Exclusive Interview with MEP Søren Gade: EU – India Relations



In light of the recent revival of negotiations between the European Union and India regarding closer trade relations, cooperation on climate has proven to be a solid ground for new developments. With The EU being India’s third largest trade partner, there is notably an opportunity to promote more sustainable trade practices between both parties. VoteWatch reached out to MEP Søren Gade (Renew), Chair of the Delegation for relations with India, to discuss his vision of future cooperation.

VoteWatch: Both the European Union and India are huge markets, yet they have not utilised each other’s markets as much as they could have. What do you think are the obstacles that need to be addressed in trade relations?

Søren Gade: There definitely have been some challenges in the past when it comes to the economic cooperation between the EU and India. Considering the sheer size of the two actors and the vast cultural, economic and geographical differences this is not a big surprise. I believe the two actors can benefit enormously from each other, and I am therefore exceptionally happy to notice that negotiations on a free trade agreement were resumed during the EU-India summit in May this year.

The trade in both goods and services between the two actors has grown continuously over the last decade, and services in particular has almost doubled since the preceding decade. This trend will hopefully continue. A variety of different technical subjects need to be clarified when establishing a free trade agreement. In order to do so, the relationship between the parties must be one of mutual trust and respect. It is my hope to contribute to such a relationship between India and EU as the Chair of the EU delegation to India and as a founding chairman of the Europe India Business Council.

The trade between the parties can, did and will flourish no matter what, because it is of utmost interest for both parties, but in my view a FTA would be a highly appreciated tool in that regard. I therefore am very happy that Prime Minister Modi shares my positive view on a FTA, and I am convinced that the EU and India will manage to negotiate such an agreement. But I also believe the onus is on the EU to facilitate and speed up the process. The EU has been far too slow in appointing negotiators and show good faith in these negotiations.
It puzzles me that the EU can launch a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China, with whom we do not share fundamental democratic or rule of law based values, and still lag so much behind when it comes to India with whom we do share these values. The EU has long stated that it pursues a value-based approach, and I believe it is time to actively live up to that statement by deepening our relationship with India.

VoteWatch: In light of the recent COP26 summit at Glasgow which was also attended by Prime Minister Modi, how do you think the EU can help India to decarbonise and diversify in the energy sector?

Søren Gade: I was very excited about seeing Prime Minister Modi attending the COP26 summit unlike other significant individuals. I welcome the highly ambitious climate commitments announced including Net Zero by 2070 by Prime Minister Modi at Glasgow. Considering India is yet to reach its peak emissions and its developmental needs, I believe that the EU should help India in the way it can with knowledge sharing, foreign direct investments and good practices, for example green hydrogen could be one of the important areas of cooperation. The EU can be a crucial partner for the world’s most populous democracy in its path to decarbonisation and diversification of its energy sector. In the EU, we have the know-how and the experience in such a transition (even though we are by no means there yet ourselves), and this could benefit not only India, but many parts of the world.

We must remember that many of the products we consume in Europe are manufactured in India. This is important to emphasise, as this leaves the EU with a moral responsibility to help India in its green transition. We should recognise that we all take part in the global supply chain, and the EU does that more than most.

It is, however, also very important for me to stress that I believe in local ownership of local solutions to local problems. One of the main sources of help in my view is therefore for European businesses to make foreign direct investments in Indian entrepreneurs with local green solutions for their local problems. To say it with a bit of a cliché, we need both a top-down approach with support and knowledge sharing on the highest political level, but equally important we need a bottom-up approach simultaneously with investments in local entrepreneurs. And of course the bilateral relationship between India and individual EU Member States is also a very important aspect when it comes to the green transition.

VoteWatch: Prime Minister Modi at the COP26 summit asked the developed nations to make available $1 trillion for climate finance. On this note do you think the EU should support more climate and green projects in developing nations?

Søren Gade: Yes. I believe the EU is a suited organisation to support green projects in developing countries (and also developed countries if needs be). As with my answer above, I believe we need to tackle the green transition from both the highest political level and on the local level. The EU is definitely a good arena to pursue the first approach, but also to make investments in green projects through its various funds. However, it is no secret also that as a liberal, I believe that the market itself and private investments in green projects are more effective when it works. But sometimes, even the market needs a helping hand from the political sphere, and in these instances, the EU is a suitable arena to do so.

VoteWatch: What do you think about the Indo-Pacific strategy and the role of India in this region? Do you think the EU is a little late in paying closer attention to this geostrategic area?

Søren Gade: It is no secret that this geopolitical area has gained significance during the past two decades. The EU has been too slow in recognising this shift in geostrategic significance, and to face both the opportunity and challenges this creates. The EU should not stand idly by while the dynamics of the world are changing rapidly. The world is becoming more and more polarised, and in this, it is of utmost importance that the EU builds interdependent bonds between itself and key areas of the planet. In my view the EU should not be a defence alliance, we have NATO to fulfill that purpose, so the EU should instead use its economic, judicial and cultural weight to create these interdependent bonds.

With the Indo-Pacific region accounting for more than 30% of the world’s population and 62% of GDP, it is a region we cannot afford to overlook. I therefore very much welcome the Indo-Pacific strategy, as I believe it to be a balanced strategy, which can benefit both the EU and the Indo-Pacific region. In particular, India and the EU must collaborate on securing a rules-based international order, and promote democratic values in a rapidly changing world. Therefore it again pleases me that the EU and India have reiterated their strong relationship through the strategic partnership negotiations.

I believe the EU has been too slow to act progressively with other parts of the world. Both the outreach and the depth of such cooperation have been insufficient. Luckily, it seems that the EU as an organisation has realised that its position in the international order is not a fact that can go unchallenged, and so is beginning to take on a more active role in the world. This is evident from the fact that the EU recently announced its Indo-Pacific Strategy and also the Global Gateway – the EU’s connectivity strategy. Considering the like-mindedness and convergence of views between the EU and India on Indo-Pacific and connectivity, I hope there are many avenues to further enhance bilateral cooperation with India in security and defence, trade and investment, digital, climate, physical infrastructure and cultural interaction and communication amongst people.

VoteWatch: In light of the current humanitarian and security challenges following the withdrawal of the US and allies from Afghanistan, how do you think India and the EU can collaborate to stabilise the situation?

Søren Gade: As a former Minister of Defence in one of the allied countries it broke my heart to see how the retraction of the troops was done and the state in which it left the Afghan people. I wish to extend my most heartfelt thanks to the Indian people, as they have been one of the main drivers in the effort for reconstructing Afghanistan, and have made a significant impact for the benefit of the Afghan people. I hope, and believe that the EU and India as two of the main aid providers will find a way to coordinate their efforts in the country and possibly establish joint projects.

We need to work in concert as international donors if we are to help the Afghan people. As of the moment, the situation is still immensely challenging and chaotic, which makes it difficult to answer the question concretely, but I believe that both the EU and India can benefit a lot from working together in Afghanistan, as both parties have an interest in a stable Afghanistan and it will definitely help the Afghan people.

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