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EU’s Ursula von der Leyen visit may help deepen economic ties 

Ursula von der Leyen’s visit may convince her that the prospects of trade and investment protection pacts with India are much better today than in the recent past 

April 25, 2022 / 03:55 PM IST
Ursula von der Leyen (File image)

Ursula von der Leyen (File image)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is visiting India at a time when the European Union (EU) is really focused on the war in Ukraine. Apart from meeting President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she will deliver the inaugural address at this year’s Raisina Dialogue. As India and the EU celebrate sixty years of relations, she wants to take bilateral ties ‘to the next level’.

Under her leadership, the European Commission is finally becoming a ‘geopolitical’ player. This has been reflected in its Indo-Pacific strategy as well as responses to the Russia-Ukraine war. Apart from comprehensive economic sanctions against Russia, the Commission is also providing military assistance to Ukraine.

To reduce dependence on Russian energy imports, the EU has also announced an energy diversification action plan.  While touching on the Ukraine war and EU’s dependence on Russian energy at the International Solar Alliance Secretariat in Gurugram, she asserted that the transition to home-grown energy is also a ‘strategic investment in security’.

When she travelled to Bucha and Kyiv recently, she told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that ‘Your fight is our fight’ and ‘Europe is on your side’. The EU also believes that both Europe and the Indo-Pacific will have to adhere to the same principles of a rules-based international order.

In the last two months, it has become clear that Indian perceptions about the Ukraine crisis are different from Europe. This has been reflected in different voting preferences at various UN bodies. This might have raised some doubts in the minds of policy makers in Europe about the limits of strategic convergence with India. Her visit may remove some of these apprehensions. In fact, being a close strategic partner of both the EU and Russia, India could play a more proactive role in resolving the Ukrainian conflict.


In Delhi, her focus is likely to be on the bilateral agenda. Major issues concerning trade and economy, connectivity, energy, climate change, cyber and maritime security etc. have already been outlined in the EU-India Roadmap to 2025.

The Leaders’ meeting where Prime Minister Modi met all 27 EU leaders last year also established a ‘connectivity partnership’. Meanwhile, a large number of high-level interactions have taken place with various EU Member States.

Some reports indicate that a new EU-India Trade and Technology Council (TTC) may be announced during the visit. The EU has a similar TTC with the United States which includes 10 working groups including secure supply chains, technology standards, investment screening, export controls, data governance and Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) security.

Negotiations on separate EU-India trade as well as investment agreements are going to re-launch soon with new optimism. The sentiment is boosted because of the changing Indian approach towards trade pacts. This has resulted in agreements with the UAE and Australia as well as fast progress on India-UK trade negotiations.

The latest IMF forecast indicates the highest economic growth for India among major economies for the next two years. Goods and services exports are at all-time high. This has provided new confidence to policy makers in India. The EU is keenly watching these developments. To gauge the Indian mood, a delegation of the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade was in Delhi a few days ago.

The momentum created by von der Leyen’s visit may also help Prime Minister Modi’s forthcoming visit to three countries in Europe in the first week of May. He will participate in the second India-Nordic Summit in Copenhagen (Denmark) and important bilateral meetings in Germany and France. In Copenhagen, leaders of all five Nordic nations viz. Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland will participate. As India and Denmark have established a green strategic partnership , a major focus of the summit is likely to be on climate action and renewables.  In Germany he will meet newly elected Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The visit to France will also be significant as it will be immediately after the presidential elections.

Although the EU is becoming more geopolitical, its real competencies are in economic matters. So apart from making public statements on Ukraine, the EU in India will continue to focus on bilateral trade and investment protection negotiations as well as new projects under connectivity and climate partnerships. Ursula von der Leyen’s visit may convince her that prospects of trade and investment protection pacts with India are much better today than any time in the recent past.

The European Investment Bank has funded more than $4 billion infrastructure projects in India. But a ‘connectivity partnership’ could be a game changer if both India and EU could implement joint projects in third countries.

Gulshan Sachdeva is Professor at the Centre for European Studies and Coordinator, Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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Gulshan Sachdeva is Professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and headed the ADB and Asia Foundation projects at the Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul. Views are personal.  
first published: Apr 25, 2022 03:55 pm
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