A big two days of European summits for the Indian prime minister. On Monday it is with the European Union, with whom Manmohan Singh hopes to sign a free exchange deal by the end of next year.
On Tuesday Nicolas Sarkozy takes off his European president’s hat to welcome Singh on the French part of his visit. However, Sarkozy is keen to insist that this visit is all about upgrading a key intercontinental partnership: “We wanted to show the Indian prime minister just how strategic the relationship between Europe and India is. It’s commercially strategic, so we’ve decided to fast-track the negotiation of a bilateral India-EU free exchange deal,” he said.
This is the ninth such summit. While Europe is India’s number one commercial partner, ahead of China, to the tune of 60 billion euros a year, Indian goods and services only take ninth spot in Europe, behind South Korea.
Also on the agenda are the financial crisis, terrorism, and religious freedoms in India, where members of the Christian minority have again been attacked recently. “With regard to the Christian minority in India, let me say India is a secular State. We are a country which is multi-racial, multi-religious, and the Constitution of India guaranties to all citizens of India the freedom and right to profess the religion of their choice,” says Manmohan Singh.
Global warming and food crises are also on the agenda, which on Tuesday takes on a more business hue with India shopping in France for, among other things, nuclear reactors, high speed trains, and satellites.