Concerned over situation in Kashmir, important to restore normalcy: EU envoy Ugo Astuto

Concerned over situation in Kashmir, important to restore normalcy: EU envoy Ugo Astuto

It is crucial that freedom of movement and means of communication restored, said Ambassador of the European Union to India Ugo Astuto

The European Union remains “concerned” about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and its position has not changed in the months since the government’s decision on Article 370, the newly appointed EU Ambassador said here on Tuesday.

Speaking to journalists Ambassador Ugo Astuto also said the EU was following the current debate in Parliament over the Citizenship Amendment Bill and hoped that India’s constitutional traditions would be upheld.

“The European Union is concerned about the situation on the ground, specifically about the restrictions on fundamental freedoms,” said Mr. Astuto, in his first press appearance after receiving his credentials.

“It is crucial that freedom of movement and means of communication are restored along with all essential services. We have urged a restoration of normalcy, while we do understand India’s security concerns,” he added, disclosing that the issue of detentions and the Internet ban had been discussed on several occasions by the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.

Significantly Mr. Astuto’s call for a restoration of normalcy came on a day Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is “completely normal.”

Mr. Astuto said the EU has not at present put in requests to visit Jammu and Kashmir to assess the situation, as the U.S. and other countries have, and added that the visit of more than 20 Members of the European Parliament in October was in their individual capacities and “not an expression of EU policy.”

Responding to questions about the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday and has elicited a negative response from the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Astuto said it had not been discussed between the EU and the government yet.

“The Indian Constitution guarantees equality before the law and prohibits all forms of discriminations. These are principles that we share, the European Union and India, and I trust that the outcome of discussions [on the Citizenship Amendment Bill] will be in line with the high standards set by the Constitution,” he added.

The EU ambassador’s tenure in Delhi coincided with the appointment of new EU President Ursula Von Der Lyen, and hopes have been raised that India can restart negotiations with the EU on the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) with the new European Commission team. Mr. Astuto said the FTA talks, which have been suspended since 2013 had stalled over a number of issues, and hoped that they would get a boost during the next EU-India summit, due to be held in Brussels in the “first half” of 2020.

He added that it was “advisable” to open a separate discussion on investment protection, as that would be helpful to attract investments into India given the government’s decision to cancel all investment treaties a few years ago.

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