European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said leaving Russian aggression in Ukraine unchallenged could lead to a world where “might does good”, including in the Indo-Pacific, where there are “latent tensions”.
In an interview ahead of her arrival in India on Sunday for a two-day visit, Ursula von der Leyen said she would discuss the Ukrainian crisis with the Indian side with a call for collective action to “stop this aggression now”. The European Union (EU), she said, will work with friends and partners, especially India, to ensure the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. Edited excerpts:
Could you tell us about the agenda for your visit to New Delhi and the priorities of the European Union’s commitments with India?
When I took office in 2019, I made it clear that I wanted the Commission to work for Europe as an active geopolitical player, defending the rules-based global order, fighting climate change and planning the digital transition. On all these issues, India is a crucial partner. We share the same democratic values and we have converging interests on the world stage, including when it comes to a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific.
We also want to promote our broad economic agenda, both bilaterally and in multilateral forums such as the WTO. We are now resuming negotiations for a free trade agreement as well as talks for an agreement on investment protection and an agreement on geographical indications. We are expanding our security and defense dialogue. I look forward to my discussions with Prime Minister Modi on all these issues.
I also have the honor of opening this year’s edition of the Raisina Dialogue. We are facing an unprovoked and unjustified Russian attack on Ukraine, so it is of the utmost importance that the international community unites in defense of the values of the United Nations Charter. Global forums such as Raisina Dialogue can help.
You were the first European leader to visit Ukraine and more specifically Bucha. To what extent has the war in Ukraine been a turning point for the strategic and security policies of the European Union?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed the geopolitical landscape of Europe. We have shown how strong we are by acting together. Not only does the EU provide Ukraine with substantial political, financial and economic support, but it has also taken the unprecedented decision to finance the delivery of military equipment to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
But this crisis has also highlighted the needs of the EU in terms of military capabilities. Many Member States have announced substantial increases in their defense spending. We are taking important steps to strengthen Europe’s defense industrial and technological base.
Working with partners is and will remain a key priority for the EU. This is why we have placed such a strong emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region, and in particular on India, with which we already cooperate also in the field of maritime security.
You shared a questionnaire with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to launch the formal process of Ukraine’s entry into the European Union. Such a process usually takes years, but will it be accelerated in the case of Ukraine? Don’t you risk aggravating the situation with Russia?
Ukraine is a sovereign country, free to choose its alliances and partnerships. The EU and Ukraine have signed strategic partnerships. Ukraine clearly belongs to the European family. After the war, the international community will work with Ukraine to rebuild the country and the European Union will make this a priority. This process of investment and reform will be another important step on the road to European Union.
What action, if any, will the European Union take against countries that have put in place measures to circumvent Western sanctions against Russia? India has accepted Russian crude oil offers at a discount. Your comments on this.
The purpose of the sanctions imposed by more than 40 countries around the world is to hamper Putin’s ability to continue the bloodshed in Ukraine. The sanctions are directed against the Kremlin’s war machinery. We invite other countries to join in this effort, because Russia’s aggression is not just a danger to individual countries but to the whole world.
Given that India has not publicly criticized the Russian invasion and has so far abstained on Ukraine-related issues at the United Nations, will you be discussing the position of the Indian side during your interactions in New Delhi? Does the European Union wish to see a change in this position?
We will of course talk about Ukraine. We are in fact engaged in intense consultations with all our partners around the world, bilaterally and in the United Nations. What I say to all my interlocutors is that this aggression must be stopped now. We must uphold respect for the Charter of the United Nations, for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations. This unprovoked attack by Putin is a challenge to the very principles that underpin global peace and security. We are also working closely with India in this regard and we appreciate Prime Minister Modi’s repeated calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities as well as for the delivery of humanitarian aid from India to Ukraine.
What is the potential risk that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will trigger similar incidents in the Indo-Pacific? In the Indo-Pacific, China has unresolved border disputes with several countries. What are the European Union’s plans to maintain and enforce the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific?
I believe there is a risk that – if this aggression is not fought – we will all face a world where might is good. The EU is for the rule of law, not for gun rule. This is valid not only in Europe but also in the Indo-Pacific, where there are latent tensions. With our Indo-Pacific Strategy, we have made it clear that the EU has a major interest in the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. A milestone was the Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum, held in Paris in February. It brought together around 60 participants from the EU and the Indo-Pacific, including Minister (Foreign Affairs) Jaishankar. We want to work with our friends and partners, especially India.
As contacts resume on the proposed free trade agreement between India and the EU, how do you think the discussions are developing? Are there major sticking points and will negotiations for a trade pact be separated from discussions on investment and geographical indication?
India and the EU represent a combined market of 1.8 billion people and a GDP of €16.5 trillion. And yet trade in goods and services between the EU and India in 2020 was only €96 billion, so there is so much untapped potential. The EU is India’s third largest trading partner. For the EU, India is a very promising market on a very large scale.
Together, we must support the recovery and green and digital transformation of our economies, as well as address rising global tensions and secure our supply chains. That is why we have decided to resume negotiations. Our common goal is to quickly and ambitiously conclude the three agreements: on trade, investment protection and geographical indications.
Have the two sides finalized concrete proposals under the India-EU Connectivity Partnership? What are both parties doing to provide transparent and efficient connectivity alternatives in the Indo-Pacific?
Our initiative is the Global Gateway. It will allow up to 300 billion euros of investments. For example, the European Investment Bank finalized a loan of 250 million euros for the construction of the Agra metro. The EU is investing in India for sustainable urbanization, a crucial aspect of our global fight against climate change. We need climate smart cities. Another example: the EU will finance the rehabilitation of 242 km of pipe networks and support the transition to a sustainable 24/7 water supply service in the city of Chandigarh.
In short, we are working with the Indian government and stakeholders to identify new opportunities for implementing the Connectivity Partnership at local, national as well as global levels. For example, the EU also contributes to the India-led Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. We will participate with 5 million euros in the fund for resilient infrastructure in small island developing states.
We are studying possible projects to establish energy connections in South Asia. We must all work together for a green, resilient and digital future.