Keynote Address

 

 Dr. Charles Tannock

 

Member of the European Parliament [MEP]

 

to the  GOPIO Conference on

 NRI/PIO Business Networking for Trade and Investment and Contribution of Indian Diaspora in Europe

  4 October 2004, Brussels (Belgium)

 

 

It gives me enormous pleasure to address such a distinguished audience of leading members of the Indian communities scattered across the globe as well as representatives from EU member states, including my own the UK which shares a long historic connection with the country and people of India.

 

There can be no doubt that India still has a magical attraction to my generation, for many reasons, not least of course our shared history. In Europe we are all grateful to the sacrifices made by Indians in 2 world wars, which prevented tyranny and laid the foundations for the post war European Economic Community. As a UK MEP when I first arrived in this Parliament in 1999 I was surprised by the general lack of interest in the subcontinent  and the world’s largest democracy in particular, accustomed as I was to the Commonwealth Parliamentary links in the UK. Therefore I set to work to build a pro-India lobby much to the irritation of the already existing "All Party- Kashmir Group", which had sought to attack India on every occasion.

 

In recognition of the growing role of the European Parliament the Government of India had already decided wisely to appoint for the first time a dedicated diplomat to liase with the Parliament.

 

The European Parliament is the only directly elected supranational Parliament in the world with legislative powers, and now in the expanded EU of 25 states represents some 450 million people and the biggest economic zone in the world even surpassing the USA. Amongst these are over a million people of Indian origin whose voice and opinions need to be heard.

 

The contemporary world is a very different place from the immediate post 2nd world war period and the independence of India. Following the end of the cold war after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1999 we saw the clear phenomenon of only one global hyper power, the United States, emerging and the arising of several regional powers but with interconnected spheres of influence.

 

India with its impressive 8% economic growth rate and massive population is now rapidly establishing itself as the Regional superpower in South Asia.

 

India is the awakening giant which along with China offers both competitive challenges but also enormous opportunities to the EU.

 

India is still troubled in its difficult relations with neighbouring Pakistan, although even here matters are improving from the nuclear brinkmanship prevalent two years ago, with the composite dialogue now underway. However to the South we in the EU cannot forget the tragic recent civil war in Sri Lanka whose peace remains fragile but whose economy, together with India’s, one day may benefit by a bridge linking it to India. To the north our concerns remain over the ongoing instability in Afghanistan, the Maoist challenge in Nepal and to the East the havoc of the floods in Bangladesh, which also affected India, and we cannot forget the repressive military dictatorship in Burma.

 

Recently we discussed in the Foreign Affairs Committee the European Commission proposals on an EU-India Strategic Partnership. This is a proposal I welcome, as we have to recognise the enormous size of this combined market of some 1.5 billion people, which represents some 22% of the globe’s population. Currently India represents 17% of global population but only 2% of GDP, so India is yet to have its economic miracle but it is only a matter of time.

 

The EU after enlargement represents for India its largest trading partner. It is important to remember that it is the EU now which regulates trade policy not the individual member state governments, but for the EU India ranks only at number 14 in the league table behind much smaller countries like South Africa. This demonstrates the huge potential for future growth in trade.

 

Trade access is vital for India and we have witnessed the enormous benefit countries such as Chile and South Africa have obtained in particular by negotiating Free Trade deals for exporting their fresh fruit and vegetables and I read with interest that the Rothschild family is looking to export these very products from India to the EU.

 

India has a long tradition of higher education and some of you are here today because you felt frustrated in the past by the lack of opportunity in your native country and felt compelled to emigrate to seek professional work elsewhere, thus becoming the successful professionals and businessmen you are today. It is striking how many of Britain’s rich list come from the Indian Diaspora! Latterly India has become a beneficiary of "brain gain" rather than "brain drain" as some Indians for example are returning home to pursue business ventures and successful careers in IT.

