The future is digital and countries around the globe are racing to secure their share of advanced technologies that could benefit its people dearly. From artificial intelligence and quantum computing to cutting-edge technologies and digital public infrastructure, ICT has transformed millions of lives across the world and continues to play an integral part in India-EU relations too. During the recent India-EU Leaders Conference held at the European Parliament, the Europe India Centre for Business and Industry (EICBI) released a report on “India-EU: ICT Relations” taking stock of India’s evolving tech relationship with the EU, key developments and potential growth opportunities. This article provides a summary of the report, while the complete version is accessible exclusively to our strategic partners.
India and the EU have been cooperating in the ICT sector since 2001. However only in 2005, India and the EU recognized ICT as an important component when it was included in the joint plan of action– enhancing the scope of cooperation in ICT research and development, exchange of best practices on spectrum management, electronic communications and regulatory frameworks. As a continuation of its committed interest in ICT topics, India and the EU set up an exclusive ICT working group in 2011 to maintain constant interaction on topical issues of mutual interest.
India-EU ICT relations got a facelift in 2020 when the Roadmap 2025 was adopted which replaced the 2005 joint plan of action, where ICT was identified under the ‘sustainable modernisation’ head. This enlarged the scope of cooperation to emerging technologies such as 5G technologies, quantum computing, internet-of-things and artificial intelligence. It was around this time, India and the EU decided to establish the Trade and Technology Council and resume negotiations for the long-pending free trade agreement where digital trade and services are a key focus area.
The launch of the EU-India Trade and Technology Council in 2021 was a watershed moment for promoting bilateral ICT cooperation further. The council was set up with an agenda to deepen cooperation and coordination on trade, trusted technology and security. Three working groups function under the council namely- 1) Strategic Technologies, Digital Governance, and Digital Connectivity, 2) Green and Clean Energy Technologies, & 3) Trade, Investment, and Resilient Value Chains. In the first meeting of the council in May 2023, both sides agreed on several issues, to highlight a few- coordinating policies for the strategic semiconductor sector, exploring mutual recognition of certification, and interoperability of digital public infrastructures.
As identified in the report, India and the EU have new opportunities in three main ICT sectors and they are- digital public infrastructure, semiconductors and data governance. First, digital public infrastructures, which involve services such as identification (ID), payment, and data exchange systems that help governments deliver vital services to citizens, have been an integral part of governance systems today. Thanks to India Stack– a set of open software technologies that provide access to various digital services, India today is a global pioneer in DPI and is highlighted by its successful penetration of Aadhar and UPI systems into the economy.
India’s experience with DPIs has drawn global attention and praise, including the EU which also intends to expand its DPI systems back home. The EU, which is ambitious of providing digital identity to all citizens, seeks to learn from India's DPI experience and explore interoperability solutions between Indian and European systems. India's models of digital public infrastructure, which are based on public-private collaboration and open-source principles, provide valuable insights and opportunities for collaboration with the EU.
Secondly, semiconductors have become a critical component of India-EU ICT relations lately. With an aim to strategically de-risk from China, both parties are exploring ways to ensure supply chain resilience in semiconductors technologies. While the EU has been advocating for growth in domestic production through the European CHIPS Act, it considers India as a large market for sourcing inputs and technical skills. India is also taking efforts to ramp up investments for setting up semiconductor plants in the country by providing attractive incentives and sops for potential investors. However, the real potential of India-EU cooperation in this sector lies in skill mobility and exchanges.
Apart from being a tech manufacturing hub, India also possesses a remarkable pool of talented and skilled professionals, including 20% of the world's semiconductor design engineers. This makes the country an immensely attractive destination for semiconductor design, with numerous global semiconductor giants already establishing their presence in terms of design and research and development. Currently, the EU semiconductor industry experiences a gap across various job categories, making it advantageous for the EU to tap into India's growing talent pool of highly skilled workers. An amicable migration and mobility agreement (currently under negotiations) will be a feasible solution to enhance the movement of skilled professionals from India to the EU and vice versa.
Third, data governance will be another area of focus for India-EU ICT cooperation in the coming decades. Data protection and governance are of utmost importance in the digital age, and both India and the EU have established dialogue channels through which they intend to exchange best practices. India and the EU have been constantly exchanging and sharing ideas through existing diplomatic channels/dialogues. The EU has been widely credited for implementing salient data protection laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which has now become a global model for data governance.
India also seeks to establish comprehensive data protection mechanisms and looks to the EU for legal precedents– regarding the collection, storage, and processing of personal data within the country. For example, the recently tabled draft bill on digital data protection in the Indian parliament has been partially modelled based on the GDP, where cognitive provisions such as the right to be forgotten, informed consent etc have been adopted. As India progresses in its journey to spearhead DPIs and revamp tech regulations (Digital India Act etc), cyber security and data privacy is expected to be prioritised, opening doors for enhanced knowledge-sharing engagements with the EU.
India and the European Union (EU) have been natural partners in the ICT sector. India has been a merry-maker in ICTs and digital services for more than three decades, whereas the EU has spearheaded digital governance initiatives that have been efficient and exemplary. To top it, India and the EU share similar digital transformation and empowerment missions in the form of ‘Digital India’ and ‘Digital Single Market’ respectively, which make their collaboration in the ICT sector more special and consequential. By capturing their respective capabilities, India and the EU can transform bilateral ties to the needs and requirements of a fast and digitally evolving 21st century
(K.A.Dhananjay is a Policy and Advocacy Associate fellow with Europe India Centre for Business and Industry at Europe India Centre for Business and Industry.).