India and Europe in civil nuclear accord

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The European Union and India are to co-operate more closely on civil nuclear research and development as a way of strengthening a partnership that has often been seen as falling short of its potential.

Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, and Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, announced the agreement on Monday at an EU­-India summit that also produced promises of closer co-ordination of climate change and energy security policies.

The EU-Indian nuclear initiative followed a landmark vote last Saturday in the US House of Representatives that helped clear the way for India to buy nuclear power plants, technology and fuel in the US.

India, officially a nuclear weapons power since 1998, has been denied access to civilian nuclear technology for more than 30 years because of its test of a nuclear device in 1974 and its refusal to sign the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Like the US administration, the EU takes the view that India, as a friendly democracy sharing many common values, should not be ostracised but encouraged to develop civilian nuclear energy and to assume its responsibilities as one of the world’s nuclear powers.

“France has confidence in India,” Mr Sarkozy said.

France, current holder of the EU presidency, is the member state with the most extensive experience of civilian nuclear power. It is keen to exploit the commercial opportunities presented by India’s need for new sources of energy to fuel its rapid economic expansion.

The US-Indian nuclear deal has been three years in the making and is on the brink of receiving final approval from the Senate.

By raising the bar for western strategic co-operation with India, the deal exposed Europe’s relatively low profile – trade issues aside – in New Delhi.

The EU and India said they planned to boost their joint work in the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (Iter) project, a French-based scheme to test environment-friendly, electricity-producing fusion power plants.

They also said they would sign a separate agreement between New Delhi and Euratom, the EU’s atomic energy agency, on fusion energy research.

However, the EU and India will be unable to conclude a trade accord by the end of this year, as once hoped, and remain at loggerheads on key issues in the Doha talks on liberalising world trade.

Mr Singh, noting that the EU-India summit had produced agreement on co-operation in clean coal technologies and solar energy, told reporters: “I am extremely satisfied . . . The holding of annual summits reflects the great importance both sides place on this strategic ­relationship.”

He said the EU and India had set themselves the goal of signing the trade deal by the end of 2009 and increasing total trade turnover to €100bn ($144bn, £80bn) five years from now. The 27 nation bloc’s trade with India amounted to just less than €56bn last year.

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