Geoffrey Van Orden, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the British Conservative Party, said that he would like to see a more practical and realistic relationship between India and the EU, in an interview with The Hindu last week.
“I think many of our [EU] countries view the relationship with India as enormously important and significant.”, Mr. Van Orden said in response to a question on whether India’s relationship with the EU as a bloc had slipped between the cracks because of its strong relationship with several individual countries within the Union.
The Summit of March 30 was an opportunity to continue expanding ties beyond trade and this was reflected in some of the items on the agenda — a water and clean energy partnership and a commitment to cooperate on counter-terrorism issues.
Despite the scope for cooperation, bilateral engagement at the higher levels had become a casualty of irritants between the two governments, such as the banning of some 700 generic drugs from India in 2015 and the issues concerning the Italian marines. The MV Seaman Guard Ohio case, where six Britons and 14 Estonians were among those arrested in 2013 for unauthorised entry into the territorial waters of India with arms and ammunition on board, has also become a pressure point between the two governments.
Mr. Van Orden said they “respect the Indian judicial and legal processes”. He added that it would be a significant goodwill gesture if all those under trial could return to their home countries until the legal proceedings against them conclude.
With regard to the view that the EU talks were partly stalled due to human rights concerns, Mr. Van Orden’s view was that while some MEPs had expressed such concerns, these should not hamper bilateral engagement.
“I think genuine human rights are important, but they shouldn’t necessarily be the predominant motive for the relationships we have with other countries and I would go further and say we have to take great care when we are making judgments about the so-called human rights situations in other countries”, he said. The Indian government has been criticised in international political and civil society circles for its restrictions on free speech and the functioning of several NGOs.
On questions regarding the nature of the India-Britain relationship, Mr. Van Orden said he felt ties had been neglected post-Indian Independence because of a perceived sense of hurt. There was, however, greater scope for engagement, including in security and defence, because of a shared history and the large Indian diaspora there. Britain will deploy a carrier strike force, ‘East of Suez’ in 2020, and this will be a significant opportunity for defence cooperation, he said.
Mr. Van Orden did not foresee a negative impact on trade relations between the countries if Britain chooses to leave the EU, a question that will be settled by a referendum to be held in June this year.