Most analysts concur that the enhanced relationship between India and the European Union, elevated to the status of a strategic partnership in 2004, has so far made relatively little impact beyond the existing linkages and has fallen short of its own objectives. Though the invocation of Europe and India as “natural partners” has become a semantic staple for annual summit proceedings, the partnership has been likened to “a loveless arranged marriage” — especially when compared to the flowering of the much more passionate and glamorous relationship between India and the United States since the nuclear deal.
From a historic perspective, the match seemed as if it would have a solid foundation. Adding a new dimension to its relationship with Europe, which was still overshadowed by the colonial past, New Delhi established diplomatic relations with the European Economic Community (EEC) as early as 1963. Ten years later, when Britain — India’s most important trading partner at the time — joined the original six EEC members, India’s loss of imperial trade preferences led to its first commercial cooperation agreement with the community. It took both sides another 20 years to sign their first political declaration after the EEC had morphed into an enlarged European Union of then twelve member states. In 2000, India’s raised economic and political profile and the EU’s desire to extend its newly defined political mission beyond the confines of the European continent after the end of the Cold War, brought about the first summit meeting in Lisbon. Successive annual summits heralded the EU-India Strategic Partnership (2004) and a voluminous Joint Action Plan for its implementation (2005).