India, EU agreed to jointly address challenges from aggressive behavior of authoritarian regimes: EU chief | India News

India and EU agreed last week to jointly address challenges to their free and open societies from, among other things, aggressive behavior of authoritarian regimes, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in an exclusive interview for TOI’s Sachin Parashar.
Von der Leyen, who has accused Russia of using gas as an instrument of blackmail, was responding to queries on the outcome of her visit to India last week during which she met PM Narendra Modi and participated in the Raisina Dialogue as the chief guest.
Asked about India’s position on Ukraine, and the EU’s indifference in the past to the threat to the rules-based order in Asia as stated by foreign minister S Jaishankar, von der Leyen said the response to Russia’s war will shape the response to such violations of international law in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere. She said both regions had a very strong interest in confining the outdated concept of spheres of influence to the past and that the shockwaves of the war in Ukraine had already reached the Indo-Pacific.
Calling upon China to play its part in efforts to ensure a peaceful and thriving region, von der Leyen said she told PM Mod that India and EU should identify projects, ahead of the next EU-India summit in the Indo-Pacific, they can jointly work on. Excerpts:
Q: How satisfied are you with the outcome of your visit to India? In that context, please talk to us how the decision to set up a Trade and Technology Council will help EU-India relations.
A: I’m so very pleased with my visit to India, where I received the warmest of welcomes. My visit confirmed what I already knew: that India is set to become one of the EU’s closest partners in this decade.
I came with one main objective in mind: to launch concrete strands of work that would build up our relations in the months and years to come.
In particular, in the fields where our combined potential is the greatest: trade, technology and security.
The Trade and Technology Council will steer our work and help develop joint approaches on these three topics, in line with our common interests and shared democratic values.
Q: Another takeaway perhaps was the decision to resume negotiations for the FTA. How are you that EU and India will have that agreement in a reasonable period of time, given the confident differences that have plagued the negotiations in the past?
A: Times have changed since India and the EU first discussed a trade agreement a decade ago. Today, more than ever, we see the need to diversify our supplies towards trusted partners.
There is huge potential in our economic relations, which Prime Minister Modi and I believe to be still largely untapped. The European Union is already India’s third most important trade partner and second export destination. We are, together, a market of 1.8 billion people. India is set to become one of the three largest in the next decade – and yet accounts for less than 2% of the EU’s foreign trade.
This is why I believe, we have strong, mutual incentives to make quick progress in the negotiations. The first round of negotiations will take place in June in New Delhi.
What matters here is the fresh, strong political impetus that Prime Minister Modi and I are giving to the process. I am confident that this will both speed up the negotiations, and deliver solid, ambitious agreements that live up to the needs and expectations of our citizens.
Q: You discussed the Ukraine situation with PM Modi and also the need for cooperation with India on solar and green hydrogen at a time Europe is looking to diversify quickly away from fossil fuels because of Russian “aggression” in Ukraine. What was India’s response?
A: I leave it to the Indian side to communicate their position to the public. But we both agreed that we need to address, jointly, the challenges to our free and open societies – be it the aggressive behavior of authoritarian regimes or climate change.
The EU has identified renewable energy and hydrogen as crucial energy source son our path to climate neutrality.
India for its part has both large needs and huge potential in this field.
And European companies are ready to invest here. Through our Global Gateway strategy, we can help mobilise such investments. This is my message last week at the International Solar Alliance.
Q: Many EU countries want India to condemn Russia’s actions but India, as was evident from the Indian foreign minister’s remarks at the Raisina Dialogue, is saying Europe needs to also look beyond Ukraine and that Europe itself was insensitive to India’s concerns when the rules- based order was under threat in Asia. Do you agree with that and would you also like to share your understanding of India’s position on Ukraine?
A: The global community’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine will define how such violation of international law will be dealt with in the future, everywhere in the world. Including in the Indo-Pacific region. So we must demonstrate our commitment to the principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty and the rules-based world order. Both our regions have a very strong interest in confining the outdated concept of spheres of influence to the past.
In addition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is severely disrupting a global economy that was only starting to recover from the pandemic. The shockwaves of the war in Ukraine are already reaching the Indo-Pacific region. Prices are rising for grain, energy and fertilisers, for example.
Russia’s aggression of Ukraine is a threat to the world order and the global economy. Our response has to be strong and unequivocal.
So I told my interlocutors that we – the international community – must continue to speak up
with a single, powerful voice for the lives and the freedom of the people of Ukraine.
Q: EU has an Indo-Pacific strategy but given the growing Chinese assertiveness in the region, will you agree EU needs to become more active and perhaps play a bigger geopolitical role in the Indo-Pacific?
A: Absolutely. The Indo-Pacific region is crucial to the EU’s prosperity. So we have a strong stake in a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. In this context, the EU will continue to encourage Beijing to play its part in a peaceful and thriving region. We have indeed undertaken to increase our strategic role in the region, through our EU Strategy for the Indo-Pacific region – which is highly compatible with India’s own regional initiative. In particular, the EU wants to support secure and sustainable interconnections in the Indo-Pacific, under Global Gateway. Global Gateway is Europe’s investment strategy for quality infrastructure, health and education around the world. It reflects our European way of doing business, with the highest standards of governance, transparency and openness with partners – as an alternative to those who want to create dependencies instead of links. As I said to Prime Minister Modi, I hope we can already identify joint projects in the run up to our next EU-India summit.

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