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February - March 2006


Political News

Europe and India: Prepared to face the challenges of globalisation?

by Robert Evans MEP


My interest in Indian politics goes back to childhood – my late mother was born in Simla, where her father, my grandfather, was stationed. I grew up familiar with Indian artefacts and with a grandmother who cooked an excellent curry, long before the dish became popular in the UK.
As a primary school teacher in London, and as I became politically active, I developed an interested in the families of Indian and South Asian origin living in the capital. So, when I was elected to the European Parliament I was very keen to be involved with the Parliament’s Delegation to South Asia. Eleven years on, I am now the longest serving member of this committee.

This conference today is looking at Cooperation between India and the EU. Why we matter to each other and why India’s progress and development is crucial to the EU. Our joint histories are of course connected, sometimes in a positive way, sometimes less so. But apart from anything else, we have a great deal in common:

The European Union is 25 countries, soon to be 27. India is 28 states, each like the member states of the EU, with a great deal of autonomy.

The area of our Union when we were just 15 countries was 3 191 000 km?. India, by comparison is 3 287 000 km? very nearly the same.

The EU used to have 12 official languages now we have 20. India has I believe 15 official languages and we both have hundreds of dialects.

Of course on population India wins quite comfortably, over twice the size, 1.1 billion going up 29 every minute. 1.1 billion people in India and nearly half a billion in the EU - nearly 20 percent of the world’s population; what a wonderful market if we can work better together. What terrific opportunities for greater cooperation and mutual growth, to say nothing of the impact we can make on world peace and democracy. In an increasingly competitive world with giant trading units like the USA and China, the EU-India in partnership can be tremendously influential.

More people than ever travel the world; the mode of travel may have changed but of course people have been moving between Europe and India for 500 years or more. As they move they bring new customs, ideas, languages, skills and so many things with them, which then become adopted in the other country. One only has to look around Delhi to see European influence. Our languages share a common route; they are from the Indo-European family. That is why counting in so many languages, from English and Welsh to Hindi, sounds very similar. We also swap words and phrases. I used to like the phrase,

‘As I was sitting on the veranda, I spilt chutney on my jodhpurs and ended up going to the gymkhana in my pyjamas’ all words of Indian origin assimilated into the English language.

In the UK alone there are now perhaps 1.5 million people of Indian origin; people who were either born in the sub continent themselves or whose parents, even grandparents, were. They contribute enormously to our society, not just by their mere presence but also by the skills and qualities that they bring.

But this also brings challenges. It is estimated that the total number of people from all minority ethnic groups in Britain is over four million – 7 percent of the population, according to the Office of National Statistics. Furthermore data shows that the number of people of Indian origin grows by about 4 percent every year compared with 1 percent for white people. So the whole make up of the UK and Europe is and will continue to change.

The age profile of these new communities is younger and centred on cities. In Brussels, there is an Indian restaurant, run by Bengali’s, which I often frequent. I first spoke in French in the restaurant but after a while the guy said, “I don’t know why you speak French to me, I’m from Ealing! “. A London Bengali running a Belgian-Indian restaurant.

These are some of the many positives on which we can build, but migration also presents challenges. There are over 300 languages spoken by children in London schools. As well as the 1.5 million Indians in London, Germany has 2.6 million Muslims and France 4.7 million. Migration has always and will always happen. The positive benefits are far greater than the negatives but people rightly expect it to be managed sensibly. When it isn’t, things can go wrong: witness the recent riots in France.

Such tensions arise in Europe when minority communities feel they are not getting a fair deal. The EU and the individual member states must do more to address some of the underlying problems, the tensions and community barriers, many based on a general lack of understanding. In European society there is still almost a lack of willingness to accept others on equal terms.

Of course it is often easier for many of the people of Indian origin to integrate into the UK because they are much more likely to have a working knowledge of English than they are of say German, French, Spanish, Greek or any other tongue. But we cannot escape the fact that racism and xenophobia exists in the European Union. Europe needs to do much more to address this. If we don’t we will not just regret it but we will see the repercussions for years.

Drugs are gnawing away at our society. Drug trade revenues run into billions of dollars and the bulk of the profit originates from the refining, transporting and distribution of drugs. As the areas under cultivation are thousands of miles from the affluent markets of Europe and the United States, it is necessary for drug cartels to control the illegal trade routes across nations. These same routes can then be used for the transport of other items, often illegal and dangerous.

This role has reached new dimensions in the regions consisting of Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent. The opium cultivation in Afghanistan grew rapidly since the mid 1980’s. Afghanistan has been transformed from a local opium producer to the world’s largest producer of heroin today. The illegal drugs used in Europe are nearly all imported. Many may pass directly or indirectly through India.

This drug trade poses a problem to Indian security on several fronts. It is used to finance and facilitate terrorist activity. The drug trade has spawned large money laundering networks, which act as a drain on the Indian economy. It threatens Indian society by enhancing criminal activity. To date, India may not have been much more than a transit zone for the narcotics trade, however this status will likely change. European experience shows that as prosperity rises, as it will in India, so the usage of illegal narcotics will rise. We need to share all our expertise gained in Europe to help India counter this forthcoming rise.

Innovative policy solutions are needed to combat this emerging threat. The Indian government’s previous experience with restrictions on the movement of contraband goods as well as the examples of the failed “wars on drugs” in North America show that straightforward law enforcement strategies contribute to the creation of parallel economies based on smuggling operations.

I spent 5 years working on the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee. I saw how different EU countries followed different lines to address the drug problem. Some ideas work much better in some area than they do in others. No one strategy may be appropriate for every part of India. Methods that combine innovative law enforcement strategies with initiatives to improve social awareness about the dangers of drug addiction are required. Greater pressure on the money laundering networks that form the financial backbone of the drug trade and associated criminal activities will yield significant dividends, as will the continued and fruitful cooperation between our police forces.

This cooperation is also vital when it comes to tackling international terrorism and global crime. Terrorism and International Crime do not respect international barriers. Neither one country, nor indeed one continent, can tackle these issues alone. We must work closely together to tackle the supply of weapons, the movement of arms and the challenge posed by those who wish to destroy democratic society. And we in the EU have to work closely with South Asia to tackle the supply lines.

We all have to cooperate together, share information, to track criminals, to close off supply routes and to copy good practice where it is seen to work.

So as we approach 2006, we ask ourselves - are we prepared to face the challenges of globalisation? The question is not so much can India and Europe work together, but can we survive, can we grow, can we counter the new threats to democracy if we operate in isolation from each other?

In the past Europe has not always looked on India as an equal. Our joint history, our joint cultures and the fact that we have so much in common, means we are natural partners.
Europe and India working in isolation of each other will continue to do well. But if the EU and India work in harmony, sharing skills and endeavours, we can achieve so much more.

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