EU in its wider geographical context - an Indian view



India and Europe have contacts for about two millennia, though political formations have undergone many changes during that period. Industrial revolution gave European countries a superior edge and therefore from 18th century onwards India - Europe contacts took a different form resulting in colonial rule of India by three European countries, Britain being the dominant one.

The colonial rule had several exploitative features. However, elements of modernization and inter-cultural pollination also took place. Though with certain distortions, India’s glorious achievements in science, engineering, arts, literature, medicine, religion and philosophy were more widely known in Europe. India’s independence movement also drew upon many ideas from liberal renaissance traditions of Europe.

In the post-independent period, India played a global role along with many developing countries and anti-colonial platform was strong. Many European countries, having colonies around the world had to face the freedom struggles which had India’s sympathies and moral support. Emergence of USA as a major economic power and more importantly as science & technology power drew many Indian elites to US education, thus weakening some of the traditional academic links with Europe especially UK.

East European countries had special relations with India in building a socialist pubic sector industrial complexes in India.

With nearly six decades after independence along with several changes in the world geopolitical situation, India’s approach to Europe have taken a new positive direction. There is a lot of two way activities such as investment, trade, technology partnerships, and a general increase in people to people contacts.

Most of the younger generation in India do not carry the memories of the colonial past. The very nature of multicultural pluralistic society in India where diversity is internalized through actual day – to - day life, the emergence of EU is taken as a natural process. In details, there could be a number of differences and commonalities.  The following sections bring out a few salient points of EU and India.


The mutual perceptions between India and EU has many parameters. There are strong bilateral contacts between India and some of the countries that form the EU. Such contacts will continue to grow. These individual specificities may not necessarily be a hindrance to the overall EU level efforts. In this context, it is also good if EU looks at the federalism in India with the States having these specificities for encouraging special bilateral relations between them and EU countries.

With increasing liberalisation and steady economic reforms, the States have a much greater freedom on many economic decisions. Their focus of competitiveness is now at a global level.

In a short paper it is difficult to separate the individual relations between India and a particular EU country and the relations between EU and India. This paper will address the issue on the assumption (the author believes so) that these relations are mutually reinforcing and complementary. So will be in the years to come, the relations between individual States of the India and individual countries of EU. All these complex interactions are considered to be a whole and an informed but impressionistic account of the directions of EU-India relations are given here.

A few elements are considered in providing this picture.

  1. Economic :  Trade, Investment, Technology and such economics oriented relations
  2. Governance including legal frameworks
  3. Geopolitical perceptions
  4. Academics & Scholastic activities (including science)
  5. Cultural exchanges
  6. Broader global concerns (e.g. ecology, health care, human conditions)

An important aspect of security (national defence in the usual sense of the term as well as the current concerns of internal security and global terrorist networks and the required countermeasures) is not touched upon except for some references in the Governance and geopolitical parts. That does not undermine its importance in EU-India relations. The following sections will cover some aspects of these six broad elements.


At present EU is the largest trade partner for India. There are investments from EU to India and vice versa. As such, it gives an excellent base for India - EU relationships. But how long such relations are sustainable? India has its own internal problems of poverty, aspirations of faster growth and a growing middle class competing for world class consumption of goods and services. India will thus seek faster and faster growth. India will therefore take measures to attract more and more businesses into India - as outsourcing, as joint ventures or as full fledged FDI, even as offshore work in other countries, R&D centers in India and contract research. Purchase of high tech products like civil aircraft and military supply may attach conditions of offset production in India. While many businesses of EU have good profits through direct trade with or through investments in India, EU countries are also facing the challenge of increasing unemployment within their own borders. Highly developed social security systems in EU countries (some of them) are under strain. EU’s agriculture demands huge subsides.

From an analyst’s viewpoint India and EU would have to face several contradictory pulls in their relations and approach to mutual economic relations.

Solutions appear to be around. Some examples : India’s private capital and enterprise are on a global move. If EU policies can attract them to EU there are opportunities for EU to increase local employments. The commercial arrangements may have to be such as to provide access to Indian businesses certain advanced competitive technologies required for them to compete with other global markets.

Another area where there is a natural commonality between India and EU, is the energy sector. Both regions are not too well endowed with fossil fuels. EU countries have many of the advanced technologies for power generation be it nuclear technologies or ultra super pressure technologies. However EU’s policies on technology denial are impediments. India had shown its capabilities to do things by itself when denied and excellent record in non-proliferation. EU policy makers may have to decide whether to use a great economic opportunity for EU by equipping India and also generate future energy technologies such as hydrogen, fusion etc. with Indian partnerships.

There are many more examples. Unless EU considers India with such a long term strategy there is a possibility that EU-India economic relations may reach a plateau. India’s approach to EU on such matters is likely to be technocratic,  business like, pragmatic and professional.


Economic relations depend a great deal on the internal governance & legal systems of the individual countries and their legal systems regulating foreign businesses.

