Mini Summit - Will a dedicated Indian Embassy for the EU help to increase India's engagement with the EU
Date: 28th April 2022
Europe India Centre for Business and Industry (EICBI) hosted a web panel discussion on the 28th of April, to commemorate the memory of the senior official and founding father of the European Union (EU), Mr Walter Hallstein, who visited India in April 1963 for the first time ever. The virtual summit was held as a build-up for the Europe India Leaders Conference 2023 on 5th July at AWEX and European Parliament in Brussels. The session began with a brief opening note by EICBI Chairman, Sujit Nair. The keynote speakers were Dr Gulshan Sachdeva, Dr Amit Lath, Dr Vijay Mehta, and Mr Niccolo Rinaldi. The keynote address by followed by a panel discussion moderated by Mr Stefano Boldorini - Founder World in Your Hands ( WIYH) which had the participation of the following EuropeIndia40 leaders – Ms Meena Cristiana, Ms Priya Vijaykumar Poojary, Mr Rajarshi Rakesh Sahai and Dr Louren van Hafften
Dr Gulshan Sachdeva, Professor, Centre for European Studies JNU; Jean Monnet Chair; Head, Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence, presented an interesting idea of having a separate embassy for the EU in India. The panellists discussed the defensive and new momentum of EU-India relationships, the importance of Europe as a partner in trade and investment, and the geopolitical evolution that has pushed for trade ties between India and the EU to reduce dependency on China and Brexit. They also discussed restarting trade negotiations, establishing a trade and technology council, and establishing connectivity partnerships. They noted traditional strategic partnerships with Germany, France, and Italy, a green strategic partnership with Denmark, a water strategic partnership with the Netherlands, and a partnership with Nordic states.
Furthermore, he discussed cooperation pushing for a digital economy, trade, health, migration, and SDGs in the road map 2025. They also discussed Indo-Pacific politics and strategies with the EU. The result of the Russia-Ukraine war, help exte3nded by the EU with political, diplomatic, and humanitarian support while responding to inflation and energy diversification. India's stand on the war was a matter of disappointment. They evaluated India-EU ties of the future and noted the convergence of interests, which, with strong institutional mechanisms to support the partnership, will enable a long-term partnership.
Dr Amit Lath, CEO of Sharada Group of companies and Pravasi Bharatiya Samman 2023 awardee noted that the development trend in the past 16-18 months is not very positive for Europe. He reminded the EU parliament, MPs, and nations of the importance of an FTA with India - close at hand. He suggested changes in policies for nations struggling because of them. At a recent diplomatic visit by Indian diplomats, a discussion on India's engagement with the region will push to take the deal with India more seriously. He suggested specific delegation work to ease relations and improve them. He suggested engaging at different levels of discussion to be finally heard by the EU parliament. The 700+ member parliament are the policymakers who need to be appealed to and approached to build up the trade. He encouraged the Indian diaspora to be visible to the MPs to get the conversation started or continued. Having a particular Indian representative as an institution will be a presence felt and push the momentum.
Dr Vijay Mehta, Member, National Executive, Foreign Affairs Department - UK & EU, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), noted that India is the 5th largest economy, competing with Germany. Developing and competing with world leaders is unprecedented. He noted that booming businesses and profit margins are expanding and being a major contributor post-COVID. He noted long-standing relations with the EU, post-war funding, sensitive situations, and the war's wounds on the EU economy. He noted similarities between India and the EU functioning at the centre and state levels. Indian embassies' ambition in respective countries is to boost trade and solve any diplomatic issue. Setting up an embassy will have a dedicated and focused team that will interact locally and help guide policymakers to be aware of the situation and changes and strengthen ties.
Mr Niccolo Rinaldi, Directorate General for External Policies of the Union - European Parliament/ Ex Member of European Parliament, welcomed the idea of a dedicated structure that will help boost trade and eliminate trade imbalances. He highlighted the potential for growth in business and trade in the Indo-Pacific, but it comes with restrictions like post-Brexit recovery. He stressed the need to reduce dependency on China and boost high-quality EU products sold in India, aiming to liberalise trade and goods within 7 years of the agreement, eliminate export duties, and liberalise investment provisions at both federal and non-federal levels. He also stressed the need to support bilateral efforts to reach targets in terms of climate while meeting deadlines and adhering to trade provisions.
