Trade and beyond: a new impetus to the EU-India Partnership

Today’s meeting is an opportunity to strengthen an important international partnership.

Trade and beyond: a new impetus to the EU-India Partnership

Narendra Modi is the prime minister of India. António Costa is the prime minister of Portugal, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. 

The meeting of the leaders of the European Union and India taking place tomorrow is a moment of profound geopolitical significance. By bolstering the dialogue between the world’s two largest democratic spaces, it will provide new impetus to our partnership — with a positive effect on international trade and investment.  

India’s role as a major regional and global player is set to continue to expand over the coming years, and a strengthened partnership would offer Europe an opportunity to diversify relations in a strategic region of the world. 

The EU and India have periodically pledged to expand our cooperation, building on the architecture set out in our 1994 Strategic Partnership. But the realization of that ambition has remained a challenge compared to the opportunities offered by our economies, and the dynamics of technological development. 

The Porto EU-India Leaders’ Meeting promises to be a pivotal moment in this regard, giving new momentum to the partnership between the world’s two largest democratic spaces, made up of over 1.8 billion people. This dialogue will be crucial to rebalance relations between the EU and the Indo-Pacific. It is key for us to reaffirm our firm belief in democracy, rule of law, tolerance and the universality and indivisibility of human rights.  

We must seize this opportunity to elevate our relationship, using the huge potential of our democratic spaces to advance trade and investment ties and to support effective multilateralism and a rules-based order.   

The meeting is a chance to expand cooperation between the EU and India in new areas of decisive importance for the development of contemporary societies and economies: the digital transition, connectivity, mobility, health, the energy transition and climate action.  

The EU and India are already key partners in issues of growing relevance for the development and sustainability of our societies. Tomorrow, we will open and widen new paths of cooperation. For example, the EU and India will launch a Connectivity Partnership aiming at furthering the cooperation on transport, energy, digital and people-to-people contacts. 

The meeting is also an opportunity to give a new impetus to trade and investment negotiations between the EU and India.  

The EU is India’s biggest trading partner and the second largest destination for Indian exports. Trade between the EU and India has increased 72 percent in the last decade. The EU is also the leading foreign investor in India. Its share in foreign investment inflows has more than doubled in the last decade. Some 6,000 European companies are present in India, generating 1.7 million direct and 5 million indirect jobs. Growing investments from India in recent years have also meant active presence of Indian companies in the EU as well. 

It is the right time to resume negotiations toward an ambitious and balanced trade agreement capable of acting as a key driver for sustainable growth and jobs creation, both for India and Europe. Apart from everything else, an EU-India agreement would send a powerful signal to the world in support of the benefits of international trade cooperation.  

A similar rationale applies to investment. The negotiation of an EU wide investment protection framework would provide greater stability and certainty to companies from India and EU to expand their presence in each other’s markets. 

EU-India relations have always been marked by mutual support and solidarity. This has been evident during the coronavirus pandemic, when both have supported each other and the rest of the world. India extended medical supplies to Europe earlier and now the EU has extended assistance to India as it experiences a second wave of COVID-19. 

Portugal and India have always played a unique role in bringing the two continents together, both in the distant and recent past. Portugal hosted the first ever EU-India Summit in Lisbon, during the 2000 Portuguese EU Presidency and India hosted the eighth EU-India Summit in New Delhi, in 2007, also during a Portuguese Presidency. 

The Indian Nobel laureate in Literature Rabindranath Tagore, who was born 160 years ago on May 9, travelled extensively in Europe in different periods of his life. The great poet was a staunch believer in the principles of mutual understanding between peoples and in India’s mission to bring together the East and the West. He wrote frequently about the meeting of Europe and India, to which he attributed deep cultural, political and even personal significance: “I have felt the meeting of the East and the West in my own individual life.” 

In a similar way, the epic poem that better represents Portuguese identity narrates a journey to India. “The Lusiads” by Luis Vaz de Camões is also an account of a meeting between Europe and India.  

That makes us particularly conscious of the merits of a relationship spanning two continents and linking two vast oceans that has evolved to accompany the huge transformations in our countries and societies. It is important we do not let this moment pass us by. 