There are many commonalties between the British and Indian governance and legal systems. However national governance systems and legal frameworks of the EU countries are different. The WTO regimes may have some uniformising effect on the legal framework of economic activities. But that is not enough for the totality of commercial activity. Employees live in civil society. Consumers live in a civil society. The labour laws are different. Criminal laws are different. The author is not suggesting a dead uniformity ;  but the differences are pointed out as they have implications on the relations.

In addition the EU’s approach to human rights needs an understanding of the situation in India which has a rare record of traditions of democratic institutions. The approach of some of the EU countries to human rights and the related refugee issues, had in the past given many strained relations with India. Perceptions in India has been that these are “holier than thou!” attitudes. Liberal attitudes in Europe may have to be revisited in view of its own record in the past and in view of the current realities.

The fact that India has been a country which has allowed any threatened community from any part of the world - be it Zoroastrians from Iran/Persia, Jews, Sufis, and in the recent times Dalai Lama and his Tibetan followers or Bangladeshi refugees - need to be appreciated by EU countries. This does not  mean that India does not  have its problems in governance such as corruption or occasional communal or caste or class violence.

A deeper and fresher understanding of India’s governance and societal cohesion, and an appreciation of many of the living syncretic traditions would be useful not only to smoothen the inter - EU-India relations but also to develop right types of intra - EU relations. Such an understanding and resultant insights would be mutually beneficial.


In the cold war period, India and European countries may not  have had the same geopolitical perceptions though countries like France were closer to India.

However, in the current period due to India’s own complex multicultural, multiethnical compulsions, India and EU have closer approaches to geopolitical situations be it UN or actions on Iraq or Iran.

With the breakdown of cold war barriers, India’s approach to geopolitical situations is much more pragmatic. India’s historical heritage and the internalisation  of the cultural diversity, allows it to approach countries with a truly liberal and tolerant approach without narrow mono culturist approach. EU therefore can find a true partner in India, provided EU sheds some of its narrow approaches to individual freedoms as well as the ideological approaches towards technology denials which are products of cold war.


Because of the two millennia of connections between Europe and India, academic and scholastic relations had been excellent. However, the influence of English and therefore an exceptional attraction  with USA for scientific, technological, medical, and business studies have eroded the post independence Indian links with Europe on academic pursuits.

Some of the EU countries are not aggressively entering into India for higher education.

There is a great interest in India for higher education. Though outside world sees a large number of Indian professionals, the children of the same age-cohorts who go for higher professional education is only about 1.5% and about 8% go for other forms of higher education.

Therefore, there is a great scope for EU to win the hearts of Indians ; the respect for some of the EU countries is very strong in Indian psyche though languages are different. In addition some of the EU countries have a great standing in skills, even for those who have only a few years of schooling. Through various aid - programmes they have set up excellent model institutions for technical skills in India.

As for other scholastic activities, there is a great scope for India - EU for cultural, literary and philosophical studies. Multiplicity of EU languages and Indian languages provide a great scope for research and exchanges.

More in the next section.


The earlier section leads to an important aspect of cultural exchanges.

As mentioned earlier in the introductory section, India and Europe had a number of cultural relations over a two millennia. Europeans have contributed even to the enrichment of Indian languages (The author is aware of Tamil).

Naturally religion also played an important part. But culture is much bigger. European musical instruments have now become a part of Indian classical music without any modifications to the Indian music; so much is the integration. Has there been similar integration into the Western/European music?

There is plenty of scope for mutual interaction.


The multiplicity EU countries have made it possible to have an open approach to many of the broader issues of humanity - be it ecology, global warming, global pandemics, or many such broader issues including even extremist fundamentalist ideologies or human rights or human conditions.

However, some of the Green or human right movements from EU countries have not fully understood the complex realities of India. They have managed to influence the EU approach to India. There is a need in EU to revisit these issues with the totality of India - EU relationships in mind.

The recent internal violence within some of the EU countries points out the need for understanding many of the complex realities of various ethnic communities, with their historic backgrounds. India has experience on these matters over centuries though European scholars or policy makers have not fully appreciated the Indian experience with multiple cultures, pluralism and diversities. It may be useful if EU & India revisit many of these issues with open minds and with mutual India - EU interests in mind. It is also possible to move closer to broader global approaches based on a deeper understanding of two large and big civilizations.

The religious and spiritual heritage of India need to be appreciated by EU, while considering these broader issues. Archetyping India into a few religions with rituals and conflicts, will not be a true reflection of many living traditions, which are great symbols for tolerance and peace.

European values or Western values have a number of useful features for India. Many Europeans have played a major role during the 18th, 19th & 20th century in the religious, spiritual and philosophical renaissance of India, much as Indians have influenced Europe & USA.

Indians not only the elites and middle class, but also others who can afford to participate in the market economy, have absorbed and are absorbing many elements of Western culture - be it in dress or music or movies or several other elements. For an average Indian there will no great clarity of differences or specificities of EU or USA in this regard. Sometimes EU gets into shadow of USA or under the shadow of a particular European country they are more familiar with.

