In a new world, why old Europe matters

Churning in Europe

  • Recent differences within EU:
    • The divisions within EU got highlighted in the recent years.
    • Economic differences, migration policies and the China factor all have a real basis and have impacted EU. These could remain points of friction among member-states for some time.
    • The UK’s exit has also had consequences.
  • Europe’s increased understanding of China:
    • There is now a realisation in Europe that China is no friend, and it is not like Europe.
    • Europe and China are not driven by the same values and principles, and there is no convergence in world views.
    • China’s ugly conduct of mask diplomacy (where China supplied poor quality masks during Covid peak but made huge publicity of it) was not well received in Europe.
    • Thereafter, China’s Wolf Warrior doctrine (where Chinese diplomats in other countries are taking up aggressive positions) has been deeply disturbing to European sensibilities.
    • Chinese foreign minister’s recent troubled trip to EU indicated a new European resolve to call out China, even as Beijing hardens its own positions.
  • Europe is again looking towards Asia and Indo-Pacific:
    • Europe’s economic obsession following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis saw it withdraw from key political regions, including Asia.
    • The Covid pandemic has brought its attention back towards Asia and indeed to the Indo-Pacific.
    • This can be seen from the recently released Indo-Pacific Strategies by Germany and France and the India Strategy announced by EU.
    • The UK has hinted that it is realigning its political positions.
      • It is currently engaged in its most comprehensive integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policies since the Cold War.

Europe today is at an important point of time:

  • While Covid-19 has disrupted societies, it has also brought greater clarity for individuals and nations.
  • The European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) are two political geographies that may be experiencing this and are certainly at an inflection point (a time of significant change in a situation).

Foreign Secretary’s visit to Europe highlights India’s understanding of this:

  • In this context, Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s recent visit to Paris, Berlin and London is important.
  • The choice of Europe for his first Covid-19-era visit outside the Indian neighbourhood suggests that New Delhi has sensed the importance of this moment.
  • Europe’s importance to India:
    • At a recent event, India’s external affairs minister explained why the ministry continued to invest time and energy in the relationship with Europe.
    • He explained Europe’s importance for India’s most important imperatives — be it technology and the digital domain or becoming a green economy.
    • The region holds the promise of long-term capital, innovation, markets and best practices.

Opportunities for India and Europe:

  • The Indian Foreign Secretary Shringla, during his visit to France, UK and Germany, will find in them a new realism on trade.
  • Free trade deals are not as important as they once were. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has reduced tariff barriers and the pandemic has enhanced the appreciation for non-tariff barriers.
  • Limited trade deals, supply chains restructuring where feasible, and enhanced linkages in health and vaccine value chains will be the focus.
  • There will be less pressure on, and more opportunities for, India.
  • Realising the Sustainable Development Goals; battling the climate crisis through green transitions; and building a digital economy must also be on the menu.

Cooperation towards new global green deal:

  • Post-Covid-19, we must build back green and build back better.
  • In the past four years, the Paris Agreement has rested on European and Indian shoulders. It is time for Europe and India to shape a new global green deal.
  • This EU+1 initiative should be on Shringla’s agenda as he engages with Paris and Berlin.
  • In London, he must create the ground for a bold UK-India announcement at COP-26 with an emphasis on a financing a framework that can catalyse green growth.
  • India co-founded the International Solar Alliance with France and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure with the UK.
  • These are critical legacies to be nurtured.

Collaboration on Technology:

  • Technology is another shared frontier.
  • In the recent years, data from Europe’s banks, insurance and financial firms found safe and efficient homes in India. 
  • The trust between India and EU will define partnerships in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Digital partnerships between India and EU and concurrently India and the UK are inevitable and desirable.
  • On technology norms, digital regulations and data privacy, India and Europe will find their positions aligned, more than that with the extremes of the American and Chinese models.


  • With the US expected to be preoccupied till the new administration settles in by early-summer 2021, New Delhi is doing well to engage with other major Western democracies that, like India, are contributors to stability in the international system.
  • Coming shortly after Foreign Minsiter’s visit to Japan for the Quad talks and bilateral meetings, the foreign secretary’s trip to Europe is an important follow-up.

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