- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2004

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI — The European Union is set to firm up its strategic partnership with India at a summit meeting at The Hague on Monday, officials said, adding that counterterrorism efforts would also be in focus.

“India is one of the few countries with which the European Union has regular summits and is developing a strategic partnership,” the head of the European Commission delegation in India, Francisco da Camara Gomes, told reporters here Thursday.

“The Indian side promises to support most of the proposals that we have put up in a paper as part of building a strategic partnership,” Mr. Gomes said.

“The relationship has to be of the same parity, density, quality as the relationship we [the EU] have with the United States, Canada, China, Russia and Japan.”

The Netherlands’ ambassador in India, Eric Franciscus Charles Niche, told reporters the summit would also discuss counterterrorism.

“The focus has shifted from trade and investment to the political sphere, which deals with issues relating to tackling global terrorism,” Mr. Niche said.

The Netherlands holds the six-month rotating presidency of the 25-nation EU until Dec. 31.

A senior European Commission source confirmed in Brussels that the main part of the summit would be devoted to starting up the EU-Indian strategic partnership.

“In doing this we are recognizing that India is gaining in real importance for the EU. Before, we looked more to China, and saw India rather as a leader in the developing world. Now it’s an equal partner,” the source said on the condition of anonymity.

Among other highlights at the summit, the two sides will sign a 33 million-euro agreement for 1,000 Indian students to pursue master’s degree courses in Europe over the next three years.

But the details of Indian participation in Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation project are still under discussion and will not be formally decided on Monday, the source said.

The EU hopes that by taking its partnership with India to a higher plane, it can also indirectly encourage progress on India’s Kashmir dispute with Pakistan and other regional headaches, such as the Maoist rebellion in Nepal.

“If you encourage India toward modernization … you push India toward stabilizing its region,” the source said.

The two sides will also discuss the re-election of President Bush, the source said. “Both the European Union and India have always been strong defenders of multilateralism.”

The summit will also take up cultural exchanges in film, literature and music. “India is very chic in Europe right now, so it’s a good time to push ahead on the cultural front,” the source said.

The Indian delegation will be led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who will hold talks separately with his Netherlands counterpart Jan Peter Balkenende.

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