The government earlier brought a few selected Right-wing MEPs to Kashmir and tried to project their opinion as the EU position. This could also be one reason why so many political groups in the EU parliament have reacted strongly against the CAA.
For the time being, voting on the joint resolution on India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the European parliament has been differed for the next session beginning March 2. Although it is likely to come back after a few weeks, the Indian policy-makers have now got an opportunity to explain their side of the story to EU policy makers. The timing has been useful for New Delhi as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to visit Brussels for the 15th India-EU summit scheduled on March 13.
EU policy-makers obviously did not want to jeopardise the summit for the sake of a resolution. Reports indicate that foreign minister S Jaishankar will be travelling to Brussels in mid-February. This will be an opportunity to engage EU stakeholders. The MEA’s position is that “CAA is an internal matter of India” and “it has been adopted through a due process and by democratic means”.
Many in the Indian media have declared the deferment as a ‘major diplomatic victory’ for India. Some reports quoting unknown official sources assert that “the Indian lobbyists prevailed over Pakistani lobbyists in the European Parliament”. The joint resolution moved by five major political groups represented 560 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from Centre-Right to Far-Left groups in a 751 member house. Still, the mainstream Indian media tried to project it as a handiwork of a Pakistan-origin British MEP Shaffaq Mohammed. In the wake widespread anti-CAA protests in India, these assertions may fit in a certain kind of domestic political narrative, but they fail to capture intricacies of the EU institutional machinery.
The EU is India’s valued strategic partner. Instead of criticising it as an interference in India’s internal affairs or work of Pakistani lobbyists, serious engagement with EU stakeholders, including the MEPs, may dispel some of their concerns. As the joint resolution suggests, a large number of MEPs feel that EU-India “strategic partnership is based on shared values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights”. They feel that the CAA is “discriminatory in nature and dangerously divisive” and there has been “an increased crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including the jailing of peaceful critics on charges of sedition, criminal defamation or terrorism”.
It is not just EU parliament, many of these issues are seriously being debated in India itself. The Supreme Court may bring some further clarity on the issue.
Many of the political groups in the EU parliament will continue to raise their concerns, with or without passing resolutions. The EU parliamentary debates or passing of a resolution may not directly represent EU’s official position. Still, they significantly influence EU policy framework. Compared to the European Commission and the European Council, the EU parliament does represent citizens’ voice as MEPs are the directly-elected by EU citizens for European affairs.
Unlike traditional legislatures, the EU parliament cannot propose legislation. However, laws cannot be passed without its approval. It also ratify EU’s international agreements. So any major agreement the EU may sign with India, including the FTA, will have to be passed by the European parliament. If we think the EU is important, we must not ignore some serious concerns raised by a large majority of MEPs.
Following Brexit, the EU parliament seats have come down to 705 from 751. Out of 73 UK seats, 27 seats have been redistributed and remaining 46 have been kept in reserve for future enlargements. The five groups which moved the joint resolution against the CAA will now have 539 seats out of 705. These include Christian Democrats (European People's Party, 187); Socialists (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, 148); centrist group Renew Europe (formerly Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, 97) Greens/European Free Alliance (67); and Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL,40).
The new parliament will have fewer South Asian- origin MEPs. Not only is Pakistan-origin British MEP Shaffaq Mohammed out, a few Indian origin-MEPs, such as Dinesh Dhamija and Neena Gill, who spoke in favour the CAA in the debate, are also not part of post-Brexit EU parliament.
The government earlier brought a few selected Right-wing MEPs to Kashmir and tried to project their opinion as the EU position. This could also be one reason why so many political groups in the EU parliament have reacted strongly against the CAA. It seems, the adventure of bringing Right-wing MEPs to Kashmir and getting their endorsement might have backfired. Now discussions and outcome at the forthcoming EU-India summit, as well as handling of anti-CAA protests in India, will shape EU lawmakers’ opinion in the coming weeks.
As an independent body, the EU parliament, over the years, has earned the reputation of raising its voice for democracy and human rights. So, the increasing geopolitical importance of India may not automatically silence many of the groups and committed MEPs raising concerns about the CAA or Kashmir. The best strategy for India would be to improve its broad-based engagement with EU institutions, including with the EU parliament.Gulshan Sachdeva is Jean Monnet Chair and Chairperson, Centre for European Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views are personal.