GOPIO CONFERENCE - 2005

INDIA AND NRIs/PIOs ROLE, RELATIONSHIP AND RESPONSIBILITY

Mumbai, 5-6 January 2005

REPORT ON EUROPE PRESENTED BY

SUNIL PRASAD

PRESIDENT, GOPIO BELGIUM

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Good afternoon. I have the honour to present the Area Report on Europe.  

1.    The larger Europe covers 48 countries having a population of 800 million. The European Union (EU) covers a large part of the continent Europe. Though richly diverse, the 25 Member EU States are committed to the fundamental values of peace, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

2.    The European Union created a frontier-free single market and a single currency the Euro in 2002. Together, the EU with its 25 Members States is an indispensable partner for economic prosperity and peace. The EU at present has some 455 million people with a combined GDP of 10 trillion Euros.

3.    These fundamentals offer the Indian Diaspora a unique opportunity to play an active role in the political and economic integration of Europe. It also offers GOPIO an opportunity to broaden and enhance its presence and become the voice of the Indian Diaspora.  To be precise, my report explores the possibility of institutionalizing the Indian heritage in the European economic and political space and discusses the dynamics of socio-political situation of Indian Diaspora in the context of role, relationship and responsibility.   

4.    The history of presence of the Indian Community in Europe is decades old. The land of Europe is the home to more than 3 million Indian Diaspora and through this presentation, I also pay my tribute to Europe for affording the Indian community opportunities and access to integrate and succeed in business, trade, commerce, academic and other fields.

5.    The way Indian Diaspora dominates the socio- economic scene in countries in Europe having larger Indian Diaspora, it makes one feel that they are the core section of the European society. Their integrity and resourcefulness has made a lot of Europeans jealous too.  

6.    In Europe as a whole, it is surprising how well the Indian Diaspora from the different parts of the world share similar values despite diverse culture and tradition. May be this kinship is due to the hidden prejudice they all face in Europe.

7.    In addition to the UK and the Netherlands, there are people of Indian origin in almost all countries of Europe but their numbers are rather small.  In Portugal for example, there are people of Indian origin from Goa. In Spain - the majority Sindhi speakers, entered from Morocco's Casablanca and Western/Eastern Africa and the major group lives in Canary Islands - part of Spain in Atlantic.

8.    The United Kingdom has the biggest Indian community followed by The Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Nordic countries and so on. In the 70s a large group of Indian community from East Africa especially from Uganda migrated to England. Nearly one million people of Indian origin live in the UK, 37 per cent of them having been born there and this generation of Indian community is relatively more creative, innovative, illustrious and industrious. This is reflected by their remarkable success and achievements. There are about 10,000 Indians in Europe who are awaiting their citizenship. They are called “illegal immigrants” and I term them “undocumented workers”.

9.    Although in the Eastern Europe, Russia and ex Soviet Union countries the Indian population is very small, Indians are trying to set up business and other entrepreneurial activities.  The harsh economic and geographic conditions are not very hospitable and although Russians are friendly people, the Indians do not feel very safe there now. There have been several cases of physical and mental torture of Indian students in Russia by the far right nationalist; mostly young people. Germany too has witnessed some politically inspired hatred against Indian IT professionals.

10.  The Indian Diaspora has mastered the art of adapting themselves even in the most difficult conditions anywhere. And how could the land of Europe remain un-affected by the magnetic power of this community?  This Community has been able to transform their presence with their ever lasting imprint.  The Indian Diaspora exercises considerable influence on domestic consumption patterns and life-styles too in Europe.

11.  Let me give you one small example. Today, Indian cuisine and its culinary art are increasingly reaching European homes. The Indian Samosa is replacing the popular French fries, Chicken Tandoori is terrorizing the British Fish and Chips, Kulfi is fast overtaking chocolate musse in popularity, Restaurants serving Idli and Dosa are being opened up,  Kingfisher and Cobra beer are the most desired  favourite beer in any restaurant in UK.  Yoga is becoming household disciplinary way of life. And further more, the Europeans are increasingly adapting to the Indian flavoured vegetarianism. Switzerland, Scotland and Holland are becoming the most favourite destination of Indian film producers. This I consider a small but a silent and peaceful transformation of Europe into a little India. A brand India in Europe has taken off well with all its arsenals.   

12.  By sheer hard work and conviction, the Indian Community in Europe has been able to adapt themselves in the multidimensional society and has achieved extraordinary success. They have been contributing in all spheres of Europe’s  development and their contribution in the economic development of Europe is second to none.

13.  The shining talented Indian Diamond community in Belgium makes the Indian Diaspora proud of their achievements. They have made enormous contribution to India’s development and to the Belgian’s economy. The Rosy Blue, whose 1.4 billion annual turnover exceeds that of TCS, Infosys or Wipro, is an extra-ordinary success story of Indians. It is important to know that gems and jewellery are India’s second highest foreign exchange earners. Creating wealth out small stones is not easy but our diamond community have proved that they are the “masters of stones” with excellence.   

14.  But all that glitters is not gold. Things are not as rosy as they look. Indian community is being targeted for their success and achievements. In Poland, the fate of Harish Hitange, an Indian executive working in Warsaw, is still uncertain. The kidnappers have been demanding a ransom of two million euros. And just to show that they mean business, they have chopped off three of Hitange’s fingers and left in bottles in parts of Warsaw on three different days.

15.  An employee of a local Indian textile firm, Hitange was abducted on April 20 last year.  The kidnapping has shocked the 800-strong Indian community which comprises mostly businessmen and traders and they are living in fear.  

