The EU has had a very strong presence in Bhutan since 1982. It works closely with the Himalayan kingdom to reduce poverty, enhance food security and achieve democratisation.
European Union-Bhutan cooperation started with a development project in 1982, and the Royal Government of Bhutan and the EU established diplomatic relations in 1985. Contacts have intensified since 2004, when the EU and Bhutan started to hold biennial consultations covering all aspects of bilateral relations and regional and international developments, as well as on issues of mutual interest. The latest round was held in Thimphu on 26 November 2015.
The Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the EU to India (the Delegation is based in Delhi) is concurrently accredited to Bhutan. Recently, Bhutan has established an Embassy in Brussels, concurrently accredited to the EU and several EU Member States. Regular visits by the Ambassadors of the EU to Bhutan, sometimes jointly with Ambassadors of EU Member States to India, provide opportunities for in-depth discussions and help to further strengthen the EU-Bhutan relationship.
At the invitation of the Royal Government of Bhutan, the EU deployed an Election Observation Mission (EOM) when the first National Assembly (NA) elections were held in 2008, as well as an Election Expert Mission (EEM) for the second NA elections in 2013. Inter-parliamentary cooperation started after the first NA elections took place. Members of the European Parliament visited Bhutan in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
The former European Commissioner for Development, Mr Andris Piebalgs, visited Bhutan from 21 to 22 October 2014. The highlight of the visit was a signing ceremony to launch the EU's Multi-Indicative Plan (MIP) for 2014-2020 for Bhutan which tripled the EU's assistance for Bhutan from EUR 14 million to 42 million. The main strategic objective of this cooperation is to support Bhutan's democratisation and modernisation process in line with the Royal Government of Bhutan's development plans (the current one being the 11th Five-year plan for 2013-2018). The Commissioner also inaugurated the first EU film festival in Bhutan. Bhutan additionally benefits from several thematic and other EU funded projects, for instance in the area of climate change adaptation.
The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Mr Tshering Tobgay, visited Brussels from 2 to 5 June 2015 at the invitation of the President of the European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, to participate in the European Development Days. The visit was historic as it was the first ever visit of a Bhutanese Head of Government to Brussels.
The Royal Government of Bhutan and the European Investment Bank (EIB) signed a Framework Agreement in Thimphu in December 2014 which, once ratified by the Parliament of Bhutan, will enable the EIB to start financing capital investments in the country.
EU-Bhutan cooperation also extends further to United Nations forums and important global issues, in particular climate change, as reflected in the EU-Bhutan Joint declaration on climate change at COP 21 in Paris on 10 December 2015.
In recent years, Bhutan has participated regularly in the European Union's Visitors Programme, as well as in the higher education exchange programme Erasmus Mundus.