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EU-India: Boosting co-operation from trade to climate

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Co-operation between the EU and India has increased significantly in recent years. Discover how links could improve even further.

The two global powers are looking at ways to deepen links. On 13 April, Parliament’s foreign affairs committee adopted a report with recommendations for the EU to improve relations with India. MEPs call on the EU and India to work together on global challenges and advocate close, value-based trade relations and cooperation on reforming the World Trade Organization.

Leaders from the EU and India will hold a summit in Porto on 8 May to discuss the partnership.

Why is there a need for a closer EU-India relationship?

As the world’s two largest democracies, the EU and India share many of the same values and face many of the same challenges, such as climate change. However, this cooperation has yet to reach its full potential. India is also rapidly increasing its position as an economic and regional power.

What is already in place?

The EU and India signed a strategic partnership in 2004, based on shared values and a commitment to a rules-based global order centred on multilateralism. In 2020, the EU and India endorsed a road map to 2025 for the strategic partnership.

EU-India economic relations

India is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, its gross domestic product increased by about 6% annually.

The EU is India’s largest trading partner, while India is the EU’s ninth largest trading partner. In 2019, the EU accounted for 11.1% of Indian trade, just ahead of the US and China (10.7%).

Check out more facts and figures on the EU’s position in world trade.

Closer links have already helped to increase trade and investment between the two partners. For example, the trade in goods has increased by 72% in the last decade, while the EU’s share in foreign investment inflows increased from 8% to 18% in the same period, making the EU the largest foreign investor in India.

About 6,000 European firms operate in India, providing 1.7 million jobs directly and about 5 million indirectly.

However, attempts to negotiate a free agreement have proved unsuccessful so far.

Read more on EU trade agreements.

Fight against climate change

The EU and India, as the world’s third and fourth largest emitters of greenhouse gases, share a common interest in fighting climate change and facilitating the transition to a sustainable economy.

Promoting democracy and human rights

As the world’s largest democracies, the EU and India can help to promote human rights, democracy and gender equality.

However, in the report adopted by the foreign affairs committee, members expressed concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in India, such as difficulties faced by Indian women and minority groups as well as the closure of Amnesty International’s offices in India.

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EU countries should ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health

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MEPs urge member states to protect and further enhance women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in a report adopted today (11 May).

In the draft report approved by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality by 27 votes in favour, six against and one abstention, MEPs point out that the right to health, in particular sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), are fundamental women’s rights which should be enhanced and cannot in any way be watered down or withdrawn.

They add that violations of women’s SRHR are a form of violence against women and girls and hinder progress towards gender equality. They thus call on EU countries to ensure access to a full range of high-quality, comprehensive and accessible SRHR, and remove all barriers impeding full access to these services.

Access to abortion, contraception and sexuality education

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality MEPs stress that some member states still have highly restrictive laws prohibiting abortion except in strictly defined circumstances, leading to women having to seek clandestine abortions or carry their pregnancy to term against their will, which is a violation of their human rights. Thus, they urge all member states to ensure universal access to safe and legal abortion, and guarantee that abortion at request is legal in early pregnancy, and beyond if the pregnant person’s health is in danger. They also recall that a total ban on abortion care is a form a gender-based violence.

Furthermore, MEPs demand that EU countries ensure universal access to a range of high-quality contraceptive methods and supplies, family counselling and information on contraception.

They also urge member states to ensure access to comprehensive sexuality education for primary and secondary school children, as SRHR education can significantly contribute to reducing sexual violence and harassment.

The negative impact of the pandemic on women’s health

Regretting that access to abortion continues to be limited during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the effects the pandemic has had on the supply and access to contraceptives, MEPs urge EU countries to consider the health impact of this crisis through a gender lens and ensure the continuation of a full range of SRHR services through the health systems.

Rapporteur Pedrag Matić (S&D, HR) said: ‘‘In the text adopted today, we clearly call on member states to ensure universal access to SRHR for all, and demonstrate there is strength in the EP to counter those opposing basic human rights. Sexuality education, access to contraception and fertility treatments as well as abortion constitute some of the key components of SRHR services. This is an important step in ensuring that all EU citizens have access to SRHR and that no person is left behind in exercising their right to health.

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Civil protection: Council adopts new rules to strengthen disaster response

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The Council today (11 May) adopted a regulation to strengthen the EU civil protection mechanism. The new rules will allow the EU and the member states to better prepare for natural and man made disasters and to respond faster when they strike, including in cases which affect a majority of member states simultaneously, such as a pandemic. The text also sets out the funding of the civil protection mechanism in the context of the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027.

The proposed rules will allow the European Commission to address gaps in the area of transport and logistics, and, in cases of urgency, directly procure certain additional rescEU capacities. These rescEU capacities, as well as those hosted by member states, will be fully financed from the EU budget.

Prevention and preparedness will also be improved under the proposed regulation. The Commission, in co-operation with member states, will define and develop EU disaster resilience goals in the area of civil protection

The text sets out a total of  €1.263 billion in funds for the 2021-2027 period. It also includes an amount of up to €2.56bn to implement the civil protection related measures to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis foreseen in the EU recovery instrument. This is an increase of over three times as compared to the 2014-2020 budget. It reflects the strengthening of the EU's collective response to disasters, including the recent establishment of a reserve of capacities (rescEU), the reinforcement of the European civil protection pool and the improvements in disaster prevention and preparedness.

Background

The EU civil protection mechanism was first established in 2001 and it coordinates the response to natural and man-made disasters at the EU level. Its objective is to foster cooperation among national civil protection authorities, increase public awareness and preparedness for disasters and enable quick, effective, coordinated assistance to affected populations.

The EU civil protection mechanism includes a European civil protection pool. This is a voluntary pool of capacities pre-committed by member states for immediate deployment inside or outside the EU. The civil protection mechanism was last amended in 2019, when an additional reserve of resources, called rescEU, was created to provide assistance in situations where overall existing capacities are insufficient.

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EU and Japan hold high-level policy dialogue on education, culture and sport

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On 10 May, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel held a videoconference with the Japanese Minister for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Koichi Hagiuda (pictured), to discuss EU-Japan co-operation in the fields of their portfolios. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to continued cooperation and support from their respective programmes, and agreed to join forces on researcher mobility. This ongoing cooperation has taken on new significance during the COVID-19 crisis, which has hit these sectors hard.

Commissioner Gabriel said: “Education, culture and sport bring people together – to learn, to teach, to create and to compete. International cooperation in these areas will always lead to a better understanding – like between Europe and Japan. In Brussels, as in Tokyo, we are looking at the future of education and the digital transition. I was delighted to exchange ideas and good practices in this field, as well as in culture and sport, with Mr Hagiuda and his team.”

Ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in Japan, Minister Haiuda shared updates during the meeting on the organisation of such a large-scale event in these unprecedented times. Commissioner Gabriel and Minister Hagiuda also welcomed the progress of the three special joint EU-Japan Erasmus Mundus Master programmes in robotics, extended reality, and history, which were launched as an outcome of the first policy dialogue of July 2018. Finally, they both emphasised the importance of people-to-people exchanges and agreed to maintain direct discussions on a regular basis. The forthcoming EU-Japan Summit will further highlight the scale and breadth of cooperation under the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement. A joint statement and more information following today's meeting are available online.

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