Over the last two decades, India-EU relationship has successfully transformed from its traditional economic interaction to a broader strategic dimension. That the transformation from entrenched perception to broad-based synergies and cooperation has come through frank dialogue and mutual understanding is indeed remarkable. The journey since 2000, when the first summit was held, has been long and challenging but by all accounts successful. Today, the two reinforce one another and their evolved ‘strategic partnership’ is seen as common conviction to deal with global challenges.
On May 8, 2021 the European Union and its member states and India met in ‘hybrid format’ in Porto, a coastal city in northwest Portugal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took part in these crucial deliberations as a special invitee. It carried forward the momentum of shared interests and values and a Roadmap 2025 that was provided in the last summit in July 2020. As the world’s two largest democracy, India and EU have a definite role to play in not only ensuring global security but equally working in tandem to bring in necessary reforms of multilateral organisations as well as implement sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement of 2015. The summit also underlined that India’s memberships in the UN Security Council in 2021-2022 and in the UN Human Rights Council in 2019-2021, and its forthcoming G20 Presidency in 2023 can further the strategic partnership in bringing global peace and order and respect of law.
The Summit also came at a time of India’s vaccination drive against the COVID-19 pandemic and as the joint statement noted, “Recognising the role of extensive immunisation as a global public good and concurring that the vaccination process is not a race amongst countries but a race against time, we welcomed the EU’s and its Member States’ contribution to vaccines’ production and their substantial support to the COVAX Facility, as well as India’s efforts to produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to over 90 countries through its ‘Vaccine Maitri’.” The pandemic situation has opened the door for India-EU to cooperate on health emergencies and build a resilient medical supply chain. Prime Minister Modi expressed his “expressed his appreciation of the EU and its member states for mobilizing rapid support for India’s fight against the second wave of Coronavirus.”
An interesting area of convergence of interest has been the ‘connectivity agreement’ based on “principles of social, economic, fiscal, climate and environmental sustainability and a level playing field for economic operators.” This convergence assumes geo-strategic significance and can be seen as counter-balancing China and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by diversifying supply chain, reducing trade imbalance and building digital, energy and transport connectivity. The joint statement noted to this effect, “The Partnership will synergise our efforts with the work of the multilateral development banks, including the EIB [European Invest Bank] and public and private financial institutions of the EU Member States and India for promoting sustainable infrastructure projects.”
A significant feature of the Summit was on ‘Protecting our planet and fostering green growth.’ The EU is a principal protagonist in the climate change debate. Combating climate change has given the EU a collective identity and leadership role distinct from and even opposed to that of the US. In its December 2002 Communication, the EU had noted: “The Union must be in a position to take more resolute and more effective action in the interests of sustainable development and to deal with certain new risks, associated in most cases with the persistent and growing economic and social imbalances in the world. It must therefore stick up for a strategy of sustainable development, based on a multilateral and multipolar organisation of the world economy, to offset any hegemonic or unilateral approach”. The spirit of this communication remains fundamental to the climate convergence with India. Not surprisingly, the EU has invited India to participate in the negotiations on Global Plastics Agreement.
India on its part has stressed on the importance of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.
India’s own climate leadership has been proactive. In the early phases of climate debate, India led the resistance of developing world against the injustices of the historical polluters who seldom took the responsibility of their climate damaging actions.
Now critically involved in climate deal making, India has changed the narrative by introducing ‘Climate Justice’ in the Paris Agreement preamble and later the issue of ‘differentiation’ in the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol in 2016.
India now leads the climate debate by example. It has one of the most ambitious renewable energy goals across the world. By the end of 2022, it hopes to achieve a capacity of 175 GW of renewable energy and 450 GW by 2030.
The EU equally has robust sustainable energy goals. The joint statement noting the convergence welcomed “EU’s support to the International Solar Alliance, as well as India’s leadership in promoting solar power…”
Clean energy and climate partnership are the critical areas that can navigate India-EU future relations. For India one of its biggest challenge is the energy transition. This transition has to be just and cannot be at the cost of jobs, growth or sustainability.
Such transition requires affordable finance. It is estimated that India would require $ 200 bn investment for future renewable targets or as some calculations puts it $ 40 bn a year. Fiscal challenges are, therefore, enormous. There are also ground realities that impede the renewable story like scaling rooftop solar and energy storage. Conscious of the clean energy challenges, the 2021 Summit decided to give a new work programme under the India-EU Energy Panel with a purpose to “…accelerate the deployment of renewable energy, promote energy efficiency, collaborate on smart grid & storage technology and modernise the electricity market. Through the Partnership’s new work programme, we will step up cooperation to deploy innovative renewable technologies, such as offshore wind, as well as to exploit the potential of hydrogen – in particular from renewable sources – and of electricity inter-connections, to enable the cost-effective integration of large shares of renewable electricity.”
Both the EU and India extract a lot of strategic value from their partnership. It also needs to be emphasised that both India and EU are unions of diversity. No sectoral reforms in a densely populated country like India can ensue without global climate collaboration which will require, among many things, facilitated access to technology and finance, but also dissuading countries from pressurizing others. India-EU are natural allies in promoting international coordination and cooperation and thus sustaining the partnership through regular institutionalised dialogues is of paramount importance.
(Dr Uttam Sinha is a fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. He is also, co-editor, among other volumes, of The Modi Doctrine: new paradigms in India’s Foreign Policy (2016). Views expressed are his own.)
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