EUs strategy for India and China

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Dec 11 2004, 05:30am hrs
Two important events this weekone involving India, the other China highlighted the European Unions Asia strategy. The first was the eighth meeting of the India-EU Round Table in London, the second the seventh summit meeting between Chinas Premier, Wen Jiabao, and his Dutch counterpart, Jan Peter Balkenende, representing the presidency of the EU.

The EU-China summit monopolised official and public attention. And yet, the more innovative institution is not the summit, but the Round Table. The India-EU Round Table is unique in that it brings together representatives of Indian and European civil society and yet is an integral part of official decision-making. The EUs executive arm, the European Commission, has placed the Round Table between the meetings of Indian and EU foreign ministers and the India-EU summits in its organisational chart.

Attempts to set up an EU-China Round Table have yet to bear fruit. Here, comparisons between the joint statements issued at the conclusion of the two summits, with India and China, respectively, are instructive. The former provides for an action plan to give substance to a strategic partnership between India and the EU and a new joint political declaration, to update the 1994 declaration. The EU-China statement says, due to the continuous development of EU-China relations in recent years, they will explore actively the feasibility of concluding a new EU-China framework agreement, replacing the 1985 one.

The India-EU plan is likely to respond more effectively to the concerns of each of the two sides. The outlines of their emerging strategic partnership are set out in (1) the long and detailed paper drawn up the EC in June, and whose broad thrust has since been approved by the 25 EU governments, and (2) the Indian governments initial response to this paper, which it finalised in August. When the two sides meet in Delhi next month, they will have a relatively clear idea of the goal they have set.

Even so, cutting through the rhetoric of the two joint statements, you would find it hard to believe they are road-maps, for stronger ties between the EU and the two nations that will increasingly dominate the global landscape. The EU-China statement, for example, hopes for an early opening of negotiations of an issue of great concern to the EU: the readmission into China of its illegal immigrants.

This preoccupation at the level of prime ministers with EUs ongoing concerns about day-to-day issues and the focus on incremental improvements in relations between EU and two emerging global powers, is discouraging. It is especially so since EU-India relations go back some 40 years, EU-China relations 30 years.

This is because both sides have a pedestrian rather than a visionary approach to their relationship with each other. They deal with current issues; they are not inspired by a vision of their relationship 15-20 years down the road, nor with how to make a reality of it. Indias President had the foresight in 1998 to envision India in 2020.

A vision is more than a forecast by economists of the rise in the two-way trade between India and the EU in 2015. Because it draws on intellect as well as imagination, because it touches both heart and head, a vision can motivate and mobilise, generating the necessary political will much more effectively than any set of proposals. At the same time, it can give coherence and meaning to a set of proposals.

What is more important than the timeframe 2015 or 2020 is the vision itself. Civil society lends itself far more readily to drawing up a vision of EU-India relations than civil servants. This is because each of the numerous organisations that make up civil society can draw on its own area of activity and thus contribute to the elaboration of this vision.

At its London meeting, the EU-India Round Table recommended to the next EU-India summit that civil society be an integral part of the new strategic partnership. It even plans to make proposals where civil society can bring real value addition, particularly with regard to achieving Millennium Development Goals, promoting sustainable development and managing globalisation. Hopefully, Delhi and Brussels are listening.