You are about to complete your assignment in India. What impressions are you leaving with?
Although my diplomatic mission is almost complete, I still feel that I am a newcomer on a learning curve. The year I spent in India in the early 1980s allows me to have a sense of the interplay between rootedness and transformation. Both sides of that equation have positives and negatives, opportunities and dangers and the way that they play out will determine the future. Searching for national traits is a dangerous occupation, but I have always been struck by how patient Indians are. Now I have the feeling that they are becoming less patient and probably that is a good thing because it comes with ambition and a belief that their country can and should make great progress.
On a personal level, I leave India with a deep sense of gratitude for what this country has given to me and to my family. We will be leaving India, but India will not be leaving us. India travels with us and will always remain with us, as memories, but also as a living experience because we look at the world a little differently now.
What are the EU’s objectives in political and security cooperation with India?
Political and security cooperation are at the core of the EU-India Strategic Partnership that bonds us since 2004. Both India and the EU share the values of peace, stability and the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Both sides are confronted with international scourges, ranging from terrorism to non-proliferation and cyberattacks to name but a few contemporary issues. India and the EU Operation ATALANTA cooperate in preventing piracy and protecting World Food Programme convoys in the Indian Ocean, for instance. The EU and India have a common interest in tackling these international issues and hence hold regular consultations and exchanges of best practices, accompanied at times by practitioners seminars or visits. In May 2015, for example, the EU-India Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism and the Cybersecurity Consultations will take place in Brussels.
What are the EU’s expectations from the EU-India Summit later this year?
The 2015 Summit will be the first to be held under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi on the Indian side, and that of President Tusk and President Juncker on the European Union’s side. Expectations are great indeed. First of all, it will be the opportunity for the leadership to take stock of the EU-India Strategic Partnership and its Joint Action Plan which have now crossed their 10th anniversary. Over 10 years, there have been tremendous changes. One of them is the stronger coordination of EU foreign policy under the leadership of the High Representative Federica Mogherini.
Conversely, a new government with a strong majority has come to power in India, engaging on a dynamic foreign policy path. Together with revived political cooperation, I have in mind economic revival, growth and employment creation, and climate change action underpinned by stronger development of infrastructure, urban development, clean and renewable energy and research and education including skills development. These are all areas in which the EU has much to offer, and this would receive a great boost from the conclusion of a BTIA or bilateral trade and investment agreement.
What are the salient features of EU-India trade and investment?
Our bilateral trade relationship is very robust and it has been so for a long time. The EU is India’s largest trading partner accounting for nearly €100 billion in trade in goods and services in 2013. India is the 9th most important trading partner for the EU. Total trade in goods between both partners more than doubled from around €29 billion in 2003 to €72.5 billion in 2014. Moreover, trade is more or less balanced. It should also be noted that India is the largest beneficiary of EU’s preferential trade scheme – known as GSP – with preferential imports worth €15.3 billion entering the EU market in 2014. India will continue to be a beneficiary of the scheme after 2014. Europe is a reliable long-term partner for India. The EU has also been the biggest investor in India and at the same time the EU is also the most important destination of outward investment from India. Having said all that, there are still great opportunities to increase bilateral trade and enhance our trade relations. The best way to do this is a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement. Discussions on an EU–India FTA have made substantial progress. If we manage to iron out the last remaining differences, the FTA, it will bring our trade relationship to a very different level. The EU and several of its member states have promised major initiatives in response to flagship programmes of the government such as Make in India, Clean India and Digital India.
Could you tell us what the EU’s role would be?
The role of the EU is to facilitate the involvement of our industry in these ambitious programmes. We expect European industry, which is well-known for its technological strength and global orientation, to play a major role in the achievement of these goals. There are plenty of opportunities for co-operation and business: the EU institutions will do what is in their capacity to assist this process. The EU can also provide valuable experience and know-how on policy development and implementation for many of these areas. In Europe, policy frameworks are developed at the EU level but implemented by the 28 member states. This model is well suited to India which has a similar federal structure and allows implementation of the most cost-effective solutions by individual states.
Have you identified any specific initiatives at the EU level?
This is work in process. The government of India is still rolling out its programmes and we are monitoring with great attention what is happening. Meanwhile, we have supported several programmes to facilitate business in India, such as the Capacity Building Initiative for Trade Development in India and the EBTC – the European Business and Technology Centre which promotes the transfer of technologies and investments in energy, environment, sustainable transport and biotech. We are also very interested in cooperating with India to develop Smart Cities, and the EU already has an ongoing cooperation with Mumbai for sustainable urbanisation. Based on this, we are keen to share experience with other Smart Cities. One possible new field of action is the cleaning of the Ganga for which Europe has vast experience in river basin planning and the implementation of clean technologies for water treatment in a cost-effective way.
What, if any, are the developments you would like to see on the Indian side?
We are working very actively with India on this. The Indian government has managed to stabilise the macroeconomic situation, rekindle growth and curb both inflation and the current account deficit. Many of the government’s initiatives to improve the business and investment environment are very encouraging and they will hopefully contribute to the ease of doing business in India. This would be great for Indian as well as for European companies. We are confident the government will successfully implement these reforms. There are several additional areas where we consider that more intervention is needed to facilitate economic activity. Importantly, and beyond the quality of the specific legislation, it is important to ensure that applicable regulations are spelled clearly and enforced effectively.
What are the strategic elements in EU-India cooperation in information and communication technologies?
Information and communication technologies play a crucial role in improving governance, improving transparency, facilitating business across global supply chains and speeding up decision making. Both India and the EU have ambitious agendas to stimulate growth at the grassroots and contribute to the positive development of our societies. Hence the flagship initiatives ‘Digital India’ and the ‘Digital Single Market’ for Europe. I could well imagine establishing links between the two initiatives. This can be implemented – as just one example – in the form of closer cooperation on new ICT standards, which would facilitate trade and investment for both sides.
What would you like to see happen in this field over the next years?
We are starting from a solid basis: major European ICT companies are already active in India. They have contributed to growth and created well over 100,000 quality jobs. They manufacture in India, provide services in India, undertake research and innovation, and support their global markets from India. If such companies find an open and predictable business environment and more ease of doing business, then investments will certainly grow manifold and “Make in India” and “Digital India” will flourish.