The journey together between the EU and India will be continued and advanced as of tomorrow in search of new routes of political, economic and technological cooperation, with enormous potential for mutual benefits.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Social distancing at the social summit

In Porto, EU adapts to new pandemic rhythm.

Social distancing at the social summit

PORTO, Portugal — The mandatory accreditation badge now requires an additional sticker — demonstrating proof of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, negative for COVID, within the last 72 hours.

The routine security screening — all metal out of your pockets — is now preceded by a thermal face scan to verify body temperature: Keep the mask on please, now step forward, a bit more forward, a bit back.

The EU returned to full-format summitry on Friday, but with a heavy dose of pandemic precautions and preoccupation, which meant strict social distancing at a leaders’ meeting focused on social policy.

The two days of talks, organized by the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU, mark the first gathering of heads of state and government with journalists in attendance since February 2020, following more than a year of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

During that time, the leaders held eight meetings via videoconference, and four in-person summits in limited format with the size of their own delegations severely restricted. This included the marathon, five-day summit last July in Brussels where they agreed on a historic €1.82 trillion budget-and-recovery plan.

The pandemic has severely disrupted the functioning of democracy, for the EU and in countries around the world, and it forced the cancellation of numerous high-profile events. Among those was an EU-China summit that Chancellor Angela Merkel had planned in Leipzig as a centerpiece of Germany’s Council presidency, and an EU-Africa summit championed by European Council President Charles Michel.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa pushed hard to keep the Porto summit on the calendar, partly to show that with the pace of vaccinations picking up, things are starting to get back to normal.

And, indeed, there was a familiar feel to some of the bureaucracy and logistical headaches — technicians from host broadcaster RTP grumbling about problems with their badges in line outside the accreditation office, for example.

But as the leaders arrived Friday in Porto, under a shining sun with a brisk breeze blowing east off the Atlantic Ocean, it was clear nothing was really normal, and perhaps won’t be for quite some time.

Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and European Parliament President David Sassoli, wore masks to a ceremony where they received keys to the city.

And as von der Leyen gave a speech Friday afternoon on social policy, her audience, including other leaders, sat in chairs carefully spaced apart, as if a teacher had separated all the students in class to keep them from whispering to each other.

In the press center, where reporters might normally crowd together, individual desks were spaced out for social distancing. Porto Social Summit masks were distributed in sealed envelopes, and staff circulated periodically to reprimand anyone with a visible nose.

There were also signs that some pandemic practices had become second nature. Elbow bumps that would have seemed an absurd ritual before coronavirus were a matter of routine, with no awkward outreached hands as was the case earlier in the pandemic. Anti-microbial gel flowed as freely and naturally at the entrances and exits as coffee or water in the canteen.

In fact, with Portugal a bit further along than some countries in reopening bars and restaurants, it was so-called normal activity in Porto that seemed weird, like indoor restaurant dining.

The return of reporters also meant the return of the traditional doorstep pitstop that leaders often make to answer a few questions as they arrive

It generated at least one abnormal moment, when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took an opportunity during his appearance to rail against the word “gender.” 

Asked about whether Hungary opposed gender equality legislation, Orbán seemed briefly confused — not about his own gender, but about the very meaning of the word, and whether it could potentially refer to transgender, which he indicated he would find problematic.

“The fact is that man and woman should be treated equally — it’s easy for us, because this is our principle,” Orbán said. “The only difficultly is to use the term ‘gender,’ because we Christians consider gender as an ideologically motivated expression. 

“It’s sometimes something between man and woman,” he continued, adding: “So we always propose instead of saying ‘gender equality,’ to use ‘equality between man and woman,’ but it’s always rejected.”

While some leaders, like Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, gave their traditional doorstep remarks against a background of the city’s terracotta-roofed buildings and steep-sloped streets, the absence of others was a reminder that pandemic conditions persist through much of Europe. Merkel, for instance, said she would not attend given that citizens in Germany remain in lockdown conditions (although observers have noted this is the second social policy summit she has found a reason to skip.)

EU officials also expressed surprise at the small number of Brussels-based journalists who had traveled to Porto, evidence that the climb back to normalcy — in summits, or in life — in many ways has barely just begun.

Source : Politico EU More   

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