ANA:Greetings from Asia News Agency! Excellency, you have been in India for some time now. What are your broad impressions about India – its people, culture, economy etc?
H.E.:My travels in India have been fascinating; and every place I go to is so different that it is difficult for me to capture in a single sentence what India is or its people are. Indians themselves are so conscious of their local cultures and traditions that one is carried away – sometimes overwhelmed – by the diversity one finds. I am regularly confronted with the multiple aspects of your country: deeply spiritual and strongly entrepreneurial; hierarchical and yet vibrantly democratic and argumentative; maintaining its specificities and united in diversity. Europe is equally a continent with a multi-faceted identity!
India has become one of the engines of the world economy and it youthful population – 80% below 35 – will no doubt be one of the main locomotives of production, consumption and employment in the next two or three decades. Education is a key issue and challenge in this context. Health, urbanization, water conservation and renewable energy are also sectors to be watched as they are equally crucial.
ANA: India and EU share common values relating to democracy, rule of law, civil liberties and respect for human rights. Do you see a qualitative difference in respect of these values as they exist in India and as perceived by Europeans? For example, are rule of law institutions as robust as they are in Europe?
H.E.:The common values of democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedom are indeed deeply rooted in our relations with India. India is, as the EU, a lively democracy, with a vibrant public opinion and civil society; vigorous exchanges take place in Parliament and the judiciary ensures rule of law. What we have in common is also reflected in the motto “unity in diversity”. The challenges that we face today to respond to the aspirations of our diverse, plural societies have brought us closer. As you may be aware, the EU is the only partner with which India has established a regular Human Rights Dialogue. This, in itself, is recognition of our mutual willingness to ensure that the values we share are the subject of a regular and open exchange on respective experiences and lessons learnt. This dialogue is a two-way exchange in the context of mutual respect and a true spirit of cooperation and partnership.
ANA: Excellency, India and the EU bilateral relations are multi faceted ranging from cooperation in trade, space, science, security, defence and terrorism. What is the overarching factor that will further promote and enhance relations in future? And in which sectors do you see potential for further consolidation of relations?
H.E.:EU-India relations have evolved over the years as the EU itself has developed from an economic bloc – the then European Economic Community – ready to promote trade and cooperating in the field of development, to a full fledged political union. In this process, an increasing number of policy areas have come under the remit of the European Union and are hence included in our relations with our partners – from nuclear energy to science, from foreign policy to security and migration and from education to civil aviation or culture to name just a few. Over the past years and in particular since 2003 when the EU established for the first time its first security strategy, security, defence and counter terrorism are major issues at EU level. We have also stepped up our reaction capacities to international crisis, both in military and in civilian terms. The Treaty of Lisbon, in force since December 2009, gives the EU a Foreign Minister (the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Catherine Ashton) and a European diplomatic service. India is also emerging as an important player. It is hence logical that we are engaging on a broader range of issues in relation to security and defence. Our cooperation is likely to be strengthened further, for example through the Security Dialogue which is taking place on 19 May. This comes in addition to the already very broad level of cooperation in other fields, such as poverty reduction, trade as well as climate change & energy related issues.
ANA:There has been much speculation on the impending India EU Free Trade Agreement. You have been recently quoted in the media as saying that negotiations are “entering the endgame stage.” Can you give us your views on the issues that still need to be sorted out and when is the pact likely to be signed?
H.E.:At the Summit of December 2010, the political leaders of the EU and India clearly expressed their wish to see the FTA negotiations completed rapidly. The negotiators on the two sides are working together actively and intensively to achieve this objective. At this stage of the process, it is not appropriate to enter into detail on the specific elements under discussion. But I am confident that a balanced and mutually beneficial outcome will be achieved soon.
ANA: Once the FTA is signed, what benefits do you see flowing to India and EU in the short, medium and long term?
H.E.:This will depend somewhat on the precise details of the deal that is reached. What is clear is that both sides have an interest in a high-ambition outcome that will maximize the potential benefits of easier access to each other’s markets and a clearer regulatory environment. The EU is already the Number One trading and investment partner of India and the future Agreement will have the potential to move our trade and investment relationship to a higher level. Studies on the potential impact of the Agreement have highlighted its strong win-win potential, but it is maybe also important to keep in mind that the actual impact will depend significantly on the ability of business and economic actors in the EU and in India to seize the opportunities that the Agreement will create.
