India and EU are in the final stages of preparing for their 16th summit in a bid to shape a rules-based ‘multipolar’ order. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, earlier scheduled to travel to the Portuguese city of Porto, is now rescheduled to meet his counterparts virtually. Senior Indian and EU officials have been working overtime to take forward discussions on issues including the launch of an investment facilitation mechanism, regulatory cooperation, and removal of trade barriers. Other issues for discussion include continuation of the dialogue on intellectual property rights, collaborating in research and innovation, promoting green economy, addressing multilateral issues of mutual interest and building resilient value chains, and preparing the ground for a free trade agreement.
Addressing Regional Expediency
Since the 15th Summit in July 2020 EU-India relations have been strongly influenced by regional and global developments, including the pandemic. Having previously largely revolved around economic issues, Covid-19 has brought about a deeper indivisibility of EU-India co-existence. The pandemic has exposed serious vulnerabilities around health security, redefining the concept of security with renewed focus on resilient supply chains and on additional engines of growth needed to de-risk the global economy. The situation has also highlighted the need for more transparency, market viability, robust democracy, effective multilateralism and people centric security and development.
Climate change is also likely to dominate the summit, with attention focusing on renewable energy, transition to clean energy, net carbon pathways, electric mobility, biodiversity and water issues including EU-India partnership and collaboration in Africa and wider Asia. Prospects for a comprehensive partnership in climate and environmental areas stand to gain momentum after the US rejoined the Paris Agreement and many EU member states joined the International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
The challenge of countering terrorism has been formidable, and beyond the Covid pandemic era, the focus will shift to jointly combating the menace of radicalization. India is likely to step up diplomatic efforts to isolate those siding with terrorist organisations during its new term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and in forums like the Financial Action Task Force and the G-20.
Cooperation on new technologies and digital domains are also likely to see growing prominence in discussions, since the pandemic has caused a shift to virtual platforms, which has increased cyber security challenges. Covid-19 has also resulted in one of the largest repatriation exercises in history, and to disruption in manufacturing due to the abrupt collapse of supply chains and mobility. All of this has highlighted the need for further dialogue and international collaboration.
Multilateralism and the Rules-based Order
As an emerging global power, India plays a key role in the current multipolar world. To maintain the rules-based global order, it is vital that the EU and India collaborate to implement effective multilateralism and global economic governance, including through the frameworks of the United Nations, World Trade Organization, and G-20.
The EU and India also share common values and together help promote rules-based solutions to socio-economic and political challenges, aimed at building peace, prosperity, and stability regionally and internationally. The EU works to engage India to promote common global agendas on human rights and democracy, data protection, gender equality and women’s empowerment and the inclusion of young people. Enhancing humanitarian coordination and developing joint actions on food security and disaster relief would also bring clear added value.
The EU is also seeking regular exchanges and coordination with India on major foreign policy issues. Cooperation on security and defence policies will be enhanced to address terrorism, cyber security, hybrid threats and maritime security. Crisis management ties, including military-to-military relations, are underway at advanced levels of decision making between both sides.
The upcoming Summit will signal a major shift in EU-India relations. It will highlight the fact the EU now recognises Asia as ‘multipolar’ and views India’s role as a strategic counterbalance based on values and principles of democracy, openness, and transparency for a new global order. This is part of the EU’s wider strategy of promoting Indo-Pacific cooperation, which is set by the European council. Thus, while superficially the Summit may appear to be limited to EU-India relations, it in fact has major geo-strategic implications for the entire Indo-Pacific region, which is rapidly changing.
Together, as vibrant democracies and open societies, India and the EU can help shape the emerging world order with universal values, the ethos of multilateralism and a rules-based approach.