At a time when the European Union (EU) struggles to seal a Brexit deal, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi confirms his participation in the EU-India Summit in Brussels on March 30.


Over the weekend, Prime Minister Modi announced that he would arrive in the Belgian capital on his way to the US next month. The premier said that senior Indian officials are fully prepared to resume talks on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), popularly known as the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), with the 28-member European bloc.

Meanwhile, the bloc has welcomed India’s decision, saying in a statement that all the EU member-countries are eager to attend the summit that will take place after a gap of four years. Brussels issued the statement soon after the Indian Ministry of External Affairs stated that Commerce Secretary Rita Teotia would lead a delegation to Brussels. Before attending the summit, Teotia will meet her European Commission (EC) counterpart to discuss various outstanding bilateral issues. A Commerce Minister-level meeting between India and the EU may also take place on the sidelines of Prime Minister Modi’s visit.

Speaking at a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday, a senior External Affairs Ministry official said that both the parties would have to remove some obstacles that were preventing the resumption of BTIA talks, which were suspended in 2013 after 16 rounds of negotiation. According to the official, the EU recently asked India to substantially bring down the “high” duties on automobiles as a pre-condition for resumption of the BTIA negotiations, as the European countries are unhappy with 60-120% import duty imposed by New Delhi on imported cars. However, it is still not clear whether India will accept the pre-condition, as the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has advised the Modi government not to “buckle under pressure” from the EU. The Indian industry body for automobiles believes that such a move will ultimately hurt the PM’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.

In case Brussels persists with its demand on the auto sector, New Delhi plans to express concerns over restrictions on temporary movement of skilled professionals to the European countries. India recently condemned the UK’s move to increase visa fees for skilled professionals and to increase minimum salary threshold for intra-company transfers.

Currently, the EU goes through a crisis. Top leaders of the member-countries struggled a lot to finalise Britain’s membership demands. During their meeting at the EU Council headquarters on Thursday (February 19), British Prime Minister David Cameron argued with his EU peers on some outstanding issues in a draft reform package to help him campaign in order to keep Britain in the bloc.

While pushing his demands in Brussels, Premier Cameron stressed on four key issues: sovereignty, immigration, economic governance and competitiveness. He asked the EU to allow Britain to opt out from the bloc’s founding ambition to forge an “ever closer union” of the peoples of Europe and greater powers to national parliaments to block the EU legislation.

On the immigration issue, Cameron said that his government is in favour of restrictions on other EU nationals getting in-work benefits in the UK for four years. London has also decided to change the “child benefit” rules, as it wants payment to reflect the cost of living in countries where the child lives.

As far as economic governance is concerned, one of only two EU countries neither uses the Euro nor adopts the currency in time. Britain stands alone in insisting that there will never be just one currency in the bloc. In Brussels, Prime Minister Cameron demanded safeguards, particularly for the British financial sector, against being harmed by decisions made by the Eurozone. Cameron further said that a target should be set for the reduction of the “burden” of excessive regulation and extending the single market.

After hearing Cameron’s arguments, the EU leaders reached a deal in order to keep Britain in the bloc with “special status”. As per the deal struck in the Belgian capital, London can bar entry of the people believed to be a security risk, even if they don’t have prior convictions. New workers, arriving in the UK from the EU countries, will have to wait four years before receiving benefits, such as tax credits and child payments. There may be a seven-year term for an “emergency brake” to restrict EU migrants in the UK claiming in-work benefits. The Cameron administration may extend child benefit payments, indexed to the cost of living for children outside the UK for all new arrivals to the country, to all workers from January 1, 2020. The UK can also retain the pound and any money, spent on bailing out Eurozone nations, will be reimbursed. The EU even agreed to ensure level-playing field within the internal market to boost businesses. Above all, the UK will not be part of an “ever closer union” with other EU members. It means that “an unequivocal opt-out stating that EU treaty references to ever-closer union do not apply to the UK”.

Upon his arrival in London from Brussels on Saturday (February 20), Cameron announced that Britain would hold its historic referendum on June 23 on whether to remain in the EU. He also summoned his Cabinet for a meeting to discuss the deal reached in Brussels. Later, Cameron issued a short statement outside 10 Downing Street, saying: “We are approaching one of the biggest decisions this country will face in our lifetimes. This choice goes to the heart of what kind of country we want to be, and the future we want for our children. Let me be clear, leaving Europe would compromise our economic and national security.”

Citizens of Britain, Ireland and Commonwealth nations over 18, who are resident of the UK, and British nationals, who have lived overseas for less than 15 years, can take part in the referendum. However, citizens EU countries, apart from Ireland, Malta and Cyprus, will not be able to vote.
Those, who want the UK to leave the bloc, think that the country is being held back by the EU by imposing too many rules on business. They also want to restrict the immigration. On the contrary, those, who are in favour of staying in, think that the EU membership makes selling things to other EU countries easier. They are of the opinion that the flow of immigrants fuels economic growth. Although Cameron has said that he will now campaign for the UK to stay in the EU, several of his ministers have already made it clear that they will push for Britain’s exit from the bloc.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]