Interview by Indrani Bagchi. Read of The Times of India’s website
You were believed to be the reason for the India-EU summit to be put on hold in 2014. What’s your view of the relationship now?
Last year we had a very successful summit in Brussels. I have met regularly with Indian ministers, and I am looking forward to this visit – as the issues at stake are many and important. We cooperate intensively on security issues – from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa – and on global matters such as sustainable development and climate change. During this visit we will also focus on trade and other bilateral dossiers, with one strong message: in spite of Britain’s decision to leave, EU remains a global power, the first global market, and the most relevant partner for India.
What will it take for the India-EU free trade agreement to go through?
A free trade agreement can be a win-win for EU and India. So we are working to conclude a comprehensive and ambitious agreement, to bridge our differences in areas such as market access for some goods and services, geographical indications and public procurement. We have proposed to hold a High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue so as to move forward and address sensitive issues of both sides.
Sweden is the latest victim of terror in EU. What is the thinking among EU leadership about how to tackle growing terror in Europe?
First of all, terrorism is a threat not just for Europe, but for the entire international community. Inside EU we have intensified cooperation among our police forces and intelligence services. But we need to understand the magnitude of the challenge and tackle the social and economic dimension of radicalisation and recruitment, both globally and within our communities. Global issues require common responses: Only together we can create the conditions to defeat Daesh and al Qaeda, block channels for terrorist financing, tackle foreign terrorist fighters.
In the Brexit era, what changes are you considering in EU’s foreign policy?
EU will lose one member state, but our British friends will lose much more: the power of acting together, as a Union of half a billion people, the second largest economy in the world. For instance, the UK provides less than 5% of assets and personnel in our military and civilian missions: an important yet not irreplaceable contribution. We will continue to be a global security provider, the biggest market on earth, the largest development donor. We will continue to be a global power and a reliable partner for our friends around the world, including India.
Let me add that even after these long negotiations, at the end of the coming two years, I am convinced our cooperation with the UK on foreign and security policy will continue to be strong. We share the same interests, and I am sure we will still work together as friends. Till then, however, the UK is a full EU member with all responsibilities, rights and obligations.
With the US downgrading its interest in climate change agreements, how does EU plan to hold up the achievements of Paris agreement?
We will stand by the Paris climate deal. The entry into force of the Paris Agreement less than a year after it was agreed shows that countries around the world take climate change seriously. We are passing all necessary legislation to implement the Paris Agreement, to address the economic and social implications of the transition to a low-carbon economy. And we expect all our partners – including the US – to also respect their commitments.
The US wants Europe to contribute more in NATO. How will EU respond?
This debate on defence spending is for NATO members to decide themselves. What EU can do is to make our spending more effective. At the moment, Europeans spend about 50% of what the US does on defence, but with only 15% of the output. We can only address this gap building new economies of scale, through joint programming and common procurement among EU member states. A stronger EU of defence makes NATO stronger. This is what we are working at.