India-EU relations: Rediscovering the ‘Old’ Relation

India-EU relations: Rediscovering the ‘Old’ Relation

By Urvashi Seth. India and European Union have a long history of diplomat relations which dates back to the 1960s. India was one of the first countries in South Asia to form diplomat relations with the European Economic Community. The first ever India-European Union Summit took place in Lisbon on 28th June, 2008. Since then, thirteen summits have taken place.

In the 13th India-European Union Summit held on 30th March 2016, the summit saw the adoption seven outcome documents including a Joint Statement and Agenda for Action 2020. The Indian delegation was led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with the then Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The European Union delegation was led by Mr. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council and Mr. Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission.

Joint declarations on India-EU Water Partnership and a Clean Energy and Climate Partnership were signed to take action in areas of water, environment and more. Joint declaration on counter terrorism was also signed in the wake of rise in terrorist attacks in both India and European Union nations. In the summit, trade dealing issues were discussed. Moreover, 200 million pounds were released out of the 450 million pounds loan from the European Investment Bank for the Lucknow metro project.

But, did European Union and India share the same relations earlier?

Many analysts believe that even though India is one of the most important trade partners for the European Union, they were not able to exercise their relations in the manner to produce the desired results. They believe that India-European Union’s partnership lost its momentum by focusing largely on trade and culture rather than political and strategy issues.

For India, the concerns include the heavy subsidized agriculture industry. This makes it difficult for the Indian farmers and could hurt them. Work visa restriction and movement of skilled employment in the European Union has been a great concern for India. Another concern is the ban by the European Union on some of Indian products like Mangoes which affects the relations between two regions.

For European Union, the duty and tariff protection in areas of wine, spirits and dairy products posses a problem. The recent legal proceedings of Italian marines have brought ties at stand still. The over immigration of Indian pollution to the European Union means lesser jobs for the people of the Union and hence to tackle this, they had to impose the visa restrictions which further damaged the relations between the two.

The Chinese challenge for the European Union and India

It is also a fact that the European Union never really saw a potential partner in India. European Union, was earlier quite interested in the Belt and Road Initiative by China, even though India has been from the start been opposing for the lack of transparency in the initiative. With the initial enthusiasm in the Belt and Road Initiative, European Union finally realised the issues and have been taking stand with India, asking the Chinese counterpart to bring more transparency in the process. “India was one of the first countries to articulate concerns around BRI on the lack of transparency, and adherence to international norms. European member states and the EU too have articulated their position on BRI – that is should be based on transparency, a level playing field, reciprocity, and economic and environmental sustainability,” said one of the officials from European Union.

Another challenge the European Union and India has to tackle is the growing presence of China in the south and southeast region. China has been politically and economically dominating the region which has brought the European Union and India together. One of the European analysts said, “connectivity is “not just a Chinese idea”. We are in the process of preparing their own strategy on “Euro-Asian Connectivity”. The strategy will describe Europe’s approach to connectivity, financial instruments for funding projects, and strategies for cooperating with partners — including China, but also Japan, India, ASEAN, and others.”

The ‘current’ concerns surrounding the partnership

With Brexit bound to happen in October 2019, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of European Union. India has shared a great individual connect with countries like Germany, France and Britain. With Britain leaving the union, it might hamper the possibility of a better future with the Union. Also, India has believed in having bilateral talks with individual countries, which is why India has been a bit sceptical in signing deals with the European Union as a whole.

Another concern is the recent ban by European Union on some pharmaceutical products (700 generic drugs). “The EU ban had led to India deferring the negotiations on the proposed bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA),” said one of the officials.


With the Trump administration imposing more restrictions on the trade of different products from the European Union, it has become difficult for European Union to find a way through. For this, they need to start engaging with south Asia for starters. Many analysts believe that a partnership with European Union can be game changing.

“In Asia, the focus, so far, for Europe has understandably been China, also Japan and to some extent, the ASEAN countries. I am simply pointing out that there is a country called India, it does 60% of the trade that Japan does, it has 80% of the investment which the EU has in Japan, so Europe needs to give it a little more attention,” said external affairs minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Both the sides, as of now, needs to understand their positions and try indulging in more dialogues which would benefit both. Both need to strategically start framing the dialogues. For India, it needs to start focussing on the European Union as a whole and the European Union needs to start recognizing India as a potential strategic partner and not just a potential trade partner.


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