Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jan 21, 2020
After the 5th Raisina Dialogue


I was glad that I was able to attend this year’s Raisina Dialogue in my new capacity of EU High Representative-Vice President, as part of my visit to India. I was struck that in only 5 short years, the Raisina Dialogue has become an unmissable fixture on a crowded international agenda where the world’s strategic community comes together. It is a unique opportunity to discuss the big trends shaping our world and how to define common answers to the most pressing problems. Given the state of turmoil in our world, I came away feeling that this kind of dialogue is needed more than ever. The discussions at the 5th Raisina Dialogue made clear that this is a world of transition and turmoil. It is imperative for strategic partners who share core values and both believe in rules-based multilateralism to scale up their cooperation. The three areas where this is particularly pertinent are the crises in the wider Middle East; the strategic space of the Indo-Pacific region and finally the wider multilateral agenda.

A world of transitions and disruptions

The main problem today is not to find the right way to describe the nature and the drivers of global change. What is difficult is to adapt our policies. And especially to find common ground when the dominant political forces and narratives are pulling societies and countries apart. The short version is that we live in a multipolar world, with multilateralism under threat. The slightly longer version is that we see the rise of great power rivalry and the weaponisation of economic tools. We see an open questioning of the rules-based order with almost daily attacks on the system, and attempts to build rival orders. The US is retreating from the very system it created, giving space for revisionist powers to push the boundaries. There is a clear erosion of trust and even a questioning of science. Our domestic societies are also changing and with it our politics. Look at the rise of identity politics everywhere, driven in part by economic inequality and aggravated by social media bubbles and algorithms, if not manipulation. There is a growing – but fatal – appeal of ‘strong men and simple solutions’. In Europe, politics has become highly fragmented and polarised, making it hard to build majorities and forge compromises for longer-term goals. Of course, in many ways, the world is also getting better; there is a rapid decline of extreme poverty. Since 2000, every year, 50 million people (almost the population of Spain) stop living in extreme poverty. A decline of 1 billion in total, which is historically unprecedented. Thanks to technology, we live longer and healthier. Around 5 billion people, or 66% of the world, own a mobile phone with all the opportunities - and dangers - this brings. And thanks to massive increases in education levels and women empowerment, more people than ever before are able to shape their own lives. So the picture is mixed. You may know the story about the difference between the optimist and the pessimist. The optimist says: life is great; we live in the best possible world. The pessimist looks around and replies, I fear you are right. I suspect there are more optimists in Asia and more pessimists in Europe. I myself am a realist. What I observe and what worries me is that in a technological sense and in terms of aggregate economic development, our world is indeed getting better. But in terms of politics it is not. There is a gap between the two – a ‘politics and diplomacy deficit’ – and we need to address this. My core message is this: the European Union (EU) is playing its part as a force of balance, of moderation and engagement. Determined to uphold key international principles, always looking for political solutions and partnerships, including with India. Let me illustrate this in 3 specific cases: first the immediate crises in the Middle East; second the Indo-Pacific region and the wider Asian security landscape and third how EU-India cooperation can help revitalise multilateralism.

Crises in the wider Middle East

The Middle East is the region where ‘politics and diplomacy deficit’ is the greatest. In recent weeks, we have seen a very serious escalation of violence and tensions in multiple crises in Iraq, Iran, Libya and beyond. All eyes of the world are fixed on the region. This is logical as we all have a stake in the future of a region that for too long has been marked by extremist forces, cycles of violence and the logic of tit-for-tat. To counter these dangerous trends, the EU is fully engaged and our message is the same for all parties: we call for de-escalation and concrete efforts to heal regional divisions. With respect to Iran, the EU - like India - continues to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and, as the EU, we will continue our coordinating work for the full implementation in all its aspects. This agreement is vital for the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture as well as regional stability. I am in regular contact with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and have stressed with him the need for Iran to go back to full compliance. We have also discussed the need for peace and stability in the wider region.  Meanwhile, on the tragic Ukrainian plane crash, we note Iran’s statement taking responsibility. We now need a full and transparent investigation in line with international standards and ensure such catastrophes never happen again. Since the beginning of my mandate, Libya has been at the top of my priorities. The announcement of a ceasefire provides an important opportunity to resume dialogue for a political solution. We must bring an end to the suffering of the Libyan people who don’t want or need outside interference, but a political process involving all Libyan actors and the UN. In short, what the EU is doing is good old-fashioned diplomacy: talking to all sides, using channels to promote de-escalation and trust-building. And we don’t ‘just talk’; in each case we are giving concrete support and are ready to do more, backing up our diplomacy with detailed offers of support including in the security domain.