16.  The image of India and the profile of the Indian Community in Europe need to be raised.  The Indian community in Europe is still seen as refugees or job seekers.  The GOPIO Belgium has already embarked upon organizing activities to address this issue seriously. GOPIO Conference on the 4th. October in Brussels which was attended by more than 200 NRI/PIO business and community leaders from 24 countries and was addressed by prominent business and political leaders specifically addressed this issue. It is a small step but in the right direction.

17.  Indian Business travelers and tourists are facing difficulties in getting Shenzhen visa. Almost all the European countries are overlooking the procedures of granting visa to them and are tightening visa norms by insisting on personal interview and up to three yeas of financial data like tax returns, this includes data from those people also who have traveled frequently on business in the past. 

18.  However, it looks there are some encouraging developments in this direction. Many countries of Europe have started emulating the US strategy to achieve growth by attracting skilled and talented work force, particularly from India. Seeing the success that the US has achieved through its strategic immigration policies, other countries like the UK, the Netherlands and Germany have emulated the US strategy. To be frank they have no choice.  

19.  Europe suffers from acute skill shortage. Workplace Net users in Europe was expected to rise to 77 million by 2004 but there are not enough skilled IT staff to let Europe's e-business expand. The ILO predicts that while jobs in European ICT industries will increase by more than 8.1% annually in coming years, skills gap has already cost Europe $106bn in lost gross domestic product since 1998 and will continue to do so in the absence of skills.  I wish Europe leaders understand the gravity of the situation.

20.  I take this opportunity to call upon Europe and the European Union to show courage and resolve to dismantle the artificial barriers and allow free movement of Indian professionals to Europe.

21.  The Indian Diaspora exhibits a great diversity not only in terms of geography and communities, but also in socio-economic status, educational achievements, political participation and power. It can become a major catalyst in enhancing and strengthening EU-India relations and in changing the mind-set.

22.  India's relations with Europe have continued to be close and productive.  Although there has also been a marked upswing in the collaboration between the Indian government and trade bodies of European countries, a lot more requires to be done.  European investments in India represent 0.2 percent of the EU's total foreign investments.

23.  It would not be out of place to mention that issues connected with corporate social responsibility and socially responsive investment are likely to dominate the investment pattern and policies of European Investors in the coming years.  In order to improve trade and commerce relations between India and the European Union, it is therefore essential that this emerging scenario be addressed in all seriousness by our Diaspora.

24.  Two months ago, on the 8th. November in The Hague, the European Union signed a "strategic partnership" agreement with India to further cement economic and political ties. The European Union considers India as important and crucial to Asia's peace and stability.

25.  This historic agreement strengthens Europe’s trade, investment and other economic ties with India. It also opens the door to increased cooperation in areas such as arms control, the fight against terrorism, the promotion of stability on the Asian Subcontinent and United Nations reforms.

26.  EU has such partnership with only five countries: The United States, Canada, China, Japan and Russia.  The Indian Diaspora has a stake in strengthening this Strategic Partnership agreement as this will lead to very significant improvement in the trade and commerce relations between Europe and India.  Further, this partnership, will offer the Indian business community in particular, opportunities to enhance their business interest and corporate influence all over Europe and beyond Europe.

27.  Strengthening of the EU-India relations will help trade networks and effectively link the Diaspora globally.  With this in mind, GOPIO Belgium in the coming months, plans to organize a High Level Round Table on the theme of “Role of the Indian Diaspora in Strengthening EU-India Strategic Partnership”. GOPIO has already initiated discussions with the European Commission and the Indian Embassy in this regard. The EU and the Government of India is taking keen interest in GOPIO’s Europe-India Chamber of Commerce initiatives. You all have our standing invitation to attend this Round Table.  We will seek co-operation, support and assistance from everyone and particularly from the Indian Diamond Community in Antwerp to organize this event.

28.  Today, we have with us two very important diamond leaders; Mr. Dilip Mehta and Mr. Bharat Shah and several of our Indian diamantaires from Belgium. I call upon Dilip Bhai and Bharat Bhai to kindly lead us. They have the resources and will and we have strategy and determination, they have the dream and we have strength and commitment and together we can herald this change. We have lot to contribute to improve trade, commerce and socio-economic relations between India and Europe.  GOPIO offers its services. 

29.  The contribution of Indian Diaspora in Europe needs to be perceived in a broader framework of international interaction and as a part of the ongoing process of globalization. This Diaspora has played an important role in Europe’s development and therefore to view the Diaspora as those who have betrayed the country for the sake of their personal gain would be ill conceived and myopic.

30.  Indians are peace loving Community and this is precisely the reason that no member of the Indian community has been found to be associated with any terrorist activity or with any such group any where in Europe directly or indirectly following the 9/11  event.

31.  The continuous fall in the value of US dollar is causing concern for the growth of Europe’s economy. The US dollar has lost 21 percent of its value against the Euro in the past year.  For every 10 percent drop in the dollar, European company earnings are reduced by 4 percent on average.  The current 8 per cent unemployment in the Euro zone is likely to further rise. 

32.  I would like to conclude my report with a small submission that GOPIO can become the household name in the hearts and minds of the Indian Diaspora in Europe provided we can reach them. Even after 15 years of our existence, we have just seven or eight Country Chapters in Europe? This is not a happy situation. Let us think seriously if we want to take GOPIO to a new height. As an activist of GOPIO, I am concerned with our progress; I am concerned with our prospects. Our global organization must strive to become the global hub of global Indian network with global brand combined with global aspirations, vision and excellence.

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15 December 2004

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Sunil Prasad
President
Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO)
Belgium
69, Boulevard Louis Mettewie
(bte. 18)
1080
Brussels (Belgium)
Tel. & fax: 0032 2 469 2677
GSM: 0472-207 338
 Website: www.gopio-belgium.be  E-mail: sunil.prasad@coditel.net