Does Europe matter?

As India’s interests and outlook grow more global in scope, it seeks a compelling narrative for relations with Europe

What is the future for the India-Europe relationship in the coming decades as China narrows its relative power differential with respect to the United States? Going by contemporary experience, the unfortunate answer is perhaps “nothing more than a transactional relationship”.

Yet there is much to suggest a closer strategic relationship: both from the perspective of ensuring liberal, democratic norms remain pre-eminent across the world, to convergence of interests over issues of global governance to addressing common security threats like international terrorism. Absent a grand narrative connecting these dots into a coherent pattern of a strategic relationship, it appears that India and Europe will continue to remain on two sides of transactions, albeit an ever growing number of them.

As we construct a comprehensive geopolitical vision for India in the twenty-first century, I am struck by the relative poverty of the India-Europe agenda. My thesis of India being a geopolitical swing power between a still pre-eminent United States and a rising China argues that India must develop better relations with these two than they have with each other. It also indicates that New Delhi must develop a broader geopolitical leverage on a number of issues that can compel the United States and China to ensure that India’s interests are protected.

While I can envisage what this entails for India’s policy towards East Asia, Central Asia, Russia, the Middle East and Africa, I do not clearly see how what it means for Europe. This is partially due to Europe’s own foreign policy course over issues ranging from commitment to stabilising Afghanistan to the enlargement of the European Union, and indeed, with its approach to handling an increasingly diverse demographic.

Will Europe be so pre-occupied in evolving its domestic order to be a potential partner for India in the geopolitical space? How much will Europe compromise its liberal democratic values in order to accommodate geopolitical pressure from China and its Eastern periphery? Even if Europe and India agree on the definition of common problems, will their respective internal political dynamics allow them to see eye-to-eye on the solutions? Moreover, does there exist in Europe a school of strategic thought that sees a partnership with India as necessary for addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century?