EU and the two emerging global powerhouses

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Mar 5 2005, 05:30am hrs
China and India are likely to emerge as new major global players in this century. They will transform the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those brought about in the 19th century by a united Germany and in the 20th century by a powerful United States, according to a report of the US National Intelligence Councils 2020 project.

Europeans clearly share this view. Witness the efforts made by the European Union (EU) to broaden and deepen its relations with both, China and India. But the EU, like the US, is likely to prefer India to China. Chinas attraction is largely economic it is a global factory and a vast and rapidly growing market for manufactures and services. This is reflected in the EUs two-way trade with China, which rose from just 16 billion euro in 1990 to 116 billion euro in 2002. The EUs two-way trade with India managed to grow from 11 billion euro to 27 billion over the same period.

Economics will draw India and the EU closer, as it is drawing India and China closer. But it is politics, as reflected in their shared values, which can cement India-EU relations, given half a chance. This is clear from the EUs roadmap for a strategic partnership with India and Indias response to it. As actions speak louder than words, their joint determination to begin implementing this roadmap as quickly as possible was evident in their two-day meeting in Delhi last week, which was attended by a record number of EU officials over 50.

The EU-India relationship is based on shared values, notably democratic values and institutions, and mutual respect. Both support the multilateral system and cooperate in the UN and other fora. The focus of their relations has shifted from trade to wider political issues as both are seen as forces for global stability. These views, expressed by the EU last year, were backed by India. The EU-India dialogue reveals a strong identity of views on the strategic priorities and issue of vital importance to both sides, Delhi noted, in reply to the EU paper of last June. It even called for a ministerial level committee to work out an action plan for approval by the sixth India-EU summit, to be held in India in about six months.

All of which means India should fully recognise that the EU matters as much as the US in the emerging world order. It should work to strengthen the multipolar, multilateral system, at both the international level of the UN and WTO and at the regional level, in strengthening ties with the EU. It is not a question of choosing between the EU and the US, but of giving equal importance to both, especially in political terms. An important reason why China ranks higher than India in European eyes, is that it regards the EU as politically important. Chinas decision to join the EU in developing Galileo, its global satellite system, was politically motivated from the start.

There are a number of small, incremental steps Delhi can take to this end. The first is to encourage regular meetings between members of the Indian and European Parliaments.

The second incremental step is to strengthen the role of civil society. The India-EU Round Table, whose members are drawn from civil society, was set up in 2001, while efforts to set up a similar body representing Chinese and European civil societies has got nowhere so far.

Although the India-EU Round Table meets twice a year and can make recommendations to the India-EU summit meetings, it has remained all talk and little action. This is partly because it has virtually no financial resources. Its one concrete achievement, the creation of an India-EU Internet Forum, has been hanging fire for almost a year, because its European members have been unable to fund their share of the relatively small costs involved.

Finally, if the action plan is to be workable, it must set priorities from the start. This can be done effectively only in the framework of a vision of India-EU relations 15 to 20 years from now. New Delhis response to the EUs initial paper on an EU-India strategic partnership refers to its Vision 2020. But this is a little-known document. And in any case, India and the EU need to draw up their own India-EU 2020, with the help of civil society and their respective Parliaments. All that is needed is political will.