The first-ever virtual India-European Union summit is happening at a crucial time in the midst of indications of a changing world order and the growing isolation of China over its display of territorial hegemony. The India-EU relationship assumes heightened significance on several fronts. As India tries to develop a comprehensive response to the growing Chinese aggression by strengthening partnerships, economic decoupling and diversification, and as attitudes in Europe shift decisively away from China, the EU can be a crucial partner for India in the days to come. The signing of the civil nuclear agreement, ahead of the 15th summit, reflects the growing importance of the relationship. Being a major pharma hub, India has a key role to play in the post-Covid world supply chain. The shared values of democracy, freedom and celebration of diversity have now become more relevant in the current scenario. The summit also provides an opportunity for the two sides to find a way forward on the resumption of talks on the long-pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA), known as the EU-India Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA). The EU is one of the largest investors in India with around 6,000 European firms already established in the country, offering millions of jobs to Indians. As India looks to check Chinese dominance in the technology sector, Europe can be a reliable alternative. For instance, on 5G technologies, as India has a rethink on Huawei due to security concerns, European companies like Ericsson and Nokia will be important players.
Another potential area is connectivity. As India grapples with China flexing its muscles in its neighbourhood, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) investments and infrastructure connectivity are in the focus. The EU has its own connectivity strategy, providing around 414 billion euros in aid globally, and is already partnering with Japan and the United States to provide alternatives to the BRI. This is a crucial opportunity where Brussels can deliver what India needs. Moreover, entities like the European Investment Bank are active in India, investing in metro and other infrastructure projects. India should explore this partnership with the EU to not only fill domestic infrastructure needs but also as part of India’s neighbourhood diplomacy. The summit also comes against the backdrop of a strained EU-China summit, which did not even yield the customary joint statement. In sharp contrast, the meeting with India is set to produce a new road map for the partnership and a slew of initiatives on security, trade and investment, digital economy, infrastructure connectivity, coronavirus crisis response and the climate crisis. Europe’s perception of India has been changing in tandem with increasing tensions with China. In 2018, the EU released a new strategy for cooperation with India, calling it a geopolitical pillar in a multipolar Asia.
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