is preparing to adopt a landmark document with the 15-nation European Union this summer that will define the basic direction of desirable bilateral relations as the world ushers in the 21st century, government sources said Wednesday.
The document, the first of its kind to be issued between Japan and Europe in nine years, will be adopted in July at a regular meeting of top Japanese and EU leaders in Tokyo, the sources said.
The meeting will be held immediately before the three-day summit of Group of Eight countries in Okinawa Prefecture. The G8 comprises the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia.
The Japan-EU meeting is to be attended by newly elected Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, French President Jacques Chirac and the European Commission President Romano Prodi. France will hold the six-month rotating EU presidency during the second half of this year. The European Commission is the EU’s executive arm.
The new Japan-EU document will be aimed at strengthening bilateral ties, especially in the political area. It will come as the “deepening” and “expanding” EU is expected to play an even bigger role in international politics, economics and security.
The single European currency, the euro, was introduced in January 1999. At their summit in Helsinki in December, the EU leaders also decided to open membership negotiations with six new countries, including Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. The decision brought to 12 the number of countries negotiating to join the wealthy union.
The sources said that although the new Japan-EU document still has to be drafted through diplomatic channels, Tokyo hopes it will be based on a key policy speech delivered earlier this year by Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.
Kono made the speech at a French research institute in Paris in mid-January at the end of a three-nation European tour to spell out Japan’s European policy as the world enters the new century.
In the speech, Kono proposed the establishment of a “millennium partnership” between Japan and the EU based on three main pillars:
* the formation of a new global order;
* the prevention of conflicts, the promotion of disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation and reform of the United Nations;
* equal dissemination of benefits from the economic globalization among all citizens on the planet.
The foreign minister also advocated “a decade of Japanese-European cooperation” starting this year to lay the foundation for a solid partnership in the long term.
The sources said that in addition to the new document, Japan and the EU will compile, probably next year, an action program containing specific policy measures to be taken by both sides in accordance with the “spirit” of the document.
Japan and the then European Community in July 1991 adopted a joint declaration at a meeting in The Hague immediately after the London summit of the Group of Seven (G7) major industrialized countries. The G7 is the G8 minus Russia.
The joint declaration was aimed at strengthening the weakest side of the U.S.-Europe-Japan triangle during the post-Cold War era.
It called for closer cooperation and contacts between Japan and Europe not only in economic and trade matters but also in politics and culture. It specifically called for top Japanese and European leaders to hold annual talks.
But nine years after the joint declaration was adopted, political relations between Japan and Europe remain weak in comparison to economic ties.
The 12-nation European Community was renamed the European Union in the early 1990s. In January 1995, its membership was increased to 15 with the admission of Sweden, Austria and Finland.
Unlike in 1991, Japan and Europe appear unlikely to face difficulties agreeing to the basic direction in which to take bilateral ties.
The 1991 joint declaration was adopted only after France dropped its objections to some parts of its draft, including the call for “equitable access” in trade. France initially objected to that phrasing as too weak to prod Japan to open its markets to foreign products.
The 1991 document said Japan and Europe would pursue “their resolve for equitable access to their respective markets and remove obstacles . . . on the basis of comparable opportunities.”
When the 1991 joint declaration was adopted between Japan and Europe, Edith Cresson was the French prime minister; she was unpopular among many Japanese people because of discriminatory remarks, including those likening Japanese to “antlike” workers out to conquer Europe economically like a hunter stalking its prey.
But the past decade has brought changes to both parts of the world.
Japan has been mired in a prolonged economic slump following the burst of its asset-inflated “bubble economy” of the late 1980s. Japan continues to struggle as it nurses its ailing financial sector back to life and tries to reform its economic structure to regain international competitiveness.
Although Japan still has a sizable trade surplus with Europe, the gap has been kept out of the main political agenda between the two trading partners in recent years.
The upshot is that the Japanese economy is no longer seen as the threat that it once was.
Coincidentally, the new Japan-EU document will be adopted in the presence of Chirac, another top French leader — and the most pro-Japan leader in Europe. Chirac has visited Japan numerous times, both officially and privately, and is widely known as an ardent lover of everything Japanese, from sumo to sushi.