Recently, in-person summit in Delhi was with the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen.
This was apt, since Europe looms so large in the Indian diplomatic agenda today and smaller European states draw unprecedented political attention from India.
The European Union (EU) is set to push for a closer relationship and stronger presence in the Indo-Pacific, as released in the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
India’s engagement with Europe in recent past:
- As the deepening confrontation between the US and China begins to squeeze South East Asia, Europe is widely seen as widening the strategic options for the region.
- The perspective is similar in Delhi, which now sees Brussels as a critical element in the construction of a multipolar world.
- As External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar puts it, India’s strategy is to “engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, bring Japan into play”. For the students of Indian foreign policy, the command to “cultivate Europe” is certainly new.
- The Cold War, which divided Europe into East and West, had distorted India’s perspective of the region. In the colonial era, both the nationalists and the princes developed a wide-ranging engagement with Europe.
- After independence, India viewed Western Europe as an extension of the US and saw Eastern Europe through Moscow’s eyes.
- As it tilted to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, India developed a political prickliness towards the western part of Europe and took the East for granted.
The EU outlined a strategy for India in 2018:
EU outlined a strategy for India to focus on four themes — sustainable economic modernisation, promotion of a rules-based order, foreign policy coordination, and security cooperation.
At the summit in Portugal in May 2021, the EU and India agreed to resume free trade talks and develop a new connectivity partnership that would widen options for the world beyond the Belt and Road Initiative.
Above all, there is a recognition in both Delhi and Brussels that the India-EU strategic partnership is crucial for the rebalancing of the international system amidst the current global flux.
India and EU role in Indo-Pacific region:
- With an enhanced focus on their strategic relations and engagement with other like-minded regional players, India and EU can play a significant role in preserving an open, free, inclusive and rules-based order in the Indo-pacific.
- India’s support for France’s membership of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
- India’s backing for a larger European role in the Indo-Pacific. India has welcomed the interest of Germany and Netherlands in building a new geopolitical architecture in the Indo-Pacific.
- Increasing competition, power rivalry, unilateral actions challenging the multilateral order and international laws are some of the common concerns shared by India and Europe.
- Some of the crucial areas that India and EU can work together include joint efforts in capacity building against challenges like piracy, counter-terrorism etc and cooperation in enhancing interoperability and domain awareness, maritime technologies, blue economy etc.
Wants and Needs of European countries: Stronger Europe with greater Geo-political agency:
- The clamour in Europe for “strategic autonomy” has certainly increased in the wake of AUKUS that pushed France out of its submarine deal with Australia. USA has moved quickly to rebuild trust with France.
- In a joint statement issued after talks with French President, Joe Biden affirmed the “strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, including in the framework of the European Union’s recently published strategy for the Indo-Pacific.”
- Whatever the specific circumstances of the AUKUS deal and its impact on France, the US wants all its partners, especially Europe, to contribute actively to the reconstitution of the Asian balance of power.
- The EU strategy, in turn, sees room for working with the Quad in the Indo-Pacific, while stepping up security cooperation with a number of Asian partners, including India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Vietnam.
- A stronger Europe with greater geopolitical agency is very welcome in Delhi. India is conscious that Europe can’t match America’s military heft in the Indo-Pacific.
- But it could help strengthen the military balance and contribute to regional security in multiple other ways.
- India knows that Europe could significantly boost India’s capacity to influence future outcomes in the Indo-Pacific. It would also be a valuable complement to India’s Quad coalition with Australia, Japan and the United States.
Now, India needs to realise the untapped potential of European Union countries:
- The Danish encounter highlighted India’s immense possibilities with the smaller European countries, the prospects for larger strategic cooperation with the European collective have opened up with the articulation of a comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy by the European Union.
- That Denmark, a country of barely six million people, can establish a significant green partnership with India, is a reminder that smaller countries of Europe have much to offer in India’s economic, technological, and social transformation.
- If tiny Luxembourg brings great financial clout, Norway offers impressive maritime technologies, Estonia is a cyber power, Czechia has deep strengths in optoelectronics, Portugal is a window to the Lusophone world, and Slovenia offers commercial access to the heart of Europe through its Adriatic sea port at Koper. The list goes on.
- As India begins to realise this untapped potential, there are new openings with the 27-nation EU headquartered in Brussels.
- The EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, is likely to have a much greater impact on the region more immediately and on a wider range of areas than military security.
- They range from trade and investment to green partnerships, the construction of quality infrastructure to digital partnerships, and from strengthening ocean governance to promoting research and innovation.
Defence and security are important elements of the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy that “seeks to promote an open and rules-based regional security architecture, including secure sea lines of communication, capacity-building and enhanced naval presence in the Indo-Pacific.
It was Russia that defined India’s discourse on the multipolar world after the Cold War.
Today, it is Europe with its much greater economic weight, technological strength, and normative power that promises to boost India’s own quest for a multipolar world and a rebalanced Indo-Pacific.