The Indo-Pacific and the EU’s commitment to enhance security engagement and cooperation on sustainable connectivity

At the Raisina Dialogue and elsewhere, we have been discussing how integrated our world is. Politics and economics are inter-linked, and so are Asia and Europe. These dual linkages explain why we in Europe closely follow trends in the Indian Ocean an d the wider Asia-Pacific. Indeed, we see what many call the ‘Indo-Pacific region’, as a single ‘strategic space’, which would benefit from a more collaborative approach. As EU, we have a huge stake in the region. For India we are the number one trade and investment partner. But the same applies to many other countries in the region. The point is that those economic ties rest on enduring stability. Hence, it matters to us that the regional order continues to be open, networked, inclusive and rules-based, or whether the dominant features are hierarchical and power-based relations. There is a big difference, and the EU is playing its part to ensure the former prevails. Let me give a few examples: For more than 10 years, EU naval force Operation Atalanta has worked to counter piracy in the Horn of Africa. It has been a big success, bringing down the number of attacks from an average of 176 in 2010 and 174 in 2011 (of which 74 and 25 were pirated) to just 2 attacks in 2018 and only 1 in 2019. The key feature behind Atalanta’s success is that actions offshore are coupled with actions onshore, that of justice reform, alternative livelihoods etc. - to address the root causes of piracy. If we don’t work in this integrated manner, we are just treating symptoms. Operation Atalanta is a collective effort, and close cooperation with India is a big part of its success. Indian naval vessels are escorting World Food Programme ships as part of the Atalanta framework. So, Atalanta helps the global community but also acts as springboard for flexible forms of security cooperation with India and other Asian partners, including China and South Korea. The EU has stated its commitment to scale up security cooperation in and with Asian associates in response to pleas from partners who want better and faster engagement from the EU. To make sure this is not only a nice statement of intent, the EU has started a project to put this commitment into practice. With a budget of around €15 million, this project will focus on trainings and capacity building in 5 priority countries: India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea. The 4 chosen areas are maritime security, cyber, counter-terrorism and peace-keeping. With this project we can give substance to our security dialogues and do concrete things such as trainings for UN peacekeeping operations or on maritime surveillance and cyber incident management. In this context, we are building on successful projects, notably the recent EU-India Counter Terrorism workshop on "Investigating ISIS networks", organised last month in New Delhi. The workshop brought together Indian and European experts, and focused on capacity building of the Indian state police services to deal with the growing threat emanating from ISIS networks trying to infiltrate South Asian countries. As a result, an enhanced working relationship with Europol is taking shape. The other big way in which the EU is contributing to a regional order based on rules and openness is through its connectivity strategy. Many discussions on connectivity begin and end with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This is reductionist as many countries have their connectivity strategy, including India, Japan and ASEAN as a group. Since 2018, the EU has set out its connectivity approach. At the heart lies a belief that connectivity must be rules-based, respecting market principles, reciprocity, transparency and local ownership. It should be sustainable not only from an environmental and climate but also fiscal and social points of view. Our approach must be comprehensive so it’s not just about building hard infrastructure of ports and roads but also digital and educational links. We see that this EU approach is finding echoes in the region. We are keen to expand cooperation at the multilateral level, not only working in Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) or with the relevant multilateral development banks but also at the bilateral level. Last September, we concluded a special ‘connectivity partnership’ with Japan, and more are being considered.

EU-India: Partners for revitalising multilateralism

The final area I want to mention is EU-India relations. We have come a long way in recent years in scaling up our strategic partnership. This flows from a recognition on both sides that if we live in a multipolar world with multilateralism under threat, the EU and India need each other. We both want to prevent that a logic of force takes precedence over a system of rules. There is a reason why my first visit to Asia was to New Delhi. Just as I believe that the Indian leadership has concluded that it needs to invest in the EU and that Brexit only strengthens this necessity. I see many opportunities we could seize: Take climate change. The world is facing a climate crisis. The ice caps are melting and Australia is burning. We literally have no time to lose. The EU has stated its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050 led by its Green Deal. But we need the whole world on board. This problem cannot be solved by a group of countries that only accounts for 9% of total emissions. India must be part of the solution. The mixed outcome of COP26 in Madrid shows how much more remains to be done. A EU-India Clean Energy and Climate Partnership (CECP) was agreed between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and European leaders in 2016. In 2018, the EU has joined efforts with the International Solar Alliance, headquartered in India. Let’s build on this to ensure the full implementation of the Paris Agreement worldwide and promote the use of renewable energy. We should also work much more actively together at the UN level. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the UN. We have a massive interest to uphold its central role, across all 3 UN pillars. To that end, the EU and India must step up concrete cooperation in New York and Geneva, including on topics that are difficult and challenging in nature. Then there is trade.  We both agree on the vital role of the WTO and the need to overcome the crisis of the dispute settlement system. More broadly, the EU has a very strong record on free trade in contrast to others, and despite domestic opposition. We have concluded ambitious FTAs with Japan, Singapore and Vietnam with several others to come. We aim at a balanced, ambitious and mutually beneficial trade agreement. This requires further efforts to bring our respective levels of ambition closer. At the same time, we are ready to launch negotiations of a stand-alone investment protection agreement. Finally, there is the field of digital economy and cyber. The EU and India should deepen cooperation to protect fundamental freedoms in cyberspace and the free flow of data – and counter the drift towards high-tech ‘de-coupling’. We don’t want a split in cyberspace, forcing us to ‘choose sides’ between competing systems and standards. We both believe in fair competition, based on global standards, for 5G, AI, Big Data and the Internet of Things.


This is a world in turmoil and transition. Politically, things are complex and there is a deficit of diplomacy and trust. In the search for solutions, as the EU, we don’t pretend to have all the answers. But the EU is playing its part. Both through what it is – a remarkable project transforming power politics on the European continent – and through what it does: a committed partner for rules-based multilateralism. And India is a natural partner in this venture.
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