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27 April 2022, Gateway House

The EU pivots to India

The EU has been working on an India engagement for two decades now – a strategic partnership and a free trade engagement. It is finally being realised – the outcome of the visit of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Delhi this month. The upgraded, ambitious partnership Europe’s long overdue pivot to India.

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The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, paid an official visit to India on 24-25 April. This was her first visit to India in that capacity, having been here in 2015 as the German Defence Minister.[1] The von der Leyen visit was brief and showed that Europe was a global pole which plays a significant role. India agrees with this as part of reformed multilateralism, and a multipolar world, which are Indian objectives.

Inaugurating the Raisina Dialogue conference on April 25, she stated, “For the European Union, strengthening and energising its partnership with India is a priority in this upcoming decade.”[2]

Certainly, Europe seems ready to engage broader Asia, economically, strategically and with new technological partnerships. India and ASEAN, besides Japan, Korea and Australia, are the major thrust areas. In this, the EU is paced by the UK, in its post-Brexit avatar, which seeks a faster engagement with India and the Indo- Pacific than the EU.

The EU has been working on an India engagement for two decades now – a strategic partnership and a free trade engagement. But the focus has intensified since the pandemic. In July 2020, von der Leyen and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, held a virtual summit with PM Modi.[3] In May 2021 the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting took place with all 27 EU leaders leading to the current points of convergence.[4]

The diversifying India-EU relationship now covers political and strategic aspects, trade and investment agreements, sustainability and the climate agenda and new technologies and digital collaboration. The major achievement of the April 2022 meeting is the establishment of an India-EU Trade and Technology Council. This mechanism will provide higher-level coordination on the ‘intersecting aspects of trade, technology and security and provide the political steer needed for in-depth strategic engagement.’[5] The breadth of a 27 + 1 country symbiosis requires coordination across ministries, beyond a 2+2 foreign and defence ministers’ format. The 3+3 format as agreed on by India and the EU, allows the cross-cutting of trade and technology with its associated security angles.

This will bring three Indian ministers – the foreign minister, the commerce minister and the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) together with their counterparts among EU commissioners. The EU has this special institutional arrangement so far only with the U.S., since June 2021.[6]

The new bilateral milestones were set at the unprecedented India-EU Leaders’ Meeting in May 2021, which apart from the leaders of all 27 countries, included the Presidents of the European Council and the Commission. They provided the political heft for resuming the trade talks and to launch the India-EU Connectivity Partnership, part of the EU’s ambitious Global Gateway that aims to close the investment gap globally, with sustainable hard and soft infrastructure.[7],[8] The Partnership is guided by the India-EU Strategic Partnership: A Roadmap to 2025, and was reviewed by the EU and India officials in October 2021.[9]

Discussions focused on the challenges of collaborating on climate change, biodiversity, connectivity, digital cooperation and trade and investment. Dealing with the pandemic is a major concern. On all these issues, India and the EU are not always on the same page.[10] An example is the functioning of the WTO, vaccine approvals, standard-setting.

But the strategic intent is important. On trade, building China-style production hubs for machinery and infrastructure equipment in India can benefit European companies. These can also be used under the India-ASEAN FTA for exports to ASEAN as well as to re-export for Europe. This is how relationships deepen.

On connectivity,[11] a focus is necessary on investments in quality infrastructure to connect goods, services, institutions, banks, businesses and people across the world. On-going areas of research in innovation, health, bio-economy, epidemic-preparedness innovation and expanded science, technology and digital transformation are stable.

What’s next? A plan to bring this into a cohesive connectivity partnership linked to a) the Japan- EU connectivity partnership and b) the Global Gateway Connectivity initiative for Africa. [12] The €150 billion Global Gateway aims to connect Africa’s resources to global markets and invest in African electrification, preferably using clean energy. Working trilaterally with India in Africa can help the EU gain better acceptability and cost effectiveness.[13]

The diversion of Europe’s attention to Ukraine and Russia appeared to have side-lined the Continent’s India and Indo-Pacific focus[14] However, von der Leyen has indicated interest in returning to the Indo-Pacific in general and India in particular.[15]

“We share the same interests in safe trading routes, in seamless supply chains, and in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” she stated.[16] This political signal is significant. In the earlier phase, India was being strategically seen as another pole in Asia besides China, though not necessarily an alternative to China. In European eyes, Russia is the main enemy now and treating China as a challenger is on a slow burner. India drew Von der Leyen’s focus to the Chinese challenge effectively.

The India EU FTA now has political guidance to move ahead, leaving the unevenness of the 2007-2013 negotiations behind. It has the potential to alter the dominance of China in the economic relationship with Europe. Having signed FTAs with the UAE and Australia in February and March this year, India has shown its flexibility and intent. It is now for the EU to respond with greater openness. The Indian Commerce Secretary’s April 2022 visit to the EU has set the pace for an imminent restart of FTA talks – in an equal partnership. Bjoern Seibert, Cabinet Head of the European Commission President had detailed talks with foreign minister S. Jaishankar before von der Leyen came to Delhi.[17] These are signs of a well-prepared visit from which detailed results may be expected.

India seeks to consolidate a multilateral order in which the gains of globalisation will not be squandered by unilateral actions outside international arrangements. Bringing India into formal strategic and commercial arrangements can ensure this stability.

Gurjit Singh is former Ambassador of India to Germany.

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[1] German Defence Minister calls on PM, Press Information Bureau, 27 May 2015,

[2] Speech by President von der Leyen at the Raisina Dialogue, EC, 25 April 2022,

[3] Joint Statement of the 15th India-EU Summit, MEA, July 15, 2020,

[4] India-EU Leaders’ Meeting MEA 6 May 2021,

[5] Visit of President of the European Commission to India (April 24-25, 2022) MEA, April 25, 2022

[6] EU-US Trade and Technology Council: Commission launches consultation platform for stakeholder’s involvement to shape transatlantic cooperation, EC Europa EU, 18 October 2021,

[7] India-EU Strategic Partnership: A Roadmap to 2025, MEA, July 15, 2020,


[9] Joint Press Release on India-EU Strategic Partnership Review MEA, October 19, 2021,

[10] Christophe Jaffrelot. Jasmine Zérinini: The Europe-India Balance Sheet, The India Forum, 14 December 2021,

[11] Joint Statement on India-EU Leaders’ Meeting (May 08, 2021) MEA May 08, 2021,

[12] Wester Van Gaal, Scepticism in Africa about the EU’s green connectivity plan, EUObserver, 14 April 2022,

[13] Gurjit Singh and Jhanvi Tripathi, India in Africa: Developing Trilateral Partnerships, CII, April 2019,

[14] EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific EEAS 19 April 2021,

[15] Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi holds talk with President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen in New Delhi, MEA, April 25, 2022,

[16] ibid

[17] Jaishankar discusses India-EU partnership with EU President Cabinet Head, The Print, 23 April 2022,


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