With 1.12 billion plus population and being the largest democracy in the world, India has emerged as an important trade partner for the European Union (EU), which is keen to further strengthen its partnership with India in a variety of areas, including counter-terrorism and cyber-security.

Realising that cooperation in a globalized and interconnected world is essential, the EU, after forging strategic relations with India in 2005 and persisting with negotiations since 2007 for Free Trade Agreement (FTA), has been widening the scope for partnership with India while having consultations on counter-piracy, convoy coordination, support to regional maritime capacity building, joint approaches within the U.N. and exploring exchanges on other regions such as Afghanistan, North Africa and West Asia.

Senior officials of the EU and its External Action Service told a group of visiting Indian journalists here last week that the EU has “rich agenda” with India to which security and counter-piracy have also been added.

“Though there is room for improvement in economy and trade between India and the EU, new areas of cyber-security, hi-tech information technology sector are seeing an increased level of exposure. We have a common agenda with India and we may not agree on everything, but we are building upon newer areas of cooperation. The EU wants to make its partnership with India more operational and take it to a higher level,’’ a number of senior officials who interacted with the Indian journalists said.

Officials connected with defence and security said the EU was maintaining contacts with India on counter-terrorism and EUROPOL engagement was also “operational’’. They said that recent interactions of EU officials with India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) have turned out to be “impressive and fruitful.’’ They were also in touch with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) through channels of INTERPOL, the international police organisation headquartered at Lyon, France.

A decade-old Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of EU has identified key threats such as terrorism, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), regional conflicts, state failure, organised crime, energy security and climate change and while addressing them is trying to build security in the neighbourhood and striving for an international order based on effective multilateralism.

In India’s troubled neighbourhood of Afghanistan-Pakistan, the EU has tried to position itself as a key player though it gets dwarfed when compared to the U.N. and NATO. Officials said that the EU has been training civilian police in Afghanistan and has embarked upon a five-year engagement plan with Pakistan. “Though every situation has its own specificities, we are contributing towards bringing about stabilization in Afghanistan and cooperating with Pakistan to promote security in the region,’’ officials said while expressing concern over an unusually high acquittal rate of terror-related cases in different courts in Pakistan.

A counter-terrorism coordinator in the Council of EU maintained that Al Qaeda remained number one threat as a terror outfit but its franchises like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) were also active locally. “Terrorists are not warriors; they are just criminals who should be brought to justice. Challenges are to prevent, protect, pursue and respond to terror threats effectively while making efforts towards de-radicalisation,’’ he added.

Asked about common grounds between the EU and India, officials said that both were committed to multilateralism and negotiated, peaceful settlement of problems and a “lot of synergy’’ was going to be seen between them in near future. “It is not just economy and trade only. The EU does not want a symbolic text or a photo opportunity in the form of a Free Trade Agreement with India; we want it to be most vibrant and thriving one over the next decade. We are hopeful of finalizing FTA negotiations with India within a year or so,’’ officials said. Two-way trade in goods and services between the EU and India had reached 86 billion Euros in 2010. Clearly, the EU is keen to do “more together’’, firmly believing that the only direction of its ties with India is “forward.’’

(The Hindu’s correspondent travelled to Brussels at the invitation of EU Delegation in India)

More In: National | News