Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2012

India and Europe in a Multipolar World

Bernd vonl Muenchow-Poh

May 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


The image of India as an emerging power is widely held, but there is equal reason to see the European Union as an emerging power, too, even at the risk of raising eyebrows. Like India, the EU seeks to become a global political player on top of being a great economic power. As the global power dynamic shifts, both are trying to define their roles in an emerging multipolar world. The question arises whether closer cooperation can help the EU and India to achieve their ambitions. Though they have committed to a strategic partnership, in its present state the EU-India relationship has been likened to a “loveless arranged marriage.” With each increasingly absorbed by domestic problems, the prospects for closer ties are fading, notwithstanding the opportunities that would be lost. India and the EU do share some traits that, when taken together, none of the other established, emerging, or aspiring great powers display—continental-scale economies and a bewildering cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity all framed in democratic and quasi-federal structures that remain in flux. Yet, while their relationship has a great deal of potential, it has underperformed. The ambitious agenda of their Joint Action Plan, originally signed in 2005 and updated in 2008, is long on shared fundamentals and abstract political objectives but short on specifics and deliverables, and devoid of timelines. Both the EU and India find it difficult to commit to a clear-cut common agenda with specific goals. And there are fundamental deficits on both sides that impede their explicit or implicit global power ambitions as well as their abilities to effectively work together.