European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Monday said a partnership with India will be a priority for the EU as she told New Delhi of a threat to its regional interests after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ms Von der Leyen is the latest international leader to visit India in an attempt to lure the South Asian nation away from Russia's influence with pledges of security, defence and energy co-operation.
New Delhi has walked a tightrope between Moscow and Kyiv since the Russian invasion began, irking Ukraine and its western allies.
A stream of dignitaries have visited the country, most recently British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who also announced a new defence and security partnership with India.
“For the European Union's strengthening and energising, its partnership with India is a priority in this upcoming decade,” Ms Leyen said in her address at the three-day Raisina Dialogue, India’s leading foreign policy event.
“As vibrant democracies, India and the European Union share fundamental values and common interests.”
Ms von der Leyen said these principles were not shared universally and as such remained a challenge to open and free societies that could have a bearing on global technological, economic and security domains.
She said the crisis in Ukraine will not affect merely Europe but will have consequences for the Asia-Pacific region, where New Delhi and the West are trying to rein in a burgeoning China – India’s regional rival with whom its bilateral relationships have hit a new low after the deadly Himalayan border clashes in 2020.
“If we consider what it means for Europe and Asia that Russia and China have forged a seemingly unrestrained pact, they have declared that the friendship between them has no limits. There are no forbidden areas of co-operation,” she said.
“This was in February this year. And then the invasion of Ukraine followed. What can we expect from the new international relations that both have called for?” she said while addressing the event attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
She called the crisis a “defining moment” and urged nations to unite for the future of both the international system and the global economy.
Pressure mounts on New Delhi over Russian invasion
The US-led global alliance against Russia has been pressing New Delhi to shun its dependence on Moscow— India’s Cold War ally and its largest weapons supplier.
New Delhi has been the subject of increased focus from the West in recent months as has refused to publicly condemn Moscow, triggering dismay in Western capitals, including Washington.
The US President Joe Biden last month said New Delhi’s response to the Russian military offensive was “somewhat shaky” and offered to enhance security and energy co-operation with India.
Similar offers have come from the UK and European countries, including from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who announced a new and enhanced security and defence partnership with New Delhi on Friday.
Leading politicians from Russia and China have also visited New Delhi, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who offered increased energy and defence ties with India.
During her meeting with Mr Modi early on Monday, Ms von der Leyen unveiled a special council to boost trade and technology co-operation and deepen security and strategic engagement.
In a post on Twitter, she said the EU would co-operate with India on solar and green hydrogen energy to help it move away from Russian fossil fuels. “So co-operation on solar and green hydrogen is key,” she said in the tweet.
“Strengthening the partnership is a key priority for this decade. We will step up co-operation in trade, technology and security.”
The trade and technology council with India will provide political direction and the necessary structure to put political decisions into operation and co-ordinate technical work.
Ms von der Leyen said the EU had already assembled a trade and technology council with the US and it was important to set up another with India.
The council will report at political level to ensure measures are implemented and followed up in areas that are vital for the sustainable progress of European and Indian economies, a statement said.
The two leaders agreed to speed up negotiations on a free-trade agreement between India and the EU that resumed last year. The talks had stalled since 2013 over issues such as patent protection and tariff reductions.
India is one of the EU's largest trading partners, with bilateral trade reaching $67 billion in 2021.
The Raisina gathering is partly sponsored by India’s Foreign Ministry and the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in New Delhi.
More than 200 delegates from about 90 countries, including former heads of states and foreign ministers of several European, Asian and South American countries, are due to attend the event.