I wouldn't like to talk about problems or difficulties. What you've to realise is that only by coming to India can one know how large and varied the country is. I've a map of the country hung up on a wall which constantly reminds me of the enormous variety of the terrain. A lot of environmental work or cooperation in other areas is conditioned by the fact that things aren't happening just in Delhi, but in other centres of the country. Not to mention the rural areas, which is where we have concentrated in areas of development cooperation. What I would like is to cover the entire country in a private airplane and have at least double the number of people to help me than what I've got now. So it's the sheer size of the country that impresses one when trying to run a cooperative programme in any field.
What steps have you taken to project EU's image in India?
Again, it's a question of size. The efforts we can make here, at the embassy in Delhi, are obviously going to be inadequate from the start. Our press and information services have done their best, but we're faced with over one billion people now, with the largest free press in the world. So it's quite a gigantic task to raise the image of the EU. But I think two things have helped: there's in India now a growing realisation of the importance of the European Union, particularly in the sphere of economic relations. And the realisation in Europe, of India's emergence on the international scene as an important player. I would say the motor-force behind the development and projection of EU-India relations over the past three years, perhaps longer, has been the economic and trade relationship, particularly in context of the wto. Now I know this reflects itself often in press reports which seem to portray us as confrontational and hostile. The things the press seizes upon are anti-dumping, anti-subsidy actions etc. But this really is a reflection of what I'll term in diplomatic terms a robust and constructive relationship that India and the EU have forged as a result of both being members of the wto. This has obliged us to meet on a daily basis, to discuss and solve problems of common interest, giving both an insight into each others' business and culture. I thus tend to see hostile press reports as a factor of the situation, but one in which there're more constructive things going on.
What about political ties?
As you know, we have 15 member-states but we don't yet have a common foreign or security policy. I think we're well on the way to having a common economic policy...and well on the way to having the means to exercise it through the EU. On foreign policy, we're in the early days yet. We're aware of it and are doing what we can in accordance with the latest provisions of the Amsterdam treaty. Recently, for instance, there was the latest meeting of the annual troika, which was attended by India's Jaswant Singh the first time in the last two years that a foreign minister has been available for such a meeting. They had a very fruitful exchange in Helsinki on a number of current issues, and indeed on issues designed to further the political and non-economic relationships between the two sides. In fact, we've been taking an extremely keen interest in South and Southeast Asia for the last few years. Of course, what caught our attention most was the nuclear explosions and the state of India-Pakistan relations. I think our constructive interest in these matters is appreciated by India. I believe India realises that we're one of the partners she needs to talk to in furthering her interests around the world.
How do you react to the perception that India is seen on the international arena as carrying the 'baggage' of Pakistan?
I think Indo-Pakistan relations have been a very important element throughout the modern history of the country. To that extent one cannot, or one has not been able to separate that issue from the rest of India's international concerns.
How far has the refusal by Britain, a major European player, to join the monetary union affected the EU's credibility?
I don't think it's done so at all. Britain's position and of others who haven't joined is well understood. What we've seen, within a year, is that the Euro is taking its place in the international currency scene, where it's behaved exactly as a currency is expected to behave. We made it clear when it was launched that its sole objective was controlling inflation in Europe. The whole mandate of the European bank is the anti-inflation policy, and you can't run an anti-inflation policy while running a foreign exchange rate policy. The Euro's been left to find its own level on the market. And in fact, it's established itself as a very credible currency.