Tory MEP Geoffrey Van Orden has said that while human rights issues are important, they should not have an effect on India-EU relations. The Tory MEP for the East of England was speaking at the 13th India-EU Summit, held in Brussels after a four-year gap.
Van Orden said that he wanted to see a more practical and realistic relationship between India and the EU. India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has been facing a number of accusations relating to a crackdown on freedom of speech and the treatment of minority religious groups in the country.
Speaking to Indian newspaper The Hindu, Van Orden said: "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."
During the India-EU Summit on 30 March, discussions were also held about a diplomatic row about Italian marines who have been accused of killing two Indian fishermen in international waters in 2014. On this, Van Orden said that while he "respect[ed] the Indian judicial and legal processes", it would be an act of goodwill if India allowed those under trial to return to Italy until legal proceedings conclude.
While in Brussels for the Summit, Modi said: "For India, EU is one of our strongest strategic partnerships. I feel that a progressive path and creative mindset to the India-EU Trade and Investment Agreement can enable all the European countries, including Belgium, to benefit from India's economic growth.
In his interview with The Hindu, Van Orden said that many of the EU countries viewed their relationship with India as "enormously important and significant". He denied that India's relationship with the EU had weakened because of its strong ties with other individual countries in the union.