Von der Leyen seeks to deepen military and tech ties with India visit

The EU is preparing to announce the creation of a new trade and technology council with India as part of efforts to deepen their relationship and respond to the rising economic power of China.

The new forum could be unveiled during meetings between Ursula von der Leyen and Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, during a visit by the European Commission president to New Delhi on Monday, according to a senior EU official.

Von der Leyen’s discussions with the Indian government will include sales of European military equipment to India and potential joint ventures as the EU seeks ways of reducing India’s longstanding reliance on Russian defence technology.

They will also cover plans to relaunch negotiations this summer aimed at striking a comprehensive trade deal between the EU and India.

The meetings will be overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, and India’s refusal to openly condemn President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Western governments are hoping to find ways of wooing New Delhi away from its longstanding relationship with Moscow, pointing in part to the threat posed by Vladimir Putin’s “no limits” partnership with China’s Xi Jinping.

Von der Leyen’s goal is to find ways of offering India alternatives to its “dependencies” on Russia, in areas such as military equipment as well as fertilisers, said the EU official. “We want to offer an even broader relationship with India. My sense is they are interested in ideas [for] co-operation with us.”

A trade and technology council would build on an existing model involving the US and EU which was launched in Pittsburgh last year. However the transatlantic format has yet to prove itself, given deep divergences between the US and EU on questions such as digital privacy and how hard-hitting regulation of tech giants should be.

New Delhi declined to comment on the proposal for a TTC with the EU. The EU official said potential topics on its agenda would include 5G and 6G technologies, privacy regulation, and how to supervise social media platforms. There was also scope to deepen co-operation on digital skills.

Von der Leyen’s visit to New Delhi will be watched closely given divisions over how to respond to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, declined to openly criticise Modi during a visit this week, focusing instead on areas of co-operation including the UK’s ambitions for a trade agreement with India.

For his part, Modi repeated his call for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine during Johnson’s visit and said diplomacy and dialogue were needed.

The EU will try to push ways for India to loosen its reliance on key Russian exports, while reminding New Delhi that it expects its partners either to match EU sanctions or at least not circumvent them.

The topic of Indian purchases of Russian oil is also likely to feature in discussions, given the EU’s attempts to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels and drive down the revenues Putin gets from its exports of oil, coal and gas.

The UK plans to accelerate the licensing process by which India procures weapons from Britain, as well as more joint military exercises and officer exchanges.

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