ANA: You are aware, India has short-listed France’s Dassault Aviation SA and European consortium Eurofighter GmbH to buy 126 fighter jets for its air force, eliminating U.S. military contractors Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. from the estimated $10 billion contract. Russia’s United Aircraft Corp. and Sweden’s Saab AB also haven’t been short-listed. Excellency, do you see this as having implications for India EU relations particularly in the field of defence?
H.E.:This is important and not the only ongoing procurement exercise. Of course, I am happy if India chooses to “buy European” in any particular case, but don’t expect me to get into the merits of individual proposals, especially where there are bids from different EU Member States.
Let me reiterate that current discussions to develop cooperation in counter terrorism and counter piracy have been initiated more than a year ago. Cyber Security is also an area we have decided to work together as well.
ANA: At the Eleventh European Union – India Summit held in Brussels on 10 December 2010, both sides reiterated their joint commitment to the MDGs, with an emphasis on health and education and a special focus on vocational training. How do you see EU assisting India in achieving better results in the implementation of the MDGs?
We have provided support to India’s social programmes, particularly in the Education and Health sectors since 1994. At the MDG Summit of September 2010, the European Union reinforced its commitment to fight poverty and achieve the MDGs. This has been reiterated during the last EU-India Summit.
In the period from 2011 and 2013, approximately 80% of the EU’s assistance will target education and health.
In the education sector, we have in the last 15 years provided financial support of more than 400 million Euro to the Government programmes for primary and secondary education. The EU is currently preparing a financial commitment to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). This financial support is provided along with technical assistance to the SSA aiming at an exchange of best practices in primary education between Europe and India.
In addition, the EU plans to launch in 2011, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour, a skills development programme which focuses on vocational training. This 7 million Euro project will contribute to the implementation of the skill development policy of the Government in order to increase the quality and the number of certified skilled labour in various sectors of employment.
We are also promoting exchanges of university students and professors through the Erasmus Mundus programme, for which India is the second largest beneficiary in the world.
Regarding Health, the EU will launch in 2011 its support to the Reproductive and Child Health programme with a 110 million Euro grant.
As you see the European Union, in close cooperation with other donors, works hand in hand with the Government to assist India in reaching the MDGs.
ANA: Excellency, South West Asia is a volatile area as far as the global threat of terrorism is concerned. EU and India have reiterated their common interest in a stable, peaceful and inclusive Afghanistan free from terrorism. They have also maintained that a democratic and prosperous Pakistan is in the interest of the entire region. But things appear to worsening as is the political commitment to deal with all forms of terrorism. What more can the EU do to stabilize the situation?
H.E.:I see the political commitment to combat terrorism as strong and resolute as ever. The EU’s commitment to supporting stability in Afghanistan is very firm, and we believe that strong national capacities are contributing to long-term peace and stability. We have a European police mission on the ground which trains the Afghan National Police, just as the European and other forces there are committed to build the capacity of the army. In addition, our development support to Afghanistan focuses on issues such as justice reform, security sector reform and governance which are crucial for long-term stability. In Pakistan, we work with the civilian authorities to strengthen their ability to fight terrorism more effectively and we also support development projects for example in the education sector that contribute to long-term stability.
ANA: EU is in the forefront in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia and beyond. The Indian navy is also playing a pro-active role. But incidents of piracy have continued to increase and spread even to the waters near Maldives. Excellency, is it lack of political will or inadequate national legislation that is coming in the way of global front against piracy?
H.E.:It is no secret that the surge in piracy in recent years is foremost a result of the lack of governance in Somalia. The solution to the problem hence lies on shore. The EU is pursuing a comprehensive approach which includes political, security and humanitarian aspects. We support the Somali Transitional Federal Government and we give active support to the deliveries of the World Food Programme through our naval mission ATALANTA, which protects vulnerable merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast, in an area that is as vast as the Mediterranean Sea. Cooperation with the other major players in the region including India is of vital importance and the EU is hence in permanent liaison with other naval forces active in the area. Another important element is the judicial prosecution of captured pirates, for which cooperation is sought with the countries bordering the Gulf of Aden/the Somali basin. As you can see, the issue is complex.
- Date May 23, 2011
- Tags Interviews