The EU-India Strategic Partnership: A Problem of Strategy?

Analysis by Fiona GESKES

The EU’s strategic partnerships (US, China, Brazil, Japan, India, Russia, Canada, Mexico, South Korea and South Africa), like its foreign policy more generally, are never far from the criticism that they are ineffectual. Its partnership with India especially tends to leave observers wondering what the substantive value of such a strategic relationship is and, moreover, why the relationship between these two economic giants is not more advanced. India after all, with its 1.3 billion citizens and its growing economic importance in the region, should be of greater interest to the EU than it seems to be. In particular it seems politically far removed from the ‘broad political partnership’ the two should be having. In order to offer a deeper insight into the various aspects of the partnership this article will take a closer look at the economic, security and political relations between the two.

François Hollande and Narendra Modi during recent negotiations - by Co9man, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
François Hollande and Narendra Modi during recent negotiations – by Co9man, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As with many of the EU’s strategic partnerships, economic considerations may be the most fruitful aspect of the three. India is of growing importance to the EU. It is ranked among the top ten EU trading partners and enjoys strong economic ties with EU member states, such as Germany and France. The recent political shift in India, with the election of Modi as Prime Minister, promised a wide range of economic reform, although this has yet to materialise. Whilst economic relations seem to be the most fruitful, it is the political and diplomatic relations which appear to be the problematic elements in the relations between the two.

The security relations between India and the EU tend to be overshadowed by India’s reluctance to sign the treaty for the International Criminal Court (ICC), certainly a bone of contention for the Europeans.  A further delicate issue is the Kashmir conflict. In a European Parliament resolution of 2007, the Parliament was highly critical of Indian armed forces that have committed human rights violations. An article, published in the Times of India, demonstrates the tensions the resolution caused. India, in many ways, remains an isolationist foreign policy player. The tensions in security relations are further underlined by the lack of European support for India’s campaign to gain a seat in the UN Security Council.

The political relations are perhaps the most confusing aspect of the partnership. While there have been several summits, there have also been notable last minute cancellations and diplomatic rows.  In 2012 the annual summit was cancelled at the 11th hour, officially because of ‘logistical difficulties’. Yet it has also been pointed out that India was in the midst of a diplomatic row with Italy over the murder of two Indian fishermen, a crime apparently perpetrated by two Italian marines off the coast of Southern India. The marines, part of an Italian military operation, have since claimed diplomatic immunity and the case is likely to go to an international court for arbitration. All this indicates that the relations are not what they could be – or what the strategic partnership sets them out to be. It suggests that the EU as a whole entity has yet to develop a strong bilateral partnership with India. Part of this can certainly be explained by the EU’s more general difficulties in establishing a cohesive foreign and security policy. However, a second part can also be found on the other side: India’s bilateral relations with EU member states. The most recent EU-India Summit was overshadowed by the bilateral France – India Summit, which was held the following day. Furthermore, India enjoys strong relations with Germany. Politically, the two partners do not seem to be on the same page. Neither do they seem to want to be. 

The strategic partnership between India and the EU has stagnated, but it may have wider implications for the EU’s foreign policy and its general inability to foster cohesive and productive relations with partners outside of the EU.

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