Coronavirus | Amid surge, Narendra Modi cancels travel to Europe

Coronavirus | Amid surge, Narendra Modi cancels travel to Europe

EU-India summit to be virtual; U.S., U.K, issue advisories on trips to India

With an uncontrollable surge of coronavirus cases in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cancelled his travel to Europe next month, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced. The decision was taken after discussions with the European Union leadership and the Portuguese government, that was going to host the summit in Porto, and had invited leaders of all 27 countries that comprise the EU to attend the meeting with Mr. Modi. 

“In view of the COVID-19 situation, it has been decided, in consultation with the EU and Portuguese leadership, to hold the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting in a virtual format on 8 May 2021. The India-EU Leaders’ Meeting in the EU+27 format, the first time that such a meeting is being held, reflects the shared ambition of both sides to further deepen the Strategic Partnership,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said. 

The cancellation comes a day after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his visit to India in view of the pandemic. Both the U.K. and the U.S. have also announced travel restrictions and advisories to citizens against travelling to India at this time. Mr. Modi was expected to travel to France during the same visit, which too, is now put off. 

In the run up to the proposed meeting, Mr. Modi had held a number of bilateral meetings with European leaders, including those of the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Italy and others, in which future EU-India cooperation was discussed. 

India and the EU are also expected to discuss progress on the long-pending Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), that has made little headway in more than seven years, and were likely to forge an agreement on cooperation on Indo-Pacific strategy during the now-virtual meeting. 

“To fulfil our potential, we need to be more ambitious in our cooperation on preventing climate crises, promoting human rights, building connectivity, sustainable trade and defending a multilateral international order,” an EU official quoted in a report on the road ahead for India-EU ties said. 

On April 12, EU and Indian officials also held the 9th “Human Rights dialogue” where they discussed “strengthening the Human Rights mechanisms for the promotion of human rights and the role of national human rights institutions, civil society actors and journalists”, the MEA had said. A day later, the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament, which had introduced several discussions critical of India on the issue of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and restrictions on NGOs in the past year, cleared the report on India-EU ties, which contained stringent language expressing “concern at the deteriorating human rights situation in India”. 

“The report also voices alarm regarding India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is fundamentally discriminatory in nature against Muslims and dangerously divisive,” an EU press release stated. It added that the report, that includes special references to the shutdown of Amnesty International and India’s Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act (FCRA), as well as “caste-based” discrimination, would be put up for adoption in the EU Parliament.

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