Ms. NEENA GILL
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
4 October 2004, Brussels
First of all I would like to express
my sincere thanks for the invitation to speak to you today. I am very pleased that GOPIO have arranged
this conference to discuss the contribution of Indian Diaspora throughout Europe.
With over 20 million Indians living outside India, myself included, it is important that
this truly global community is able to meet and discuss the issues that concern
us. I want to congratulate GOPIO as an
international body for all the work it has done for Indian communities and its
vision for our future.
I would like to express particular
thanks to Sunil Prasad, President of GOPIO Belgium for his hard work in organising today's
conference and I know that he had done a lot to raise the profile of the Indian
community here in Belgium. And
of course I am very much delighted to have an opportunity to meet Mr Inder
Singh, the GOPIO International President and the Minister Mr Tytler from India. I
would like to offer them my own welcome to Brussels. I
would like to offer a greeting to His Excellency Mr R. M. Abhyankar the new Indian Ambassador to the EU,
I understand that it was only last Thursday when he met the king of Belgium to
become officially inaugurated as the Ambassador to the EU. I am looking forward
to working closely with you during your time in Brussels.
I feel particularly privileged to be
speaking to you today as a recently re-elected Member of the European
Parliament, this means that I have the opportunity to work for a further 5
years on the issues that concern me most.
As part of my work I have been elected as the President of the European
Parliament's Delegation for South Asia and
SAARC. I am hopeful that this delegation,
which represents the seven countries of South Asia and the entire European Union, will be an
active forum for discussion and co-operation.
Over the 5 years of the last
Parliament I tried to work as a catalyst to getting the European Institutions
to recognise the importance of ethnic minorities in Europe. In
2002 I encouraged the Commission to have its first ever Asian Entrepreneurs
Conference - which boosted the Asian network of professionals across Europe. Furthermore,
since the momentous Indian elections in May I have campaigned within the European
Parliament for Mr Borrell the Parliament's President to invite the Indian Prime
Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh and the Indian President Mr Abdul Kalam to address our
I have to say that as the only
Indian born female Member of the European Parliament, I feel very at home here
in Brussels. I
have come from the world's largest democracy that benefits from a mix of
languages, religions and cultures to work in the democratic heart of a diverse
union of twenty-five different member states.
I think it is particularly fitting
and the timing of this conference couldn't have been better, at a stage when
the relationship between the EU and India is at an important crossroads. I am thrilled that we are witnessing a period
of change when these two enormous democracies will be forging a shared future.
You are all probably aware that earlier
this year the Commission published a paper outlining the future of EU-India
relations, in which a strategic partnership will develop. This communication outlined a new role for India in the EU, a strategic partnership that
sets a new framework for strengthened relations. This partnership is evolving further than
what is termed as "a 3rd generation agreement" because it goes beyond
pure trade and economic goals, towards political objectives such as promoting
peace, stability, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance.
Initial reactions to the Commission
proposals have been extremely positive.
The Council of Ministers and European Parliament as well as the Indian
Government fully back the initiative to work together to combat terrorism, and
co-operate in fields of science and research, energy and new medicines. Both sides of the partnership welcome the
strategy to open dialogue on foreign affairs, defence, industry, transport and
tourism, as well as introducing academic and cultural exchange programmes.
As President of the EU-South Asia and SAARC Delegation I am keen to see if the
Commission communication can create a tangible difference on the ground. It would be wonderful if India and the EU attained a level of
co-operation that encouraged real people to engage across the globe to improve
working practices and quality of life. I
hope that in the future, farmers in the Punjab and Gujarat, for example, can exchange ideas of new
types of production and marketing with farmers in Spain and Denmark.
In 10 days time there will be a
landmark EU-India Summit in The
EU leaders such as Chris Pattern and key Indian ministers will meet. They will be discussing how to implement this
new strategic partnership so we can really expect this special relationship to
develop in leaps and bounds over the coming years.
This partnership is good news for India and the European Union, but it is also
wonderful news for Indians in Europe. This new basis for enhanced co-operation and
dialogue paves the way for Indians across the European Union to engage in all
aspects of society.
GOPIO and other organisations such
as the EU-India Centre (of which I am a board member) have a vital role to
support the communities that will benefit from this new EU-India multilateral
(If I can just digress here for a
moment to tell you a bit about the EU-India Centre and just give Michel
Sabatier's apologies who has been at the forefront of establishing the EU-India
Centre in La Rochelle, France, a partner organisation of GOPIO. The EU-India Center was the first ever center for a
European-focused network of Professional Indians. I know that Michel was very much looking to
participating here today, he has been working hard on these issues for
years. I would personally like to offer
my sincere condolences to Michel who is unable to be with us today. Due to a
family bereavement, he is travelling back to India, our thoughts go to him at this difficult
time. Mr P.K. Singh will be telling you more about the
EU-India Centre in a later presentation.)
If Indian communities are to get the
most out of this partnership they will need to be active participants in the
countries they reside and to be engaged in all sorts of civic issues. If EU-India relations at the top levels have
moved beyond simple economics to working together politically it is also the
opportunity for Indians in Europe to do
the same. This is where excellent
organisations, such as GOPIO are able to provide another level of co-operation.
My experience in the UK is that most
Indians either focus on professions: we
have had some notable successes in every field from judges to top surgeons or
business: for example on Saturday I was in Birmingham in my West Midlands constituency,
at an Asian Business conference. The
main speaker was Dinesh Dhamija, an Indian entrepreneur. Mr Dhamija spoke of his humble beginnings as
the manager of a small travel agency in a London Tube Station kiosk he has now
become the CEO of the largest internet Travel company, e-bookers. His message was simple and clear: in order succeed you have to engage in
society, you must react to the needs of society and change with the times.
I am optimistic that with a new
strategy for EU-India relations it is time for all of us to change and engage
I hope that GOPIO and the EU-India Centre
will play a pivotal role in addressing one of my concerns that I have hinted at
earlier in the speech, that is that there are too few prominent Indians in the
world of politics outside India. Of
course there are notable examples in the UK, Australia, the United States and Canada but these people are exceptions rather
than the rule. Unfortunately in
continental Europe the representation of Indians in politics
is even rarer. At such an exciting time we
need to encourage more Indians, and especially our young people to be engaged
in political activity wherever they live.
This is symbolically important here
in Belgium, where we are at the heart of Europe. Unfortunately
in Belgium there is also the problem of the far-right
group, Vlaams Blok. What we must do to
combat xenophobia is become politically active ourselves. It is only through civic engagement in every
country where Indians reside that we able to improve our perception, otherwise we
leave a vacuum in which extremists can thrive and exploit the ignorant. This is one reason why I am keen to see that
projects such as the new EU-India Strategic Partnership can form a strong
foundation for peace and prosperity between, and within, India and Europe.
I want to express my best wishes that
you have a thought-provoking day of presentations and wish GOPIO every success
for a great conference and an interesting and constructive future in Europe.