EU and India discuss closer ties as Ursula Von der Leyen visits Delhi two days after Boris Johnson

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Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a meeting in Delhi (EPA)
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a meeting in Delhi (EPA)

The European Union and India agreed to launch a shared trade and technology council as the bloc’s president Ursula Von der Leyen met with prime minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on Monday.

Ms Von der Leyen, who arrived in India just after a similar trip by Boris Johnson, stressed the importance of shifting from “dependency on Russian fossil fuels” during her two-day visit to.

India’s agreement with the EU for “in-depth strategic engagement” is just the second such pact signed by the bloc — the US being the only other country to have such an agreement with the EU.

A joint statement by the EU and India said the agreement will “allow both partners to tackle challenges at the nexus of trade, trusted technology and security, and thus deepen cooperation in these fields between the EU and India”.

“I think, therefore, it is time that it is so important for us to put up a second Trade and Technology Council with India. We have India as a technological powerhouse,” Ms Von Der Leyen said during her bilateral talks with Mr Modi.

European Commission president Ms Von der Leyen’s two-day trip to the Indian capital also involved opening the ninth edition of the Raisina Dialogue, a three-day Indian flagship event on geopolitics and geoeconomics, as its chief guest.

The visit, just a day after Mr Johnson concluded his own trip to India, comes on the sidelines of western efforts to get India to reduce its ties with Russia, an important ally that is also its primary weapons supplier.

Ms Von der Leyen said the India-Europe “relationship today is more important than ever” in her opening remarks after Mr Modi welcomed her and said the relations reached “new heights”.

“We have a lot in common but we are also facing a challenging political landscape,” she said, hinting at Russia’s war against Ukraine which was expected to be discussed.

She also said this year marked the 60th anniversary of the EU-India relationship and stated the two shared many similarities, including vibrant democracies and large economies.

On Sunday, she had pointed out how dependency on Russian fuel was not sustainable for the transition towards homegrown renewable energy.

“I am thinking about the war that Russia has unleashed against Ukraine. For us, Europeans, it is a stark reminder that our dependency on Russian fossil fuels is not sustainable,” she said in her speech at the International Solar Alliance in New Delhi.

“So, our transition to homegrown renewable energy is not only good for the environment but also becomes a strategic investment in security. Energy policy is also security policy.

“This is why the European Commission will present next month a new solar strategy of the European Union, as part of REPowerEU,’’ she said.

Her remarks come as India stopped short of condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though the Indian government has called for de-escalation and denounced mass killings in Ukrainian cities.

India has also continued with its purchases of Russian natural resources and armaments, with some reports suggesting an increase in imports.

The country has seen a string of visits from foreign politicians in April, including the US’s deputy national security adviser for international economics. Daleep Singh warned of “consequences” for India from increasing trade with Russia.

India is also expecting visits from at least eight leaders and ministers from Europe as part of the Raisina Dialogue talks.

As the country’s stance over the Ukraine crisis looms large, Mr Modi is scheduled to visit Germany, France and Denmark on his first overseas trip since the start of the pandemic, later this year.

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