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The EEAS and the EU-India Strategic Partnership

Alok Rashmi Mukhopadhyay was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • July 22, 2010

    In early July the European Parliament approved the formation of a European External Action Service (EEAS) with an overwhelming majority. The nascent but ambitious EEAS primarily aims to achieve coherence and coordination in the bloc’s foreign policy. It would host an expert’s pool by bringing in desk officers working at the European Commission, area experts at the Secretariat of the European Council and officials from the foreign ministries of the member states under one roof in Brussels. It also envisages better co-ordination amongst the member states in European delegations in third countries, so that the EU delegation and the member states speak in one voice. The role of the European Union Special Representatives in different crisis areas, like in Afghanistan, Georgia, would also be reviewed in the due course. The EEAS, under the new High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, would also try to infuse synergy and streamline various activities. In addition, the High Representative would also play a pivotal role in the area of European Security and Defence Policy, which the Lisbon Treaty named as the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). A full-fledged EEAS would take its own time to become operational after clinching various organisational issues like staff, budget, infrastructure, higher positions and competition amongst member states to be influential in the new set up. But a change of role of EU delegations and future workings of the rotating presidencies are expected to be visible in the months to come. Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism, though they still strictly remain the exclusive domain of the member states, would also be important components in the EEAS. Undoubtedly the EEAS is an attempt to showcase the achievement of the Lisbon Treaty, while the bloc in the last few months has experienced disunity and conflicting positions to address the current challenge, namely the economic downturn.

    However, apart from the initial changes in the nomenclatures of EU institutions, some preliminary caveats regarding the role and working of the EEAS ought to be highlighted here. The appointments of Herman van Rompuy, a former Belgian premier as the first permanent President of the European Council, and of Baroness Catherine Ashton, the British Labour politician as the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy as well as the Vice President of the European Commission, have not only surprised Europeans as such but also EU observers, since neither was well-known beyond their respective national borders. Given the common EU approach of consensus and the culture of give-and-take on important positions at the helm amongst the member states as well as various groups in the European Parliament, there always lies the risk of personality clashes or disagreements with the heads of states of the major member states should important politicians with a pan-European stature be nominated to the highest echelons of the EU decision-making process. So the common EU endeavour remains the search for a consensus but not for high-profile candidates to lead any institution. However as in the present disposition, both Mr. van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton have fixed tenures of two-and-a half and five years respectively and would work as the EU’s global faces in the coming years, it is to interesting to speculate how, when both these incumbents attempt to assert their respective roles, they would be received by the major member nations.

    Similarly, the EU delegations are likely to experience changes in the coming months in third countries with which the EU has already established strategic partnerships like China, India, Japan, etc. as well as with countries the EU thinks are important in its future global vision like Pakistan, Indonesia, Afghanistan, etc. It is also to be observed how a larger and stronger EU delegation would compete for influence in such countries or regions where the major member states either have considerable stakes or historical ties, e.g. Germany in Russia and China, the UK in South Asia, France in Africa, and Spain in Latin America. Though it has time and again been reiterated that the strategic partnerships of the bloc with some specific third countries with which some member states already have ‘strategic’ or ‘special’ partnerships, are complimentary, nonetheless, in a post-Lisbon Treaty scenario, the assertiveness of the EU delegations under the EEAS to gain a distinct identity may be anticipated. It is also to be emphasised that though the new EEAS, given its permanent structure, evokes enthusiasm amongst the EU foreign policy makers in the colossal setup in Brussels, the EU diplomatic service is supposed to be predominantly expertise and technocracy-driven. However, initial euphoria apart, larger and important roles played by the major member states and increasingly the European Parliament to have a say, in order to achieve consensus on crucial foreign policy issues, should not be ignored.

    Seen from this part of the globe, it is indeed relevant to have a preliminary analysis of the EU-India strategic partnership after the EEAS has formally come into existence. During her last four-day visit to India in June, Baroness Ashton presented a promising picture of the EEAS as ‘a "one stop shop"’ which would tackle the challenges of the 21st century. However, analysts, who underscore the absence of a security component in the EU-India strategic partnership, may study the symbolism of the team accompanying Baroness Ashton, which comprised of Giles de Kerchove, the EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator and Lt. Gen. Ton van Osch, Director General, EU Military Staff. As an outcome of the visit, both EU and India decided to give greater emphasis to Counter-Terrorism cooperation. A tie between Europol and the concerned Indian agency may also fructify. Establishing a distinct intelligence capability under the new EEAS is a conscious attempt. However it remains to be seen how the new EU diplomatic service would be successful in building and running its own intelligence setup and eventually liaise with strategic partners like India.

    Observers of the EU-India strategic partnership are unanimous that even after ten annual summits the EU-India strategic partnership remains under-explored. It is true that the complex structure, intertwines of various European institutions, stands of member states on various issues and participation in different systems (like Euro, Schengen) are only a quizmaster’s delight. Moreover given the Indian foreign policy establishment’s preoccupation with its immediate neighbourhood and other pressing demands, the energy and concentration required to study the unique evolution of the Union needs to be increased. As both EU and India are committed to a multi-polar world order and determined to address the current challenges, reenergising the EU-India strategic partnership and reinvigorating the dialogue in various fora established so far should sincerely be pondered over. The Eighth Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Brussels in October and the forthcoming EU-India summit with the incumbent Belgian presidency would serve this objective best.