President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Franciszek and the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker are on a visit to New Delhi from 5th to 7th October 2017 for the 14th India-EU summit in Delhi. The summit is perceived as an opportunity for reviving bilateral ties for both the parties. Marking the 55th anniversary since the establishment of EU-India diplomatic relations, the summit is also a forum for expanding horizon on free-trade agreement (FTA) between India and the European Union.
The EU taken together is the largest trading partner for India with bilateral trade reaching more than US$ 88 bn.(MEA Stats for the year 2016). One of the largest economies of the world the EU’s crisis of past decade is gradually melting down. Among the pressing issues addressed are the international migration and refugee issue, cooperation on countering cross-border terrorism, re-launching next step for free trade negotiations from the new platform, launch of an investment facilitation mechanism for EU investors in India, and the strong engagement of the European Investment Bank in India along with other global challenges such as sustainable development goals, Paris agreement and other mutually accepted cooperation development goals.
One of the most significant outcome of this summit is the collaboration on research and development for facilitating innovation in the region that is most discussed. By facilitating research and innovation between India and the EU it is understood that while the EU has been taking its transition to knowledge economy seriously since the advent of Lisbon treaty, it also visualizes India as a significant partner in its endeavour.
The joint statement of the earlier summit in 2016 had both parties committed to ICT business dialogue and collaborated on ‘Digital India’ and ‘Digital Single Market’ (EU) through improved collaboration on research and innovation, enhanced cooperation on cyber security, internet governance, ICT standardization etc. Agreement on cooperation on science and technology was further extended which meant that all the existing S&T collaboration and ones in the pipeline got a boost further. The EU has long been a destination for Indian students for higher education. The cooperation in knowledge economy would also mean possibility of showcasing Indian education system in the international arena for attracting EU students into Indian higher education.
The India-EU strategic partnership started in 2001 and culminated in Agreement on cooperation on Science and Technology which was renewed in 2007 again. The annual meetings have sustained the cooperation in healthcare and biotechnology since then. The joint action plan in 2005 had a single dimension for scientific research and innovation. The first India-EU Ministerial Science Conference (2007) recognized the importance of cooperation in the field of nutrition and food science, computational material sciences, solar energy and water resources. The collaborations went up to a budget more than sixty million Euros.
The EU has long been a destination for Indian investment in science projects. One such example is India’s huge investment in the large hadron collider at CERN ( European Organisation for Nuclear Research) not only in terms of financial investment but also scientist to scientist collaboration in LHC. There has been collaboration in oceanography, biotechnology, bio-economy, marine and maritime research, information and communication technology and medicine between EU and India on major scale. Another contradictory example is the collaboration of Central statistical organisation (CSO, India) and the Eurostat (statistical office of the EU) which started in 2012 and yet to take off in reality.
The EU has endowed upon itself global leadership in knowledge economy since its adoption of Lisbon Treaty in the year 2000 and has been gearing up to live up to it. Major revamping in terms of ICT, research development, fostering innovation, improving patents etc has regularly been the policy agenda. On the contrary India has been slow in its share of patents, innovation and even lowest in research and development projects in the international measurement.
Despite huge expectations from both sides there has been a lackadaisical approach towards collaboration on knowledge sector. The current Modi regime in its initial years had focused on US and Asia, completely overshadowing the EU as a strategic partner. Keeping in view the failed BITA agreement, withdrawal of major technology projects and slowing down of students’ exchange, it is clear that the collaboration between India and EU on knowledge sector is taking a backseat. The post-Brixit period despite its uncertainties, also is a period of strengthening for the EU. This could also be a period when EU is perceived independent of UK by India, be it internationalizing higher education, strengthening S&T ties or ICT collaboration. The focus area in the 14th summit is therefore free-trade negotiations, renewable energy and counter terrorism. What remains to be seen is that how far both the parties go in pursuing their mutual goal of transition to being global leaders in knowledge by collaborating on research and development creating platform for innovation. Results on these would be more concrete than mere paper work.
The author is Associate Professor, Faculty of Management, Siksha O Anusandhan University, Bhubaneswar.