India, European Union restart talks on civil nuclear agreement


India and the European Union have restarted negotiations on a civil nuclear agreement that was virtually mothballed after being signed way back in 2009. European Union experts from Brussels held discussions with officials from the department of atomic energy last week in Mumbai.

With Europol beginning a working relationship with India’s NIA to tackle terrorism and track terror groups that might target either side, there is a greater emphasis on security, counter-terrorism and foreign policy between India and EU, indicating the two are moving beyond their stalled free trade agreement.

The India-EU civil nuclear agreement, unlike others, focuses on nuclear safety and “non-power technologies in the areas of water, health care and medicine, environment, etc.” Indicating a new interest in cooperating on maritime security, EU has asked India to escort World Food Program (WFP) ships through the Indian Ocean as they travel to African states with food aid, recognising India’s capacities and intentions of being a security provider in the Indian Ocean.

India is re-engaging Europe, which is a significant development as the world enters a period of profound changes. The UK is peeling away from the EU creating a great deal of uncertainty. Over in the US, Trump appears to be upending an international order with his inexplicable tactical moves. To the east, the growth of China as an aggressive expansionist power impacts both India’s interests and growth trajectory. From treating the EU with a degree of exasperation, Modi signalled a change this summer when, in the presence of Angela Merkel, he declared, “the cohesiveness of EU is very important.”

Nevertheless, the lack of progress on a free trade agreement sends the wrong signals. German ambassador Martin Ney lent voice to this collective frustration when he said last week that India and EU had “failed” to realise the true potential of their relationship. The lack of a bilateral trade and investment agreement (BTIA) is telling on many European investments which cannot invest in India in the absence of an investment protection environment. After a meeting between commerce minister Suresh Prabhu and his European counterparts in Marakesh, sources said, chief negotiators from both sides are scheduled to meet in Delhi in mid-November to restart negotiations.

A proverbial late entrant, India will be playing catch-up, as EU is on the verge of completing FTA negotiations with Vietnam among a host of Asian countries. However, EU sources said they had stepped up EU public investment via the European investment bank which has pledged euro 1.5 billion in key infrastructure projects like Lucknow and Bengaluru metros and climate change projects. To give a helping hand to European investments, sources said, a bilateral committee acts as a facilitator by working through the difficult Indian system.

India is trying to reach out to EU for development cooperation and implementation of Modi government’s flagship projects. Officials point to the growing canvas of the India-EU relationship. It is significant, diplomats said, that the initiative for scheduling the 2017 India-EU summit was taken by India. Europe and India took a similar stand on a “rules based international order,” giving a thumbs down for the China model of development.

TNN