India-EU Summit In Oct May See Lots Of Action

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Aug 7 2004, 05:32am hrs
The stage is set for a breakthrough in Indias relations with the 25-nation European Union (EU) by mid-October. If it takes place, it will be only the second breakthrough in a relationship going back more than 40 years. The first breakthrough came in the mid-70s, when Britain joined the then six-nation European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner to the EU.

Determined to safeguard its exports to the UK, India concluded a commercial co-operation agreement with the enlarged EEC. The driving force behind the agreement was Ambassador K B Lall, but it was largely drafted by Mani Shankar Aiyar and Rajan Abhyankar.

Rajan Abhyankar returned to Brussels a fortnight ago, as Indias ambassador to the enlarged EU, and to Belgium and Luxembourg. The timing could not be better. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be travelling to the Hague to meet his Dutch counterpart for the 5th India-EU summit, set for October 14.

The Dutch, who hold the EUs rotating presidency during the second half of this year, plan to use the forthcoming summit with India (and later with China and South Korea) to develop a sustainable, strategic relationship, while keeping an eye open for results that can be achieved in the short term.

This is also the goal that Ambassador Abhyankar has set himself. At first sight, the odds are against him. The first EU-India summit, held in Lisbon in June 2000, was hailed as a breakthrough. Subsequent summits have been long on rhetoric and short on action.

With feedback from some companies, Ambassador Rajan Abhyankar is confident that he can develop a strategy
for outsourcing
But the ambassador has already developed a strategy to ensure that the fifth summit in October is action-oriented. A key element in his strategy is the detailed action programme for an EU-India strategic partnership which the European Commission, the EUs executive arm, sent to its member governments and European Parliament on June 16. As matters stand, the 47-page document is essentially a wish-list of activities to be undertaken to meet the challenges, opportunities and expectations for international, economic and development policies between the EU and India. But the EC is hopeful that the member governments and European Parliament will endorse the main thrust of (its) document before the EU-India summit in October, thus giving it political legitimacy.

Ambassador Abhyankar has already set in motion his plan, which is to take key elements of the ECs proposals for an EU-India strategic partnership, and to incorporate them into an action programme for adoption by the Indian and Dutch prime ministers.

The EC is certain, for example, that the EU and India would benefit from a dialogue on the strategic implications of the rapid growth of global sourcing. To this end, it wants to draw up and promote best practices, develop partnerships, and help EU and Indian companies to better understand the challenges and profit from them!

With the feedback from some companies, Abhyankar is confident that he can develop a strategy for outsourcing that will benefit both the EU and India. What is more, such an approach will make it easier to resolve such down-to-earth issues as the movement of workers and the granting of visas by EU member governments to Indian professionals.

Another area highlighted by the EC is science and technology. Indian scientific establishments are already taking part in the EUs sixth Framework Research Programme; the Commission would like India to take part in developing the seventh programme. Other areas of collaboration include the information and communication technologies, biotechnology, and space science and technology.

India indicated at the fourth summit, held in New Delhi last November, that it would respond to the ECs proposals for a strategic partnership with a policy paper of its own. Clearly, the action plan which Indias ambassador in Brussels is preparing for the October summit should be an important feature of such a policy paper.

This paper would be the clearest indication yet that New Delhi has the political will to develop a strategic partnership with the EU.