With the announcement of a connectivity partnership based on shared commitment to sustainable development, India and the EU now have the latitude to broaden cooperation in the Indo-Pacific
On May 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting with the leaders of all 27 member states of the European Union (EU). With the summit’s format itself, the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting was significant since such a format encompassing EU+27 participation has only been convened once before, i.e., with the US President early this year.
From a policy standpoint, the meeting stood as a testament to the EU’s increasing focus on ties with India, in line with the 2016 ‘A Global Strategy for the European Union's Foreign and Security Policy’ (which highlighted the EU’s shifting focus to Asia with a focus on relations with Japan and India), the 2018 ‘Joint Communication: Elements for an EU strategy on India’ (which recognised India as a natural partner for the EU), and the 2020 ‘India-EU Strategic Partnership: A Roadmap to 2025’ (which enunciated a joint action plan on strengthening the India-EU partnership).
The EU+27 meet with India was significant also from the standpoint of it closely following the release of the EU Council’s ‘Conclusions on an EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific’. Wherein, the EU Council underscored the need for forging “specific cooperative initiatives such as Green Alliances and Partnerships in support of the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity, aiming at high environmental goals and standards, sustainable management of natural resources, including water, moving to climate-neutral, clean and circular economies.”
On this aspect, New Delhi is a natural partner for Brussels since EU member states have already developed such partnerships bilaterally with India. Case in point, the one of a kind India-Denmark Green Strategic Partnership and the India-Netherlands Strategic Partnership on Water focus on government-to-government cooperation on circular economy, river pollution, delta management, etc. The EU, too, has adopted a focus on sustainable practises and development in India, especially since the India-EU relationship graduated from its erstwhile recipient-donor paradigm and the establishment of the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) South Asia headquarters in New Delhi. The EIB, for instance, has focused on “green, safe and affordable public transport” through its investments in metro systems in Bhopal, Pune, Bangalore, Lucknow and most recently, Kanpur.
In widening the ambit of such engagements to digital, energy, transport, and people-to-people sectors, the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting oversaw the conclusion of a comprehensive India-EU Connectivity Partnership, whereby, the two sides affirmed their commitment to “jointly implement connectivity that conforms with international norms, rule of law, respect for international commitments, and is based on mutually agreed principles of sustainable connectivity.”
Furthermore, with India and the EU sharing the ‘same multilateralist DNA’ — in the words of Charles Michel (President of the European Council)—the Connectivity Partnership will adhere to obligations and goals set by multilateral frameworks like the Paris Agreement, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, International Labour Organisation conventions, etc.
Most importantly, in taking a page from the 2019 EU-Japan Partnership on Sustainable Connectivity and Quality Infrastructure — which underscored synergies between the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy and Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructures, the India-EU Connectivity Partnership recognised India as “a sustainable development partner” towards jointly supporting resilient and sustainable connectivity in third countries and regions like Africa, Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
Over the past two years, the internationalisation of the Indo-Pacific construct has spurred extra-regional powers to emphasise cooperation with regional players like India. Although such partnerships have stemmed from legitimate convergent interests — as in case of increased India-France maritime cooperation in view of Paris’ own sovereignty considerations in the Indian Ocean—detractors have deemed extra-regional involvement to have sparked a return of “Cold War mentality” in the region. Hence, India and the EU have prudently chosen to precede strategic cooperation with the India-EU Connectivity Partnership, which signifies a normative convergence between Brussels and New Delhi’ visions for developing the Indo-Pacific region.
Going forward, India and the EU can now capitalise on their groundwork for strategic cooperation in the region. For instance, following the first-ever India-EU Maritime Security Dialogue held in January this year, the EU Council’s ‘Conclusions on an EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific’ defined the Indo-Pacific as a region stretching from “the east coast of Africa to the Pacific Island States”. This corresponds to the French definition of the region, and stands in tandem with India’s emphasis on the strategic relevance of Northwest Indian Ocean and East Africa region in the wider Indo-Pacific.
Such a conception of the Indo-Pacific was also apparent last year, with the launch of the EU Critical Maritime Routes in the Indian Ocean II (CRIMARIO II) with an expanded geographical scope in South Asia and towards “contributing to a safer and more secure maritime domain, through cross-sectoral, inter-agency and cross-regional cooperation.” With the same having its own information-sharing mechanism, i.e., the Indian Ocean Regional Information Sharing (IORIS) platform, India and the EU can now step up cooperation by considering linkages between CRIMARIO II and India’s Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region, which also aims to “engage with partner nations and multinational maritime constructs to develop comprehensive maritime domain awareness and share information on vessels of interest” in the Indian Ocean.
In addition, under the announced India-EU Connectivity Partnership’s push for digital connectivity, the summit underscored the emphasis on promoting “fast and effective roll-out of 5G on the basis of global standards”, and supporting its application for rural development (particularly, in healthcare and agriculture). Moreover, in expanding the ambit of cooperation ahead of the High-Level EU-India Digital Investment Forum later this year, the two sides also advocated for the early operationalisation of the Joint Task Force on Artificial Intelligence and a further expansion of technological cooperation with focus on Quantum and High Performance Computing.
In a similar vein, India and the EU should renew focus on the India-EU Joint ICT Working Group’s mandate to promote common approaches and standards between the two substantial ICT markets of India and the European Union. This could serve as an instance of India and the EU strategically pooling their agenda-setting capital on a matter that currently has Indo-Pacific nations riddled between Chinese propositions and an America-led global campaign on secure digital infrastructure.
Similarly, on health cooperation, the Joint Statement following the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting noted the intent to cooperate on “resilient medical supply chains, vaccines and Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), and on the application of good manufacturing standards to ensure high quality and safety of products.” This development follows European authorities reportedly panicking over India’s momentary ban on export of 26 APIs and generic drugs last year. This had shed light on European dependencies in this domain, as India holds “nearly 26 percent of European formulations in the generic medicines space” and houses 253 European Directorate of Quality Medicines (EDQM) approved plants.
However, as reflected in the Joint Statement, this only sparked constructive conversations over making India-EU cooperation in the domain more resilient. Some even suggested mobilising European investments to help India reduce its dependence on Chinese APIs. This, despite the fact that India-EU pharmaceutical linkages have had their share of long-standing divergences over issues like exclusivity of clinical trial data. With India and the EU now seemingly putting aside past tensions in the interest of combating the coronavirus pandemic, there is scope for New Delhi and Brussels to set a precedent of joint cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, by including like-minded regional partners in their effort to reduce direct/indirect dependences on China, diversify supply chains, and institute common quality and safety standards.
Hence, drawing on India-EU shared commitment to sustainable development, the outcomes of the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting will catalyse the alignment of Indian and European propositions for the Indo-Pacific.
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Kashish Parpiani was Fellow at ORFs Mumbai centre. HisRead More +