Minister

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Jul 23 2005, 05:30am hrs
Dear Prime Minister,

After your triumphal visit to Washington, can we look forward to the privilege, and pleasure, of welcoming you to Brussels A multipolar world clearly is in Indias interest, so that Brussels matters also, as do Beijing, Tokyo, Brasilia and Pretoria. Indeed, Indias efforts to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council underline its determination to secure multipolarity in international relations.

At the economic level also, closer ties between India and the 25-nation European Union (EU) are important. The EU remains an open market, despite the recent focus on European attempts to limit imports of textiles and clothing from China. The fact remains that China is now the EUs second largest trading partner: its exports to the EU doubled between 1999 and 2003, rising from 52 billion euro to 105 billion. What is more, Chinas main exports to the EU are not textiles and clothing but computers and other electronic goods, including mobile phones and digital cameras.

Indias exports to the EU have risen also, but from 10 billion euro to 14 billion euro between 1999 and 2003. There, clearly, is plenty of room for a dramatic rise in Indias exports to the EU. It is up to the countrys exporters to seize the advantage; but a political impetus in India-EU relations would help them enormously. The fact that Beijing is generous in its political support of the EU has helped the countrys exporters, and limited European efforts to restrict imports from China.

Brussels is not Washington in that there is no White House here. The EUs President is a rotating presidency in fact. You will be greeting its current holder on September 7, when the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, arrives in New Delhi for the sixth India-EU summit meeting (fresh from the EU-China summit in Beijing). The two of you will be sending the right political signal, to Washington and the world, when you endorse the action plan for implementing the strategic partnership between India and the EU.

It can be argued that the sharp differences within the EU, following the debacle over the ratification of the first-ever EU Constitution, have reduced its effectiveness as a global player. The fact remains that they have made no difference to what is the EUs main achievement enduring peace between countries that have been at each others throats for centuries. For bringing this stability in an unstable world, the EU merits Indias political support.

India does not have to choose between the EU and the US; multipolarity involves a multilateral relationship. It is worth pointing out in this connection that the foreign affairs committee of the EU Parliament recently adopted a draft resolution which recognised the legitimate aspirations of the US to establish a strategic alliance with India, but went on to point to the significant advantages that European know-how and sensibility may offer India. The draft resolution, which the European Parliament is expected to adopt when it holds its plenary session in early September, reaffirms a fact worth bearing in mind as Brussels celebrates the 30th anniversary of EU-China relations. This is that India and the EU constitute the biggest democracies in the world, and that their shared commitment to democracy, pluralism, the rule of law and multilateralism in international relations contribute to global peace and stability.

There is an active programme to draw the Indian and European parliaments closer together. It is driven on this side by Neena Gill, a member of the UKs Labour Party who represents a Midlands constituency. Ms Gill, who was born in Ludhiana, is chairperson of the European Parliaments delegation for South Asia and Saarc. But there is all party support for closer relations with India in the European Parliament: a founding member of the Friends of India group in the Parliament is Charles Tannock, a Conservative MP.

Indias vibrant civil society is also an important player in promoting closer India-EU ties, through the India-EU Round Table, which is entitled to make recommendations to the India-EU summit. Its members have included your media advisor, Sanjaya Baru. The Round Table will be holding its ninth meeting in Hyderabad from September 19 to 21. An important agenda item is a day-long discussion on cultural and religious pluralism in democratic societies, when the Round Table will look at ways in which the EU can benefit from Indias experience in integrating its minorities, including its largest, the Muslim community.

When you meet Prime Minister Blair you could usefully discuss with him an item not on the agenda as such and that is the date when you can meet him again, this time in Brussels. You will be giving further political impetus to what should be a key relationship in world affairs, that between India and the European Union.

Respectfully yours