EU Sees India As Key Partner In Knowledge Sector

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Feb 21 2004, 05:30am hrs
Heres another of those good news/bad news stories. The good news is that the European Union (EU) has taken a giant step in bringing together European and Indian companies active in information society technologies. The EuroIndia2004 For-um, to be held in New Delhi from March 24 to 26, will give these companies an opportunity to highlight their technologies and products.

Companies that have alrea-dy signed up for the Forum, or are yet to make up their minds, were invited to a preparatory course here this week. The fact that some 50 of them came, from Finland to Greece, is an indication of the interest the Forum has aroused in Europe.

To spur them on, the participants were treated to a success story in outsourcing by the project manager of a Belgian company active in world-wide digital mapping, Tele-Atlas. Danny Grobben set up the outsourcing unit in NOIDA in 1998, in a building much too big for it. The unit today employs 850 people and fills two very large buildings.

Scientists and academics were also at the meeting. This is because the EU is promoting global scientific co-operation under its sixth framework programme (2002-2006). The areas covered include geno-mics and biotechnology; information society technologies; aeronautics and space, and governance in a knowledge-based society.

The three key features of the New Delhi Forum will be five parallel sessions, Get in Touch presentations and networking meetings. The parallel sessions will deal with subjects like business process outsourcing, wireless netwo-rks, embedded systems, micro- and nano-technologies etc.

The Get in Touch sessions will give companies an opportunity to make short presentations and look for co-operation.

What is more, there is no charge for taking part in the EuroIndia2004 Forum. The stands are free of charge also. Registration is online, through the Forum website www.euroindia2004.org

After the good news, it seems churlish to refer to the bad news. The European Commission (EC), which is organising the Forum as the EUs executive arm, is taking for granted that Indian IT companies and research institutes will flock to the meet.

But Indian speakers at the preparatory meeting pointed out that the 15-nation EU was in competition with the US on every front. The perception among Indian companies was that the EU was lagging behind the US in many key areas of IT.

Indirect evidence of this was provided recently by the EC president Romano Prodi. When the EUs presidents and prime ministers met in Lisbon in 2000, they set themselves the goal of transforming the EU into the worlds most competitive, knowledge-based economy. Mr Prodi confessed earlier this month, however, that after four years it is clear that we are going to miss our mid-term targets. But it is not just the European economy thats faltering; so is the drive to transform the economy through large-scale investment in the information and communication technologies.

At the preparatory meeting here, the Brussels-based Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) representative, Prajna Paramita, referred to the growth of the software sector in India and outlined the measures being taken by both the central and state governments to promote the IT sector.

Missing from the EuroIndia 2004 programme is any reference to a key problem facing Indian IT companies seeking to establish themselves or expand in the EU. This is the problem of obtaining visas for Indian professionals. While the UK and Germany are turning to professionals from India and elsewhere to overcome their current skills shortage, the situation is very different in other EU countries.

Whats more, the situation may get worse after May 1, when eight East European and two Mediterranean countries join the EU*. It is doubtful whether IT professionals in these countries will want to flock to the present 15 EU countries; but scare-mongering by some groups could result in doors being shut in the face of Indian IT professionals.

Will the EC take the opportunity offered by the Forum to focus on the opportunities which the enlarged EU offers Indian companies

The EU is not alone in seeking to transform itself into a high-tech, knowledge-based economy. So is India. The CII sees India as the knowledge-based society of the 21st century. Let India and the EU join forces at EuroIndia2004 to map out a common strategy.

* The 10 are Cyprus, the Czech republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland Slovakia and Slovenia.