India-EU cooperation: renouncing the benign neglect of Central and Eastern Europe
As India-EU cooperation deepens, it is vital that both sides revitalize their ties with the wider region of Central and Eastern Europe
Dating back to the Cold War era, India and the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region have shared special historical, social, political, cultural and commercial ties. Due to India’s proximity to the former USSR, communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe maintained cordial relations with socialist India. This was evident with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe providing military equipment, help build steel factories and power stations, and extend political support to India as well. However, following Soviet disintegration, trade and political relations between India and the region of Central and Eastern Europe took a new turn, with India focusing more on Western Europe. However, over the past two decades India has sought to diversify its trade and investment relationships in Europe.
India course correction
In the post-Cold War timeline, when it comes to India’s engagement with Europe, it was largely with the western sub-region of the continent. This often included powers of ‘Old europe“Like France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union centered on Brussels. India has long ignored the enormous potential to cultivate ties with the Central and Eastern European region. Besides the disintegration of the Soviet Union, this oversight was also due to India’s turn towards a liberal market economy in the early 1990s.
However, amid the opportunities of the 21st century, India and the Visegrád group, also known as the V4 country (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia), have regularly reinvigorated their ties. After all, these countries appeared among the fastest growing economies in the European Union. With a total GDP of 529 billion euros, Poland is the seventh economy in the EU. Between 1992 and 2019, its average growth rate remained uninterrupted at 4.2 percent per year. According to the 2020 economic growth projections of the European Commission, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are expected to grow by 4.1 percent, 4.6 percent, 2.7 percent and 2.5 percent.
In the midst of the opportunities of the 21st century, India and the Visegrád group, also known as the V4 country (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia), have regularly reinvigorated their ties.
An Indian V4-centric approach to ECO not only sought to revise trade ties, but also to correct the visit deficit in the region. In 2019, it was after a long hiatus of 32 years that the Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Warsaw, and he visited Budapest after a six-year hiatus. However, the transformation of the sub-region meant not only an expansion of political and trade exchanges, but also a renewed synergy between India and the CEECs at different levels. As, for example, the V4 and the countries of Eastern Europe have shown unequivocal support for India’s candidacy for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the Visegrád group also showed Support for India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
With the Czech Republic, trade relations intensified when payments were switched to freely convertible currencies after the signing of the Bilateral Investment Promotion Agreement (BIPA) in 1996. In the middle of its growing discord with China, sanctions regime along with the Russian Federation and India’s growing presence in the world, Prague has also recently included India among the 12 priorities countries with which it seeks to deepen its relations. In addition, India and the Czech Republic are stimulating defense sector links with New Delhi invitation to Prague defense companies for the creation of joint ventures as crucial partner in next-generation technology. In addition, a contract was signed by PBS based in Czech Republic to produce aircraft engines in India in 2020. At the same time, leading Indian companies in various industries are now refining their footprint in the Czech Republic. Some examples being Infosys, Ashok Leyland, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals and Lloyd Electric and Engineering Ltd.
After 1947, Hungary also became one of the first Warsaw Pact countries to focus on politics and business. reports with India. However, efforts to intensify commercial ties lack on many occasions. It was only after economic liberalization in India and democratic transition in Hungary that the trade relations of the two partners experienced a boost. By 2015, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade could then confidently believe that bilateral economic cooperation “Entering an extremely dynamic development phase.” This was underpinned by a strong presence of Indian companies in Hungary, and New Delhi was named a “priority partner” by Budapest. New Delhi-Budapest trade relations continue witness an upward trajectory (indexed to 750 million US dollars in 2020) and Indian companies like TCS, Genpact, Sun Pharma, Crompton Greaves, SMR and Orion are leading investors in Hungary. Between 2014 and 2015, Apollo tires and SMP Group were also the biggest investors in Hungary’s greenfield projects.
Likewise, India has established Diplomatic ties with Poland as early as 1954. However, the breakthrough in these ties occurred as recently as 2014, when New Delhi and Warsaw celebrated on 60e anniversary of their diplomatic relations. Poland regarded India as its “priority” non-European partner only after China. Trade between New Delhi and Warsaw has cultivated seven times to cross US $ 3 billion in 2017. In addition, the launch in 2018 of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency The Mumbai Foreign Trade Office was followed by the launch of direct flights between New Delhi and Warsaw by Polish Airlines LOT in 2019.
In the future, new areas of cooperation can strengthen the overall trade relations between India and Poland. These areas include corporate finance and IT services, food technology, renewable energy, cybersecurity, FinTech, and more. Punjab – Lubelskie, Andhra Pradesh – Malopolska, and Maharashtra – Weilkopolska are some of the most prominent examples of sub-regional cooperation between India and Poland. Not to mention that India and Poland share strong ties on the international stage. It is Poland which sponsored UNSCR 1267  to impose a ban on Jaish-e-Mohammad. Likewise, Poland has shown unequivocal support for India’s position on Kashmir after the repeal of section 370.
Finally, Slovakia sees India as a important country with growing international legitimacy and major economic potential. In 1993, RL Bhatia was the first non-European foreign minister to visit Bratislava. Slovakia Goals develop an intensive political dialogue to exploit economic cooperation in the broad sense. However, India’s trade reports with Slovakia still lagging behind. But India showed inclination invest in its automotive sector, with Tata’s Jaguar Land Rover establishing the biggest Factory of personal cars owned by Indians in Slovakia.
Beyond these convergences with the V4, India’s relations with the countries of central and eastern Europe – which include other potential partners such as Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Romania, Ukraine and even the Baltic States – demand attention. An Indian approach to the EEC, centered solely on the V4, belies the vast potential of India’s relations with Europe.
Beyond these convergences with the V4, India’s relations with the countries of central and eastern Europe – which include other potential partners such as Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Romania, Ukraine and even the Baltic States – demand attention
Another factor preventing greater India-CEEC cooperation is the apparent neglect of the EU for its eastern sub-region. It is undeniable that “Carolingian Europe” nostalgia continues to feature in Europe’s vision for the Central and Eastern European region. According to the common public perception, major political decisions within the EU are always control by western EU countries like France and Germany. Even after 17 years of EU membership, an assessment of the wider sentiments of the Central and Eastern European region reveals that the West is still not ready to accept their values.
Another testimony to this inherent threat to European solidarity is the recent Conference on the future of Europe it did not even mention the importance of the Central and Eastern European region. Speech by Milena Lazarevic (Program Director and Co-Founder, European Policy Center, Serbia) at the Raisina 2021 Dialogue affirmed the exclusive nature of the EU political decision-making process. There is an urgent need to incorporate the diverse voices of the Central and Eastern European region rather than denounce or ignore them. Quoting the Conference on the Future of Europe, Lazarevic stress that the EU should also not forget the strategic importance of the region given the region’s growing dependence on China due to “lack of EU solidarity“.
Therefore, to reap the full benefits of the multifaceted India-EU relationship, it will be in the interests of both partners to forgo their benign neglect of the CEC region. The recently concluded India-EU summit at leadership level indicated a shared commitment to leverage connectivity initiatives. Therefore, it would be in the common interest of India and the EU to also adopt an inclusive approach for the CEEC region under the India-EU partnership. Subsequently, in the long term, as the cooperation between India and the European Union strengthens, it will serve as a basis for India and the EU to give a strategic dimension to their commitments with the region of central and eastern Europe.