Can Europe and India Ever Talk About the World?

I recently gave the Jean Monnet lecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University on the topic of Europe and Asia, a topic only slightly smaller than the Eurasian land mass. So I focused largely on the European Union and its policies toward China, India and Asian regionalism.

The EU and India have struggled to find anything to talk about beyond trade and diplomatic niceties. The obvious reasons are the lack of a common European foreign policy, the tendency of the three biggest European nations to tell New Delhi to ignore Brussels, and the geographical distance between the two subcontinents (think about it: geographically, Europe is a subcontinent).

But, I argued, there is a far more fundamental problem: two completely different worldviews. The EU was developed on a post-Westphalia, post-modern (or whatever you want to call it) concept of security. This meant that national security was best handled by dissolving sovereignty, interfering with each other and complete transparency on matters military and security.

India, even by the standards of other emerging economies, is extraordinarily sovereign-conscious. It’s not that Indian strategists disagree with their European counterparts, they simply find their perspectives baffling: the support for military intervention, the focus on individual rights, global issues and so on. Logical if you don’t take sovereignty seriously, but infuriating if you put it on a pedestal.

The sense that the EU model was unique to the European region and Brussels attempted to sell it elsewhere did not impress India – especially its heroic but doomed attempt to “teach” China how to become a liberal responsible power in the decade running up to 2009.

So does this mean the two will remain two boats passing in the night?

Not necessarily. While the EU “foreign minister” Catherine Ashton has spoken of terrorism, climate change and whatnot as the possible bases for a bilateral strategic relationship.

I think the two should be looking at regional dialogues, an area of great success between India and the US. It is also an area where the two sides can put aside their somewhat different weltanschauungs.

Two regions in particular come to mind: West Asia and Africa.

India has been less than enthusiastic about the Arab awakening (I gather Arabs don’t like the phrase Arab spring). It doubts whether democracy in the Arab world will produce anything other than Islamicist regimes. This is guided, I would argue, in large part because the Indian experience of the Arab world is largely limited to the Persian Gulf – where the democratic spark is the weakest. The Maghrib and the Levant are the parts of the Arab world known the best and thus where India could potentially learn something from a European interaction.

The other is Africa. This is a more complicated issue, but I would argue that the Indian engagement with that continent, driven by the private sector, civil society and with minimal government-derived strategic thinking, is closer to what the EU would like. And is in stark contrast to what China is doing.

India already has Africa dialogues with the US, even Japan. It makes sense to have one with Africa’s most important international interlocutor: Europe.

At the very least this will make New Delhi take Europe a lot more seriously – something it remains reluctant to do. It would also make India more willing to invest its already stretched administrative resources on Europe, as opposed to Germany, the UK and so on.



Copyright © 2011 Hindustan Times.

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