The importance of the EU-India partnership in the Indo-Pacific

Europe and its main Indo-Pacific partners are joining forces to present a positive agenda for the region at the Ministerial Forum to be held in Paris tomorrow under the French EU Presidency. This one-of-a-kind event brings together Foreign Ministers of EU Member States and 30 Indo-Pacific countries, including Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar, under the co-chairmanship of France and the EU .

The issues of this crucial region, including security challenges, are of concern to all EU countries. Europe’s response is a comprehensive and positive program of solutions, rather than a logic of military confrontation. This is also the guiding principle of the EU’s strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, unveiled in September 2021. Europe can offer countries in the region a sustainable and transparent model to preserve their sovereignty, and an alternative to other models, such as China’s.

Tomorrow’s Forum is France’s contribution to translating this strategy into action. We are working on concrete projects in three priority areas: security and defence, connectivity and the commons. On each of these issues, we believe that India has a central role to play.

France, itself an Indo-Pacific nation, has a long-standing commitment to upholding the law of the sea in the region, notably through our permanent naval presence and joint exercises, such as our annual “Varuna” with India. Other EU countries are increasingly present at national level. We believe that a stronger European commitment will contribute to a better response to the security challenges of this vast region. This is why we are working on a coordinated EU maritime presence in the Indian Ocean, a key point for tomorrow’s discussions. This would be an important step, which demonstrates the role of the EU as a provider of stability in the region.

Connectivity and infrastructure needs are immense in the Indo-Pacific. But these needs should not force the countries of the region into unsustainable dependencies. Alternate options are required. The EU’s Global Gateway initiative unveiled in December 2021 hopes to address this by pooling the resources of EU institutions and its 27 member states to raise €300 billion to build lasting connections. Tomorrow’s Forum will focus on strengthening ties between Europe and the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the air and digital fields. The EU and India have already concluded a partnership for connectivity (last May in Porto), which can be a pillar of this broader initiative.

The Indo-Pacific is a crucial region for addressing global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity protection and health resilience. These challenges call for collective action. During the Forum, the EU will present the support it can provide to the countries of the region, including in terms of green finance, to carry out their ecological transitions in a fair way. This is important for India’s efforts to achieve the goals set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at COP26. Moreover, in the areas of biodiversity protection and plastic pollution, France and India can act together to stimulate multilateral action, as evidenced by India’s decision to join the international coalition initiated by France to protect 30% of land and seas by 2030 (High Coalition Ambition for Nature and People).

Cooperation between France and India on protected areas and national parks can also be extended to the Indo-Pacific scale. Finally, the ministers will discuss concrete measures to strengthen health sovereignty and promote the “One Health” approach to the response to the pandemic. France will propose the creation of an Indo-Pacific health campus, which will be established in India, to bring together the pharmaceutical prowess of India and the technological capacity of Europe for the benefit of the region.

In a world of growing tensions, the central objective of the French EU Presidency is to strengthen Europe’s sovereignty and its ability to decide its own destiny. This undertaking corresponds to India’s fundamental aspiration to strategic autonomy. This is why France believes that the EU can be India’s natural partner in reshaping the post-pandemic world and promoting a multipolar order. We can build on our excellent bilateral relations and the momentum of the EU-India Summit in May 2021 to realize this vision. At tomorrow’s Forum, France and India will work together to put a genuine EU-India strategic partnership at the center of a new Indo-Pacific agreement.

(The writer is French Ambassador to India)

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