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Thank you Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
I am pleased to participate in this exchange with you, on behalf of the High Representative/Vice-President [Josep] Borrell, on the important matter of European Union-India relations.
First, I would like to thank the Rapporteur Alviina Alametsä and colleague MEPs who have worked to prepare the report you are presenting here today. It could not be more timely and comprehensive.
In January last year, the first visit outside the European Union of Mr Borrell, as High Representative/Vice-President, was to India. This is a clear sign of the importance the European Union attaches to our relations. The European Union-India Strategic Partnership still has a lot of untapped potential and, since last July’s Summit, we have observed a step change in the intensity of our exchanges.
We are at a crucial juncture in the consolidation of the European Union-India Strategic Partnership. Only 10 months after the July 2020 Summit, we are preparing a virtual European Union-India Leaders’ Meeting next week with all European Union 27 Heads of State and Government attending, together with Prime Minister [of India, Narendra] Modi and the Presidents of the European Council [Charles Michel] and the European Commission [Ursula von der Leyen].
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the aim to jointly build global health preparedness and resilience is at the heart of the upcoming meeting. India is particularly hard hit and the European Union has offered its concrete support. We have now activated the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism, upon request from India, and we are doing our utmost to mobilise assistance rapidly, by coordinating European Union Member States that are ready to provide support. So far, 15 Member States have offered concrete support in the form of liquid oxygen, ventilators and medicines.
Another shared challenge is climate change. At the Leaders’ Meeting, we also hope to confirm ambitious commitments ahead of the [UN Climate Change Conference] COP26: India’s contribution to the Paris goals is essential for attaining the ultimate target of carbon neutrality. As we speak, the European Union-India Climate Change Dialogue is taking place.
We aim to cooperate more closely with India on all aspects of the digital transformation and we are preparing the first meeting of the joint Task Force on Artificial Intelligence. Trade and investment relations is also an area in which our cooperation can grow.
We also strive to deepen cooperation with India on foreign affairs and security for a safer, prosperous and more democratic world: from Afghanistan, to Myanmar, to Eastern Africa. There is a big potential for working together now that India is a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, sits on the UN Human Rights Council, and will hold the G20 presidency in 2023.
India has a pivotal role in the defence of a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific space. The most recent Council Conclusions on the European Union Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific will enable the European Union to engage much more with India on this. We also plan to launch an EU-India Connectivity Partnership, which should cover the areas of digital, energy, transport and human connectivity, through bilateral cooperation but also by converging our efforts to better connectivity with third countries and regions.
Human rights and democratic values are also at the heart of our engagement with India. Your report highlights a number of concerns. Let me assure you that the European Union raises these matters with India through different channels. Earlier this month, at the 9th European Union-India Human Rights Dialogue, the European Union expressed the need for greater engagement on several human rights issues and we underlined the important role that civil society actors and journalists play in a vibrant democracy. Further, we agreed to enhance our cooperation in international fora, particularly at the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council.
Finally, let me stress that the Commission attaches a great importance to the parliamentary dimension of the European Union-India Strategic Partnership. And we welcome the recent understanding reached between this Parliament and the Lok Sabha to intensify inter-parliamentary exchanges.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-204719
Thank you Mr President, dear Members [of the European Parliament],
More than before, the European Union and India now realise the convergence of our shared interests to strengthening a rules-based world order.
We are working now on the translation of this realisation in concrete joint initiatives and actions. The Connectivity Partnership to be concluded next week is an excellent tool in this respect.
There are also other examples. In line with your report, we intend to coordinate positions and initiatives in the United Nations, World Trade Organisation and the G20. We intend to jointly work on both the reform of the World Health Organisation - to enhance global health preparedness - and the World Trade Organisation reform. And, as called for in your report, we are working with India to explore the feasibility of resuming trade negotiations and of launching investment negotiations. We hope to be able to work with India as well towards a bilateral agreement on the protection of geographical indications. We also expect India to address the numerous trade barriers our companies are facing in the Indian market.
With the deepening of our partnership comes the responsibility but also the opportunity to address more sensitive issues. As many of you have mentioned, human rights and democracy should be at the heart of European Union-India relations, and there lies an important role for the European Parliament and the Lok Sabha in India. I trust that enhanced and structured parliamentary exchanges will help to foster greater mutual understanding and reinforce democratic structures.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-204805