India is understood in EU in various forms. Its position on human rights or environment or religion is often seen through very narrow spectacles or through exaggerated media stories. The freedom of speech enjoyed in India, is not fully appreciated in EU and bulk of what is given in local Indian languages are not  taken notice of. It is partly so for the elites of India who are more anglophile and are not aware of the diverse views within EU. Even when they read European newspaper it is likely to be in English. So archetypes are formed in mind. EU-India understanding will be enriched by having a larger number of persons multilingual in European and Indian languages (not just English and Hindi alone).


The present form of globalisation has spread to most parts of the world. It has a number of positive and negative aspects. For example, competitiveness - which has become one of the key mantras of globalisation - has brought about efficiency in most economic operations : lean manufacturing, lean organization etc. Maximising productivity has a number of positive features. Wastages in materials and processes are minimized. Defects are reduced to a few parts in a million (six sigma systems), thus providing an assurance to the consumables.

On the other hand, in the search of economic efficiency in manufacturing and in the processes of services, very large companies (the special feature of global companies) reach out to low cost destinations. A large number of personnel in the so-called developing countries have provided the alternate to the high cost workforce and knowledge workers in the developed world. Consumers gain but unemployment in many parts of the developed world increases. EU has such an experience. Even in the developing world, the picture is not all rosy. While there is growth, often miraculous growth and the availability of the “goodies” of modern technologies are on the increase, there is a great divide in aspirations and availability.

Whether it is in EU or India there are those who gain and grow rich, there are also a growing number of persons and entities who are “left out”.

Most of the humanist values of Europe - universal welfare, protection of labour, low cost health care and education access etc - are under threat in EU. Many of these values imbedded into the Indian governance systems (though not fully implemented) are also under threat. Flexibility in labour laws is an universal demand of the globalisation process. Low cost access to health care may have to fit into market forces of global insurance companies. There are also questions of global environment which cannot be adequately addressed by the present form of globalisation process whose masters are the large multinational global businesses who are guided by extremely short term business and market concerns, often on a quarterly basis.

The nation - states are powerless against these threats or concerns. The economics of globalisation which is maximization of profit, and the governance of globalisation which is strongly driven towards to privatization (even in developing countries as the bureaucratic socialist systems had mostly created inefficiencies and corruption) have their own logic. There is a strong contradiction between the logic of globalisation  and the democratic policies of the nation - states. Both India and EU are actually experiencing these real life issues now. EU in its evolution itself, has experienced these processes as part of its “mini-globalisation” of several nation - states who have different technological and business strengths. The solutions do not  appear to be a return to the earlier autarkic systems. Also new forms of high level corruption emerging along with the competitiveness of globalisation are causes for worry.

Over and above these, along with the movement of people, there are several onslaughts on local cultures and languages (with English - not the British, American English alone but a largely diversified English - emerging as a global language of business governance and even education). Languages and local cultures are under threat.

Globalisation is perhaps an irreversible process because the causative factors are deep rooted in the logic of human evolution. However, it is not possible to ignore the several divides, and marginalisation either in EU countries or India and its States, or for that matter anywhere in the world. Divides, marginalisation and alienations are hot beds of extremist fundamentalisms.

EU and India are excellent experimental grounds to find new solutions to humanise (not just homo sapien centric!) the globalisation process and perhaps share the experiences and new models with the world. Necessary diversities, historical compulsions and intellectual and managerial capabilities exist between these large groups i.e. EU and India.

This suggestion does not mean an exclusive EU-India experiment. Other countries big and small and larger entities like ASEAN have their own strengths.

EU and India could take a positive role in involving all them.


On the general issues of larger human concern raised in the above sections (and also not raised!)  let us look at the unique position of EU and India. India is virtually a sub-continent in rich diversities of culture, languages, climate, aspirations etc. with living traditions and with a heritage of two to four millennia. Europe is a continent with rich diversities and colourful history going back to 2 to 3 millennia. 

India is now a single political entity with federal structure as the key. It has excellent proven record of tolerance to all religions and people.  Currently it is an example of largest functioning democracy, with many western values built in. One of European language has been absorbed by Indians, as theirs and there is expertise is other European languages as well, though not in large numbers.

EU is a major step forward in expressing the unity amongst the diverse European nations/ societies/cultures.

Similarities between EU and India, are striking. The 21st century world requires more of integration of people not as a monolithic mass but as a partnership of independent people opting interdependence as a way of life to profit from synergies. The pace of changes due to modern science, technology and businesses also demands multiple partnerships even in purely intellectual fields.

The global concerns on environment, pandemics, terrorism, human conditions etc. can be tackled only on a global scale with the above approach of interdependence between peoples, societies, cultures and faiths.

India and EU have to learn “knowledge-mine” into their rich traditions of history culture and science (the good elements and bad elements too in order to learn from the mistakes of the past) ; to convert that knowledge as an additional binding force for shaping an excellent present (which has many good potentials and also severe problems) ; and to shape a future which can transcend India - EU partnership to a truly global level, encompassing the humanity.

It may sound like a re-visit of the vision of the philosophers and seers of the Axial Period of human history. But that appears to be the continuing compulsion of human destiny.


The author is thankful to Konrad Adenauer Foundation for giving him this opportunity and for the support given. The author also thanks many persons and authors of books and paper, who have given him insights into these complex issues.