Pakistan–European Union relations: prospects  and challenges


The Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) is a non-partisan think tank established with a vision to Innovate future prospects for peace and security in the region and beyond through intellectual discourse and contribute ito sustainable social, political and economic development. To this end, CPGS has organized this roundtable discussion under the initiative the Centre has embarked upon, i.e., ‘CPGS Foreign Policy Roundtable Series’ , with an aim to review the foreign policy of Pakistan towards its partner states and the major powers of the World. ‘Pakistan-China Relations – Prospects & Challenges’ is the fourth roundtable of the series; the first was on ‘Pakistan-U.S. Relations: Convergences and Divergences’ held in November 2013, the second was on ‘Pakistan-Russia Relations: Prospects and Challenges’, held in December 2013, and the third was on ‘Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations – U.S. Drawdown and its Implications for Pakistan’, held in January 2014.


EU’s cooperation with Pakistan dates back to 1974, but the 2004 Cooperation Agreement paved the way for closer relations. Since the start of this cooperation, the Commission has committed more than €500 million to various projects and programmes in Pakistan. Currently, there are 48 bilateral and multilateral treaties between the EU and Pakistan, of which 47 have entered into force. There are also over 86 projects currently in progress, covering a wide range of sectors.

The relationship is moving from what has traditionally been a more trade-oriented relationship to a political one. Recent granting of the GSP+1 status, and the visit of a four-member European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) team to discuss Pakistan’s associate membership application and plans with the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to develop Pakistan’s research potential are positive steps in furthering cooperation.

Total assistance for Pakistan by the EU and its Member States for the time 2009-2013 amounts to €2,458 million, which represents around 30 per cent of the total annual development assistance to the country. The EU provided €425 million (2007-2013) though its budget to Pakistan (via the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI). Activities under this Instrument focus on rural development/natural resource management and on education/human resources management.

The EU has also worked extensively to provide emergency aid and relief to victims of natural disasters in Pakistan via ECHO – European Community Humanitarian Office. The total amount of aid received from ECHO since 2009 has been €447.18 million and an additional €52.18 million in aid in 2013 alone.

The EU accounts for 20 per cent of Pakistani external trade with Pakistani exports to the EU amounting to €3.4 billion, mainly textiles, medical equipment and leather products; while EU’s exports to Pakistan amounts to €3.8 billion, mainly mechanical and electrical equipment, and chemical and pharmaceutical products.

On 12th December 2013, the European Union (EU) further granted ‘Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus’ status to Pakistan with an impressive count of 406 votes, granting Pakistani products a duty free access to the European market. The GSP Plus status will allow almost 20 per cent of Pakistani exports to enter the EU market at zero tariff and 70 per cent at preferential rates.


The discussion was attended by renowned scholars, practitioners and members of the CPGS Team. The complete list of participants is as follows: Various Research Scholars, HEC Scholars, M.Phil and PhD Students also attended the event.

Key Questions

i. What is the nature of Pakistan–EU relationship?

ii. What are the convergences and divergences between the EU and Pakistan?

iii. What is the potential for future development of relations between Pakistan and the EU?

Points Raised

 ‘Pakistan’s foreign policy starts in New Delhi and ends in Washington’ as goes the old adage.

 Reactivation of the ‘Europe–Pakistan Friendship Forum’ could be a step forward towards more systematic relations.

 ‘Nationalism’ as a concept that has emerged from Europe and spread across the globe – now, supranational integration has also emerged from Europe. Can this be a model for the rest of the world as well?

 Pakistan and the EU have a ‘unique’ relationship. Pakistan attaches great importance to EU member states. The relationship has traditionally been more trade-oriented, but increasingly includes political cooperation as well.

 Pakistan and the EU have increased collaboration in the context of the War on Terror, given their common goals for regional stability and security. The ‘Third Generation Agreement’ has been the basis for expansion of relations between the two, under which two high-level summits have been held and four sub-groups established. So, efforts have been made to institutionalize the relations at the summit level.  Strategic orientation of relationship with EU, particularly in the fields of civil-nuclear technology and energy are vital for Pakistan. There is a need to explore this area further for cooperation. To this end, an Institutionalized nuclear dialogue with Europe is required. It is very important that EU should help Pakistan in gaining access to Nuclear Suppliers Group.

 Increasing the employment opportunities for Pakistani youth in Europe is an area where we need to work.

 The issue of illegal Pakistani migrants in various European countries is a grey area, though efforts have been made for readmission of illegal migrants in the form of recently signed agreement with the EU; however, there is a need to further substantiate these efforts.

 EU is concerned over the situation of human rights in Pakistan; however, Pakistan has made tremendous efforts in this regard. Currently, Pakistan is signatory to 29 international conventions in this regard. As for the death penalty concerns of the European Union, it is important to note that after the Presidential moratorium given by former President Asif Ali Zardari, there has been no execution since 2008 in Pakistan. Nonetheless, the status of minorities and misuse of blasphemy law in Pakistan is a point of concern for Europe.

 Pakistan has the greatest number of troops in UN peacekeeping forces.

 CSDP–common security and defence policy.