Priya Vijaykumar Poojary, Lecturer - Manipal Centre for European Studies - Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence/ EuropeIndia40 Leader, highlighted the progress made in the EU-India relationship, which has moved away from traditional bilateral trade agreements to multi-faceted engagements. Despite these efforts, there is still a disconnect, and public relations efforts are required to ease the challenges and create a presence that challenges prejudice. The complexity of the EU image, particularly during recent times of crisis, has further complicated matters. To address this, robust public diplomacy will be effective.
Dedicated unified structures are needed to move away from the shadow of member states while maintaining bilateral relations. Facilitating an increase in student and scholarly projects and mobility programs funded by the EU will require more reciprocity to encourage more EU research in India. India's education policy needs to be a global player, and Indian study centres should be strengthened to promote Indian knowledge. The diaspora reach-out approach needs to be increased to challenge perceptions and stereotypes.
Ms Meena Cristiana, Cultural promoter/ EuropeIndia40 Leader, discussed Operation Ganga and India-Romania relations during the Ukraine war. The development of programs by Rahul Srivastava to promote Indian culture and community openness to Romanian culture was highlighted. Cultural exchange as a serious bond and how the community can work with these communities was discussed. The focus needs to be on places where there is a heavy concentration of the population.
Mr Rajarshi Rakesh Sahai, CEO - Biliti Electric/ EuropeIndia40 Leader, talked about cultural missions, and one challenge is the tapering of cultural exchange and connections in the last 15 years. There needs to be a strong base for trade needs and political consensus, but there also needs to be a technocratic understanding. India's inability to provide provisions for its needs is causing a disconnect due to the roots stemming from political disconnection. Trade and understanding from the same academic and diplomatic rigour are required. The mission needs more clarity of political standing and direction from India. Indian bureaucracy has more external talent that can be applied to foreign trade to augment, and the focus needs to be on diasporia support and connections and open-door policies.
Dr Louren van Hafften, Assistant Professor Pedagogy and the History of Education - University of Groningen/ EuropeIndia40 Leader discussed the late discovery of higher education cooperation as a geopolitical instrument by the EU. Talks on strategic partner agreements and promising look for Indian needs to be worked on, and higher education needs to be used to develop stronger ties and drive progress. The EU's attraction to Indian students, but no attraction of EU students to India needs to be worked on. Lastly, the harms of presenting India as a technological India were highlighted.
As the panel discussion wrapped up the floor was open for questions from the audience and which were answered by both the EU India 40 panelists and the guest speakers.
The participants discussed various challenges and opportunities related to the EU-India relationship. Priya highlighted the need for a mindset change and the setting up of embassies to establish bilateral trade. Mina emphasised the need for a structured and inclusive vision, while Rajarshi highlighted the visa regulations and entry harmonisation issues that need to be addressed. Lourens discussed the complexities of the EU organisation and the need for more groundwork to make tactical decisions, while Gulshan offered programs on India to encourage research projects and focus on India.
The conference participants discussed the need for a dedicated, unified structure that is away from the shadow of member states while maintaining bilateral relations. They also emphasised the need to increase student and scholarly projects and mobility programs funded by the EU, with more reciprocity from India to encourage more EU research in India. India's education policy should be to become a global player, with more focus on strengthening Indian study centres to promote Indian knowledge.
The speakers also highlighted the importance of the diaspora reaching out, promoting cultural exchange, and challenging perceptions and stereotypes. They emphasised the need for more clarity on the political standing and the direction of India and the need to augment the Indian bureaucracy with external talent that can be applied to foreign trade councils. Furthermore, they discussed the need to present India as a cultural and technological powerhouse, rather than just a technological India.
In conclusion, the EU-India 4o Panel Discussion Conference provided an excellent platform for policymakers, scholars, and experts to discuss various aspects of EU-India trade, education, and cultural exchange. The conference participants emphasised the need for more groundwork, efforts, and initiatives from both sides to address the challenges and opportunities related to the EU-India relationship.