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Enduring account

Print edition : Dec 21, 2018 T+T-
A pellucid narration of India-E.U. relations supported by vigorous reasoning and maps and data that scholars will find useful.

T HE book under review is indeed an insider’s account of India-European Union (E.U.) relations, the E.U.’s genesis and evolution, and the challenges before the E.U. and the prospects for deeper India-E.U. relations.

Ambassador Bhaswati Mukherjee has spent more years dealing with Europe in the Ministry of External Affairs and in missions in Europe than any of her colleagues. She is an insider par excellence. Bhaswati Mukherjee has an uncanny sense of timing. Her book has come out when the Brexit “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, as Shakespeare would have put it, is being played out, risking Britain’s shrinking into Little England. The E.U.’s state of health leaves much to be desired, to put it mildly. Poland and Hungary have violated E.U. values with hardly any punishment; Austria, the current chair, is xenophobic and refuses to accept refugees; and Italy, in whose capital, Rome, the 1957 treaty was signed, is refusing to adhere to Brussels’ directions on its populist and disastrous budget, which is likely to engender a crisis much bigger than that of Greece.

India and EU will be of great help to anyone who wants to understand the news on E.U. For the Indian reader, the focus on India-E.U. relations is most welcome. Similarly, the general public, and even scholars on the E.U., will benefit from this insider account, written in a pellucid style, supported by truly Teutonic research and the vigorous reasoning of a diplomat of distinction. The maps and statistics will be of much help to Indian scholars. The endnotes are a study in explanation.

Bhaswati Mukherjee raises the question: India’s relations with Europe go back millennia. Why then the paucity of research on the Indian side on the dynamics of the India-E.U. relationship? She contrasts the paucity on the Indian side with the abundance on the European side. Apart from drawing attention to India’s “America-centric” approach, the author moves on without giving a clear answer. Perhaps, there is no clear answer.

“The first ‘European’ who reached India, as officially chronicled, dates back to 326 B.C. He was Alexander the Great.” The reader might wonder whether Alexander would have considered himself a European. For that matter, would King Porus, as the Greeks named him, have claimed to be an Indian? However, projecting the present into the past is a common human habit.

The author has organised the book into 11 chapters, each divided into sections. This reviewer is not able to do full justice to the individual chapters in view of space constraints. Therefore, we shall take up a few significant issues.

E.U.’s competence

What is the area of competence of the E.U.? It calls itself a Union, but we all know that it is a work in progress. The Treaty of Lisbon lists three categories of competence: exclusive competence, shared competence, and special competence. Following a lucid account, the author has listed all this (pages 23-25), a listing that repays careful reading.

Does the E.U. have a foreign-cum-defence policy? In E.U. jargon it is CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy). The reader will note the importance given to security and the absence of the words “foreign policy”. However, the E.U. has a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The author has explained in detail how differing national priorities come in the way of having a European policy. However, Bhaswati Mukherjee stops short of spelling out that the CSDP, if fully developed, would require the United Kingdom and France to cease to be permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as they would be replaced by the E.U. The reader would conclude that the CSDP will remain stunted for years to come. Does the E.U. have a defence policy? When the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) hijacked a U.N. Security Council Resolution on Libya in 2011 and started bombing that country, an unsuccessful effort was made to mount an E.U. maritime operation for surveillance of the Libyan coast. When French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of a European Army, United States President Donald Trump was quick to snub him.

The author has given a detailed explanation of the workings of the E.U. Council, the Commission and the European Parliament. The Parliament has a strength of 751 members, and the electorate, at 375 million (2009), is the second largest after India’s. However, the European Parliament lacks legislative initiative. The all-powerful Commission has clipped its wings. The reader will particularly appreciate the historical account about the first meeting of the Parliament in 1952.

As the title of the book suggests, the author devotes more space to India-E.U. relations. How do the E.U. and India see each other? They do issue periodical declarations after summit meetings envisaging working together for common goals. But, do they actually work together? The author has given a clinically accurate account. The E.U. has an unjustifiable bias in favour of China. However, the reader might find it difficult to agree with the argument advanced by the author: “India is projected to grow at 7.4 % in 2018 by IMF [International Monetary Fund] estimates as compared to China’s 6.8%.” Such comparisons of growth rates between two economies when one is four or five times larger than the other does not make much sense.

The E.U. is essentially an economic union and the laudable effort to make it into a community has not yet succeeded, and to call it a union before it has become a community is absurd. It should be noted that the E.U.’s trade with India was €115 billion, whereas in the same year China had a surplus of €176 billion with the E.U. The author has argued that the E.U. should take into account the fact that India is the biggest democracy, and it should understand better India’s problems and show more accommodation. Her argument is not likely to be accepted by the E.U.’s hard-headed decision-makers in Brussels.

Summit meetings between India and the E.U. started in 2000. The account of what has been achieved or not is excellent. The 13th India-E.U. summit was held up because of Italy’s objection. It was due in 2013, but Italy practised vendetta in true Italian style. Italy showed its displeasure over India’s detention of two Italian marines who, without any justification, shot dead two Indian fishermen on the Kerala coast. The author’s account of this instance of Italian vendetta falls short of her Teutonic thoroughness. She fails to mention that the big Italian tanker and the small Kerala fishing boat were both entitled to protection under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Nor does she mention that the Indian Supreme Court need not have permitted Italy to challenge its jurisdiction without giving a ruling.

Her conclusion that the Congress party, ruling both at the Centre and in Kerala at that time, was one of the reasons for the failure of the two countries to reach a diplomatic settlement is questionable and certainly speculative. But, in a way, she is right in that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government took an unduly conciliatory stance towards Italy, perhaps not without ulterior motives, without bothering too much about delivering justice to the bereaved families. Negotiations on a trade deal with the E.U. started in 2007. The reader will find the account of the obstacles in the way as a tutorial in foreign policy. The deal is still hanging fire, mainly because the E.U. tries to drive a hard bargain.

The author has an eye for the absurd. She gives a hilarious account of the 2003 summit in New Delhi when the Italian Prime Minister refused to board the plane from Rome and sent the Deputy Prime Minister to represent him and to be the counterpart to the Indian Prime Minister. India was able to teach Italy a lesson in protocol, but the summit was sterile.

There is one secret that Bhaswati Mukherjee is holding on to. On the eve of the disastrous 2003 summit, when Xavier Solana, E.U.’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, called on India’s External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, the only other person present was a note taker. Solana, a former NATO Secretary General, urged India to be a NATO partner country. He argued that to address the rising China, a strategic partnership of the U.S., the E.U., India and Japan was needed.

There was a follow-up strategic discussion subsequently in Brussels between the two and the same note taker was present. What is pleasantly perplexing is that we are not told the identity of the note taker. Nor are we told how India responded to Solana’s advice. Obviously, the author is discreet.

It used to be said: Publish or perish. Nowadays, one can publish and perish. This book is timely, and has an enduring value. The E.U. will have to take note of India’s growing power and work with it to build a better world sooner than later, as cogently argued by the author. She has not failed to mention the adjustments India should make. This insider has a balanced and pragmatic approach to foreign policy.