 EU military operations in Central Asian Republics: Chile a partner.

 In 2010, the EU carried out the largest humanitarian relief operation in one country ever. However, these efforts are not being projected in Pakistani society.

 GSP+1 status given to Pakistan is an important landmark in boosting trade relations between the EU and Pakistan. There are no hidden agendas and elements of suspicion and mistrust, so Pakistan and EU are approaching towards a better relationship.

 Pakistan has adopted 16 targets and 41 indicators against which progress towards achieving the Eight Goals of the MDG’s is measured. Time series data available for 33 of these indicators reveal that Pakistan is on track to achieve the targets on 9 indicators, whereas its progress on 24 indicators is off-track.Low progress in achieving the MDGs.

 Is it possible to achieve EU type of integration in South Asia?

 We (Pakistan and India) are still in the warring mode, the road towards better cooperation and interconnectedness goes through resolution of disputes. Those who advise us of regional integration should also play a role in resolution of disputes.8

 There immigration issues: Pakistan and EU should aggressively move towards an institutionalized solution.

 The role of NATO and the U.S. must be kept in mind when discussing the EU and Pakistan relations. Strategic competition in South Asia is being fuelled by the U.S.: contrary to the role of the U.S. in the EU.  The big problems of Pakistan are terrorism the energy crisis. In these sectors, the EU can help Pakistan, particularly in the education sector. Poverty elevation is also a big problem of Pakistan.  The EU and Pakistan can cooperate in the field of education. Because education is a key factor that leads the country toward awareness about health, security and peace. In Pakistan, the literacy rate is not satisfactory. In this context, EU can help Pakistan for quality education. Moreover, gender equality is another area where Pakistan and the EU can work together.  In Pakistan-U.S. relations, two main things are dominant; one is counter-terrorism and the second is non-proliferation. Americans may not concentrate on other issues. The EU can fill this gap through greater economic cooperation, in the education sector, on the Afghanistan issue, anti-narcotics, human rights, democracy. However, Pakistan should not see the EU as a power balancer.  Political relations between the EU and Pakistan should be increased so that democracy could be strengthened in Pakistan.  The Kashmir issue is a basic problem between India and Pakistan; Pakistan has been taking many initiatives to resolve this issue, but due to the lack of interest from the Indian side, it has remained unresolved so far. Until or unless this issue is resolved the, stability and integration in the region cannot be achieved. The EU should play its role to resolve this issue.  The major issue for Pakistan is Afghanistan after 2014. In this context, the EU should support Pakistan’s position in the international fora.  Democratization and free market approach is the element the establishment of the EU. Free market economy is protected by different countries. Great Britain protected it for a hundred and fifty year or so, like the USA did. The European Union states gradually shifted from monarchy to the democratization process not as a whole and at once.  This kind of approach only can be implemented after establishing a strong domestic economic system; otherwise, if you are privatizing the institutions, that would be easy for big banks and multinational companies to come in and exploit the country’s weak economy to certain extent. The prerequisites for democratization are high living standards and high education; and, unfortunately, Pakistan is lacking on both counts.  The EU is a global model which nations can follow. Political mindset, demography, education and awareness level is different here in South Asia. The environment in South Asia does not permit such integration in the near future. The security environment is much different in our region.  Pakistan-EU have trade and economic cooperation, but there could be another area that is defence cooperation.  Even we have a history of Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) between Iran, Pakistan and Turkey which has been revived and enlarged with the inclusion of the Central Asian Republics as also Afghanistan in the form of the Ecomonic Cooperation Organization (ECO). So, if we develop a relationship between Iran and Turkey and further extend it to the EU, this corridor will provide the grounds for cooperation and development. Rather than concentrating on a region which is highly conflicting, contesting and problematic; if we start pushing some efforts on the region which has more peaceful and cooperative, that would be helpful for bridging the gaps.


Pakistan-EU relations are unique in a sense that there is a wide range of areas in which the two sides have a convergence. The EU is the largest trading partner of Pakistan. However, there is a need to further increase political, economic and strategic cooperation.


1. For a comprehensive relationship, we need to focus on a variety of areas.

2. Prioritise EU relations and adhere to timelines on agreements and proposals. Possible cooperation in education, energy and health; but sectors should be prioritised in terms of short, mid- and long-term goals.

3. The EU should not look at Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan. Balance of power in the region is very important and regional issues need to be resolved in order to achieve that, which cannot be done if India is prioritised via exceptions and concessions, particularly with regards to their nuclear programme.

4. Terrorism and poverty are the core issues in Pakistan. EU’s help in this regard via educational endeavours, etc., can form the basis for bilateral relations in the future.

5. We must take care not to overburden the EU with our issues, and work collectively to improve relations.

6. It is important to understand the nature and the limitations of the EU, in terms of how it functions and the areas where it can realistically help.

7. Post-2014 Afghanistan is the biggest immediate concern. EU should understand and support Pakistan.

8. The EU and Pakistan should play a strong role in stabilising Afghanistan.

9. Deep introspection of national trauma over the last ten years,

10. ; and not just blame others. Social impact needs to be understood, and responsibility taken for own actions.

Courtesy CPGS