Importance Of EU-India Ties Should Not Be Undermined

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: May 1 2004, 05:30am hrs
Seen from New Delhi, the 15-nation European Union (EU) is an unsubstantial body, of no importance to the movers and shakers in the Indian capital. As for Brussels, the home of key EU institutions, it appears as a dot on a distant horizon.

Having just spent a month in India, I can understand those who hold these views. But now that Im back in Brussels, I can only tell them how wrong they are to dismiss the EU as largely irrelevant.

So much is happening in the EU that directly effects the conduct of Indian business and politics. The most important single development is the enlargement of the EU on May 1, with the entry of 10 countries, eight of them from Eastern Europe.

The week was also marked by the visit to Brussels of N N Vohra, co-chairman of the EU-India Round Table. He was here as the bearer of an invitation to a meeting in Srinagar for the European members of the body set up at the initiative of former minister of external affairs Jaswant Singh in 2001. The Round Table has members drawn from the Indian and European civil society. They include, among others, Amit Mitra of Ficci and Tarun Das of CII. Given the venue of the Round Tables sixth biannual meeting, to be held from June 17 to 19, a key agenda item is tourism.

The India-EU Round Table may also look into the consequences of enlargement for Indian business. The addition of 10 new countries to the 15-nation EU will dramatically change the political landscape of Europe. The distinction between East Europe and West Europe will disappear, marking the end to the post-1948 division of Europe. Given Russias formal acceptance of the 25-nation EU, the cold war may be said to have finally ended in Europe.

The economic consequences of enlargement for Russian businessmen and their Indian counterparts are self-evident. The EUs trade supremo, Pascal Lamy, noted that enlargement offered great opportunities for the Russians in trade. This is because the 25-nation EU will form a single market, with a single set of rules. As a result, the level of trade protection will fall in the 10 new member states.

Also of importance to India are the determined attempts by the EU to reshape its relations with Latin America. The cynical might say that Mr Lamy is working overtime to break up the unity of the G-22, the alliance of developing countries led by India and Brazil which stymied the efforts of the EU and US to dictate the outcome of the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations in Cancun last September.

Addressing the press in Brasilia, Mr Lamys colleague, the Agricultural Comm-issioner, Franz Fischler declared that the EU was offering Brazil a considerable improvement of market access for farm goods, and substantial cuts in trade-distorting farm support. This means that there is a big prize on offer for Brazil, Mr Fischler said.

But the latest news from Brussels is of a more encouraging nature. The European Commission, the EUs executive arm, has just adopted a proposal to further untie EU development aid, amounting to nearly $4 billion a year. If adopted by the EU countries, Indian exporters would be entitled to bid for goods and services to be provided under the EUs aid programme.

It is important, however, that New Delhi maintain a high profile in Brussels. Hence the importance of Mr Vohras visit, and the visit in some three weeks time of foreign secretary Shashank. During his two-day visit here, Mr Vohra addressed the plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), which represents the EU on the India-EU Round Table.

Commenting on the speech a British member of the Round Table, Sukhdev Sharma, noted that many in the audience perhaps cant visualise the sheer scale of the Indian general elections. The fact is that for many in Brussels, the very heart of the EU, India is a distant country, beyond the threshold of recognition. Many EESC members were surprised to learn that India is a vibrant democracy, as demonstrated by its ability to successfully organise elections, electronically, if you please, for an electorate far larger than the total population of the 25-nation EU!

Several members in the audience noted with satisfaction that the Round Table was now a model of frank, open dialogue, with members discussing sensitive issues and reaching agreement on the recommendations to be made to the annual EU-India political summit. The most glowing tribute to the Round Tables success came, however, from Ann Davison, a British member of EESC and president of its external relations committee. The India-EU Round Table can be a model for our relations with the rest of the world, she declared.