EU interested in doing more with India on security cooperation: Stefano Sannino | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

EU interested in doing more with India on security cooperation: Stefano Sannino

Feb 22, 2024 12:30 AM IST

The European side is interested in doing more with India to build on substantial cooperation in the maritime sector, including joint exercises and activities

Security has become a more important element of the European Union (EU)-India partnership in light of developments in the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea, and both sides are looking to work more closely on hybrid and maritime security, the EU’s senior-most diplomat said on Wednesday.

Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the European External Action Service
Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the European External Action Service

Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the European External Action Service, said in an interview that the European side is interested in doing more with India to build on substantial cooperation in the maritime sector, including joint exercises and activities.

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Q. We have witnessed forward movement on various strands of the India-EU relationship in the past year. How would you characterise the current state of the relationship?

A: I think there is a sense on both sides, in India and the EU, that we have a common interest to develop further our relationship. I think we have a quite solid relationship in a number of areas, economic [matters], progress in trade, but progressively, we are starting to realise the interest [for] more solid relations when it comes to security, to the broader concept of security given the complexity of the crises that the world is facing. Hence, the idea of moving much more in areas like hybrid cyber or maritime security. I think [this is] one of the elements which is characterising this new trend and part of the work that we are doing on the free trade agreement and geographical indications. Again, the trade and economic part has always been solid, but I think that in this area, there is much more. And IMEC (India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor) was a clear example of this new dimension of this new vision of the work that we want to do together.

Q. Has the security element become more important in the relationship because of the situation in the Indo-Pacific, what happened in Israel and the need to secure shipping lines and ensure the resilience of supply chains?

A. Yeah, definitely. I think that dramatically, we have rediscovered the fact that we are living in an insecure world where security theatres are very closely linked to one another. So, what is happening in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea or the Mediterranea, is all closely linked and the globalisation of the economy made all our countries much closer. But these interdependencies have also shown our weaknesses and somehow the fragility when some countries or some powers are using this as an element to put pressure to pursue their objectives. I think we have rediscovered the security dimension in a very clear way and now we are trying to go much deeper into the work that we can do together. I think it is something we are doing with all our partners, but certainly, it's one of the things that I want to try to explore more during this visit, which are the areas and the modalities that we can use to strengthen even further this cooperation.

Q. There has been cooperation through initiatives like Project Atalanta. Will you be deepening that and increasing the EU's naval presence, working more closely with the Indian Navy?

A. We already have quite substantial cooperation in the maritime sector, with joint exercises and joint activities and certainly we are much more interested to do more. We have already started this mechanism of a coordinated maritime presence of the EU, so essentially the military assets of the EU are present in certain areas in a much more structured and coordinated way. That's where we would like to see how we can improve the work with Indian authorities. Certainly, I think the work that we've been doing in certain regions, like in the Gulf of Guinea or in the northwestern Indian Ocean, it's something that we want to replicate and broaden.

Q. There's a lot of interest in India on the proposed FTA with the EU, which will be the biggest trade deal that India has done in several years. How would you characterise the current status of negotiations and are there gaps that need to be addressed?

A. First of all, we want to have an agreement with India which is ambitious, covers all the different areas and is mutually beneficial. We want to open our markets, we want to ensure greater economic cooperation in a way that we can have the protection of investments [and that] the different components of our economy are all properly reflected. For us, this remains the accessibility to the market and the possibility of enforcing the contents of the agreement. These are the main issues that we are discussing and I think that it is true that both sides want to do it, we want to have the finalised work, but I think it is also important to make sure that the substance is there. I think that, as in all trade negotiations, it's [about] give and take. We must find the balance among the different sectors and different interests. The discussion on the offers, the modalities and enforceability, and also the new elements which are covered by the agreement, including the sustainability component, is an important part of this. CBAM (Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism) is not part of the negotiations but in a way, it's part of the logic we are all committed to, in the context of the work that we do at COP and on the green agenda to reduce the impact of climate change on our societies. I think India is also very acutely aware of this need. What we are trying to do with CBAM is to create conditions that are positive not only for us but also for third countries...There are different approaches, but we are all converging into the area that we want to support and help the economic transition towards a green economy, which is able to produce wealth for our people but also sustainable for the environment.

Q. The Trade and Technology Council (TTC) has become another important forum for cooperation. What are the focus areas where there's going to be a breakthrough soon?

A. I think of the three main pillars of technology, digital and green trade, certainly the one concerning digital is something which is very interesting because it's an area where India is extremely strong. It has enormous potential in terms of capacity to contribute. We think in this area we can do more, especially when it comes to critical technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence, but also the work that we are doing to imagine different ways of producing these technologies or products which are not yet there. The innovation element and component are still very important, we are making huge efforts in the EU to reduce our critical dependencies. It goes through the diversification of supply chains, but it goes also through the innovation and creation of new products. That's where I think the cooperation with India could be extremely interesting.

Q. Is there interest in Europe for the digital infrastructure that India has produced, including for digital payments? Would you be interested in working with India to forge norms for AI?

A. For the first, yes, in the sense that we are all pushing towards a greater digitalisation of our economies and I think that [India has] made huge progress in this area. There is an interest not only to compare experiences but to be able to benefit from what has been done in India. As far as AI is concerned, definitely yes, we have already started to define the elements or norms around AI, but this is something that needs to be done at the world scale. That's why, especially with [India], we would be more interested to do more work in this direction. AI has enormous potential for our economies and different sectors like health. But it is also true that, unfortunately, it can become a very powerful instrument if not used in the proper way, and this is the appeal that has been made by a number of experts and companies in the sector that are pushing for better regulation of this without hampering the development of the capacity of AI.

Q. You are here days before the second anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. Do you feel what has happened in West Asia has taken attention away from this crisis? How do you look at the position of countries in the Global South that have said this is really not their problem?

A. I think it's very difficult for any of us to say the crisis we are facing in Ukraine is not a global problem, not least because the consequences are felt globally. We need to continue looking at what is happening there and to be able to come to a just and sustainable solution. I'm not shying away from saying that for Europe, this is certainly an existential threat. It's a direct attack on a sovereign country whose aspiration was to get closer to the EU. We believe that Russian imperialism is something that is very dangerous for [countries] that are territorially so close to Russia. So it's for us, I repeat, an existential threat.

But the consequences are also felt globally. It's a little bit difficult to say we are not interested in what is happening there. There is an effort being led by Ukrainian authorities to push for a peace conference. There have been many meetings already, in which India has participated in a constructive way. We need to continue working in that direction, but at the same time, we also need to make sure that Russia is not creating a situation on the ground, through the use of force, that is impossible to repair.

We will continue to support Ukraine to achieve its aim of territorial integrity, to be a sovereign country which is in charge of its own choices and there is a determination on our side to continue to do so.

Now, the crisis in the Middle East and what is happening in Gaza is certainly an element which is adding problems to a problem. Unfortunately, we will need to do both things. We need to see how to also get out of the crisis in the Middle East. But this does not mean that we will not remain focused on what is happening in Ukraine.

Q. Do you think IMEC has been one of the casualties of what has happened in West Asia?

A. At this moment, this is an element which is disturbing the project. I don’t know if I would call it collateral damage, but I still believe the interest in IMEC continues to be there, and the importance of the project exists. We continue to be committed to working together with all the partners to see how this can be developed. Let's work in order to have this crisis over as soon as possible so that we can think more about the future and how to construct a better and more secure future for all our societies.

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