Indian MP Tharoor: Europe must stop lecturing India

While relations between India and China or India and the US have their moments of tension, nothing divides the country and Europe, except when Europe tries to give too much advice on domestic issues, said Shashi Tharoor, a former UN under-secretary general and a member of the Indian parliament, in an in interview with EURACTIV.

Shashi Tharoor is a prominet member of the Lok Sabha, India's parliament. He has served as Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and has been Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs.

He was speaking to EURACTIV Managing Editor Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener.

In your book 'The Elephant, the tiger and the cell phone', about the changing face of India, you said that the country's ability to manage diversity has resulted in a rise in its soft power internationally. What's your perception of Europe's proverbial soft power, particularly after the intervention in Libya?

It is absolutely clear that Europe represents itself a model of 'soft power' because it is a region of the world that attracts people for its culture, its history, its architecture, its cuisine.

Since you are not representing a menace for anyone you have a distinctive soft power. But sometimes people criticise you for being the example of soft power without hard power.

For example, in India we have always believed that to counter the threats we face at our immediate borders, or to face terrorism, you need a combination of soft and hard power, which in Europe you are starting to lose, as you are reducing your defence budgets.

Now, the intervention in Libya suggests that you are capable of using your military muscle to defend the values you promote with your soft power.

The problem here is that some might think that Europe is turning again towards colonialism and imperialism, which the world was starting to forget.

So there is a risk in the choices you have made.

India and the EU are currently negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). What will that change for India?

Trade between our countries will become more significant. For the moment, it is clear that the two most important trade partners for India are the US and China. And I believe that China is overtaking the US, if you exclude trade in services.

I believe the moment has come to enter this market; it is a very important market due to its size but also because its consumption capacity is growing annually. So for Europe this is important, and for us I believe that the diversification of our sources of imports is very useful.

A good thing with Europe is that nothing divides us. That is not the case with China, where we are in sort of strategic rivalry.

There are no complications with the USA, even if it behaves like a superpower and we sometimes have difficulties with some of its actions.

With Europe, we do not really have major difficulties. Sometimes Europe has a tendency to give too much advice on things that are domestic affairs, which is something we do not always appreciate. I believe that if we treat each other with the respect that is necessary for sovereign countries, we will have no problem in developing a real strategic partnership. But we will start with trade, because that is the easiest starting point.

But the deal could possibly be blocked by the European Parliament as the FTA lacks any mention of labour rights, in the fields of child labour or collective bargaining, for example. Is any dialogue taking place at parliamentary level between the Lok Sabha and the European Parliament?

We have bilateral parliamentary dialogue and this question has never been raised by Europeans.

Secondly, we should not forget that child labour is illegal in India. The parliament does not accept child labour, and civil society organisations do lead a constant fight against child labour.

We do not pretend that it does not exist in India. Unfortunately, because of poverty families send their kids to work. If the police finds out about cases of abuse, the children are sent to school. Unfortunately, it is the economic reality that leads to such cases.

Europe has to understand that we in India are very proud people and we do not accept