Brussels–The European Union and India underlined their desire on Thursday to strengthen strategic partnership and to boost cooperation in many sectors, including political, security, trade, economy, human rights and environment.

“India is one of our four strategic partners in Asia. We want to build our relationship further to reflect the strategic nature of this partnership. We have had some difficult years behind us,” said Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director, Asia and Pacific, in the EU foreign service, known as the European External Action Service.

He was speaking at a debate on EU-India relations, hosted by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels.

“The strategic partnership is currently being shaped in a very tangible and complex global and European environment,” he said referring to the Brexit referendum and to the new US administration.

“…We have agreed on an ambitious EU-India Action Plan 2020 on a broad range of common issues,” said Wiegand.

He called for more EU-India cooperation on key global issues in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and to strengthen trade and investment partnership, adding that the EU remains committed to a broad and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.

The top EU diplomat also called for more high-level visits from India to Brussels.

Addressing the debate, India’s ambassador to the EU, Manjeev Singh Puri, said: “The EU and India are the largest bastions of democracy. We need to come together and work to make things better for ourselves and the world. I believe we have a vested interests with each other.

“The European Union and India have a joint and shared interest in multipolarity and have a shared and joint interest in discharging global responsibility,” he stated.

Puri noted that the EU and India agreed on a strategic partnership in 2004 and underlined that the two sides are cooperating in several areas, including security and counter-terrorism.

The last EU-India summit was held in Brussels in March 2016, just a week after the horrendous terror attacks in the Belgian capital.

Puri said that the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Brussels last March was a very important sign to stress India’s solidarity in the fight against terrorism.

He said the EU and India have been negotiating a broad-based trade and investment agreement for several years and recently high-level talks were held to re-launch these negotiations.

An EU-India summit is planned to be held in New Delhi later this year.

On his part, Geoffrey Van Orden, the chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for ties with India, argued that “India, in spite of the fine words and cliches that we hear, is a much neglected country in terms of our EU relationship.

“Although there are strong bilateral relations, it is also neglected in terms of bilateral relations. There is so much more to be done.”

He said talks are continuing to establish an EU-India friendship group in the Lok Sabha and said that members of the delegation will be visiting India shortly. Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament are also expected to visit India later this month.

Two British Members of the European Parliament of Pakistani origin, Afzal Khan and Amjad Bashir, raised the issue of Kashmir during the debate. In reply, the Indian ambassador stressed that “Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India”.

“My suggestion to you would be to tell the country of your birth to stop fomenting terror, stop being an epicentre of global terrorism and stop trying to export it across,” added Puri.