By Juš Černovšek, Lawyer, Slovenia.

In the words of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy: “The European Union (EU) and India share both aspirations and fundamental values, notably a commitment to multilateralism in world affairs. We should bolster our relationship not as an end in itself, but with a real sense of purpose«[1] There is no doubt that India and EU should be important partners in economic and political views. But is that really so? Is the strategic partnership between the two really strategic? This article reflects on the relations between the EU and India and tries to point out the differences and similarities and especially the potential that this relationship has. On one hand it tries to analyze the biggest problems of the relationship while on the other explains the current situations and advantages that come from it.

The EU-India bilateral relations have more historical precedence than most others, going back as early as the 1960s.  In 1994, the two parties signed a Co-Operation Agreement resulting in annual summits between the two parties and it has laid the foundation for current relations. In 2004, the Co-Operation Agreement was expanded upon via the accord of a Joint Action Plan that made India one of the EU’s primary ‘strategic partners’. Revised in 2008, the Action Plan fosters cooperation on issues of international security, the development of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and the bilateral collaboration on climate change.[2] The EU-28 is India’s largest trading partner, accounting for roughly 15 percent of total trade in goods and services. It is an important market for India’s export of textiles, apparel, pharmaceuticals, gems, jewelry and IT. The EU is also the largest source of FDI inflows to India, accounting for over one-fourth of the total.[3]

As stated India and EU also cooperate on the field of security, especially Terrorism. Both have in 2010, signed a Joint Declaration in which they »Condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purpose«[4] India has also played a key role in failed state initiatives such as the Sri Lankan Civil War in the late 80s and in Afghanistan over the past decade.[5]

But how do these agreements translate in to practice? Is the cooperation with the EU and India reaching its potential? Despite important economic gains that come from the relationship, EU and India are still trying to conclude the FTA for which the negotiations started in 2007 but is on thin ice since 2011 and it does not seem that it will be agreed upon in the near future. The conclusion of the agreement would represent a major achievement in the economic relations, as the agreement has enormous potential in fostering the growth of the European and Indian markets.       

Even though numerous agreements were already made and negotiated the concrete cooperation is still severely lacking. According to the study made by academics Stephan Keukeleire and Bas Hooijmaaijers which analyzes the voting patterns in the United Nations General Assembly between India and the (then) 27 EU member states from 2004-2010. On issues of international security, India and the member states of the EU cast the same response between 20 – 47 percent most of the times. The study shows fundamental differences in how the EU and India view their role in the global community. India is far less concerned with being a global actor than the EU, and seemingly prefers specific agreements that will help growth before all else.[6] India also has different views on global governance issues and multilateralism, it strongly supports respect for national sovereignty and prefers legally non-binding commitments agreed by consensus, while the EU is in general a strong proponent of international legally binding commitments as well as powerful international regimes. The EU encourages social protection, respect for the environment and human rights, while India is rather reluctant to let its economic growth and development be limited by concerns about these issues.[7]

These findings are worrying for the EU and for its ambition to project its values as a normative power. The EU considers human rights issues as highly important in its foreign policy and easily assumes that this position is shared by other democratic countries in the world. However, the data demonstrate that the EU significantly differs on these issues with an important country that the EU not only has designated as a strategic partner, but that it also perceives as a full-fledged democracy. The observation that India and the EU member states do not cast identical votes on human rights issues in the UNGA can be explained by India‘s strong preference to respect the national sovereignty of third countries and to uphold the principles of non-intervention and equality between nations. These principles or values are considered more important than the promotion of human rights and democracy which – at least in the EU‘s formal discourse – figure at the top of the EU‘s priorities. The launch of the EU-India strategic partnership in 2004 so far does not seem to have helped the EU and India to overcome their different approaches.[8]

Despite the stated problems, the relationship between India and EU has a bright future and should be looked upon as a great opportunity. Trade between the two has more than doubled from €25.6 billion (US$36.7 billion) in 2000 to 55.6 billion euros in 2007, with further expansion to be seen.[9] Furthermore, the EU pledged up to 470 million Euros from 2007-2013 that focused EU funds on the Joint Action Plan and especially education and healthcare initiatives within India. Such further agreements only highlight the increased importance of the partnership. It seems that EU will again step up and work harder to improve the relations with India, not only on economical level but also on the fields of human rights and climate change. As Neena Gill, a vice-chair of parliament’s delegation for relations with India said: »The organization of an EU-India summit in 2015 will be crucial in making sure New Delhi is put back on our agenda – and vice versa. Bringing relations under an EU framework will allow us to deliver results that far exceed the combined outcome of bilateral agreements with individual EU member states. If we want the strategic partnership with India to be worthy of its name, we will need to develop a substantive agenda for the summit, have a clear idea of the results we want to achieve, and secure the budget necessary to make this happen. It is high time to fire up the circuits, and de-ice the EU-India relationship.”[10]

[1] Catherine Ashton, New Delhi, 2010

[2] Akasha Radia, Examining The EU-India Relationship Dynamic,

[3] Ritesh Kumar Singh & Prachi Priya, What’s Holding Back the India-EU FTA?,

[4] EU – India Joint declaration on International Terrorism, Brussels 2010,

[5] Ibid 2.

[6] Ibid 2.

[7] Stephan Keukeleire and Bas Hooijmaaijers, EU-India relations and multilateral governance: where is the „strategic partnership‟?, page 120, FPRC Journal, 2013.

[8] Ibidem 7.

[9] EU, India to expand cooperation,

[10] Neena Gill, Time to de-ice’ EU-India relations,