 

India however if it wishes to maintain its attraction for foreign direct investment must maintain its policy of reform and deregulation just as we in the EU are pursuing the so-called Lisbon Agenda to make the EU the most competitive and dynamic learning based economy in the world under the new Commission President Barroso.

 

India to its credit has developed niche expertise in areas like pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and IT. The software industry alone employs some 800 000 workers and is turning India into a kind of electronic support service for the routine back-up activities of the multinational giants. Remarkably the computer hardware giant Intel is about to launch a “designed in India” microprocessor for the first time.

 

Therefore I strongly support the proposed EU legislation to facilitate the free movement of Indian researchers in the EU and allowing for Indian scientists to participate in   the massive 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development in the EU.

 

At present trade between the EU and India is a modest 28 billion Euros but as mentioned there is enormous scope for growth. We are all aware of the process of Business Process Outsourcing. The other day I was talking to a Dell help-line technician who, in spite of his plausible English name of "Joe" and excellent technical skills, I was able to ascertain was speaking from Bangalore not Birmingham!

 

In the same way that China poses competitive pressure in manufacturing capabilities India certainly does the same for the service sector as illustrated. I welcome this and believe that given the shrinking population in Europe we will need to outsource jobs particularly where language permits this to India. This provides savings to our consumers and allows job creation and more economic stability in the developing world. By 2008 it is estimated 4 million people will be employed via outsourcing but an extra 9 million are joining the Indian workforce every year to put this figure in context.

 

As a doctor I was intrigued that UK NHS and private clinics are considering outsourcing the backlog of pathological lab tests to India by flying in samples and having results emailed back. This market worth some £1 billion a year in the UK alone is one wide-open to Indian tender.

 

Another key area of Cooperation is Security particularly in the fight against international terrorism, money laundering and cyber-terrorism; India has a common battle against international Islamist terrorism whose reach extends from Bali to Madrid and Srinagar to Chechnya. The unspeakable horror of little children being shot in the back fleeing their captors in  Beslan shows the depravity and fanaticism of this small minority of well armed and financed terrorists, hell bent on destroying civilised values and secular democracy. Therefore it is important that India attains “privileged country status” for its security services in their dealings with Europol, the EU Police Agency charged with fighting terrorism and coordinating information exchange with member states and other third country law-enforcement agencies.

 

India after all is not only the largest democracy in the world but home to the second largest Muslim population in the world who by and large live peaceably side by side with their Hindu and Sikh majority communities. To their great credit they have eschewed any involvement with terrorist organisations like Al Quaeda and remained loyal to their country of birth.

 

I believe here in the EU we have a lot to learn from India and how they manage to keep the peace harmoniously most of the time in spite of the differences of religion and culture. I think Prime Minister Nehru would be proud to see today’s India with a Muslim President, a Sikh Prime Minister, a Hindu Foreign Minister and a foreign born Christian President of the ruling Congress party!

 

India, in its multilateral foreign relations, plays a unique role in its part of the world in a series of concentric circles through its regional relations with SAARC, ASEAN and the GCC and the UN where I personally strongly support permanent Security Council membership for India as well as Japan. Its role in peacekeeping with the UN makes it the largest contributor to UN forces with almost 70 000 military personnel involved in 41 different operations. This will be another area of collaboration as the EU establishes its own Security and Defence Policy already established with EU forces on the ground in Congo, Macedonia and Bosnia. India has in GOPIO an organisation, which has the capacity to coordinate the large and influential Indian Diaspora.

 

I would ask you all through GOPIO and local organisations to flex your political muscles and take an interest in national as well as EU politics, where sadly to date there has been an understandable reluctance to lobby on a pro-India basis.

 

I can assure you no such timidity exists for instance in the Pakistani community in the UK for to push its own slate of candidates committed to support a Pakistan friendly agenda if elected.  

 

Your community has now truly come of age and I look forward to fruitful and cooperative dialogue with you over the coming years.

 

THANK YOU