Indian Premier Manmohan Singh on Monday met with EU leaders in The Hague for a summit intended to firm up the strategic partnership between the bloc and India.
Singh (right) with Dutch Premier Jan Peter Balkenende
"We agree ... to jointly eleborate a comprehensive EU-India action plan for a strategic partnership ... for approval at the sixth summit meeting" to be held at the end of next year in New Delhi, representatives from the EU and India said in a joint statement after the meeting.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Natwar Singh met with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana here Monday to discuss the strategic plan,
counter-terrorism efforts and cultural relations.
"We have identified proposals to take forward India and EU relations," Singh told a press conference after the meeting."We want to add strategic depth to our relationship."
The EU had already announced it wanted to bring its relationship with India to "the same parity, density and quality" as it has with the United States, Canada, China, Russia and Japan.
"India and the EU are natural partners," Singh said. "Our relationship is based on shared values."
Both parties also agreed on more intensive cooperation to combat terrorism, making it a key area in their partnership plan. Specific details on how the cooperation could work were not given.
Enormous trade potential
In light of the partnership India and the EU also discussed trade issues.
"We both have agreed that the volume of trade between the EU and India and the flow of investments ... is far below their potential and that there are problems and therefore we both have to find a way to solve them," Singh said.
The EU plans to double trade with India by 2008. The bloc is already India’s largest trading partner, accounting for 26 percent of India’s exports and 25 percent imports. In 2003, the total volume of bilateral trade stood at €28 billion.
EU role in Kashmir dispute
Indian Border Security Force soldiers patrol in Srinagar, India
EU officials also hope that by taking its partnership with India to a higher level, it can indirectly encourage progress on India's Kashmir dispute with Pakistan and other regional headaches such as Nepal's Maoist rebellion.
At Monday's summit the leaders discussed the conflict in Kashmir. Speaking on behalf of the EU Balkenende welcomed and encouraged India's efforts to open a dialogue with the different
parties in the conflict.
A delegation of Kashimiris fighting for self-determination presented a memorandum to Balkenende urging the EU presidency to ask Indian authorities "to withdraw their occupational forces from the territory of Jammu and Kashmir."
Asked if India would consider a demilitarisation of Kashmir, Singh replied that Jammu and Kashmir were an integral part of India.
"The deployment of troops in our own country is not a matter of discussion with outside agencies," he said.
An Indian scientist at the technical university in the eastern German town of Chemnitz
At the summit the two sides signed a €33million-euro ($25.4 million) agreement for 1,000 Indian students to pursue masters 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, Singh said.
"There was a preliminary discussion about our partnership in the Galileo project, further discussions will be held," Singh said.
The Indian prime minister stressed that his country was prepared to put up money for the project but would not say how much. The summit participants also agreed to foster cultural exchanges in film, literature and music.