As voters throughout the European Union prepare to go to the polls to elect the next European Parliament, will anyone pause to think about the people who made all this possible? It has been 64 years since the first steps were taken toward the foundation of the union and 57 years since the first treaty was signed. Europe Day on May 9 commemorates these events, but they are largely lost in time as most EU citizens have never known a world without the European Union and take it for granted, which is understandable, but a great disservice to its early visionaries. It was their determination to forge a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe that brought us to where we are today: a union of 28 member states and 503 million citizens, enjoying unprecedented levels of stability and well-being.
In particular, and in spite of recent crises, the EU has become an economic powerhouse. It is the world’s largest trading block, accounting for nearly 20 percent of all global imports and exports. Much of this is due to the combined virtues of its single market, breaking down barriers between individual member states and its open and expansive trade policy. Moreover, as the European Commission points out, maintaining these policies is the key to prosperity as net exports alone contributed between 0.5 and 1 percent to EU GDP growth figures every year since 2010.
Those of us in the European business community can testify to the advantages of the EU approach. The openness of the trading regime attracts foreign and domestic investors who benefit from a stable, predictable environment and transparent rules and regulations. The EU strategy seeks to expand these benefits through closer ties with other economies, at both multilateral and bilateral levels. The EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement currently under negotiation is a case in point. By lowering barriers to trade between the EU and Japan, it aims to increase the potential for growth, not only for big business, but also for small- and medium-sized businesses. The same can be said for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the EU-China Investment Agreement, which aims to address investment protection and market access issues.
The links between the EU and Japan are already strong. Japan is the EU’s seventh largest trading partner and the EU in turn is Japan’s third largest trading partner. We share many values, concerns and challenges, not least the need to succeed as providers of top quality goods and services in an increasingly competitive world economy. For this we both need a reliable platform of fair and consistent global rules and standards, so it makes sense that we should work together to create that platform, and drive it from the basis of our own mutual trade relationship.
We in the European Business Council of Japan (EBC) believe that a sufficiently ambitious, balanced and comprehensive free trade agreement could significantly boost trade between the EU and Japan, inject new dynamism into the investment relationship and stimulate the creation of much-needed sustainable jobs. We have been encouraged by the progress made in the initial rounds of negotiations but are keen to see these negotiations move forward to tackle the numerous outstanding issues.
We believe that, while the challenges of the global economic landscape will not disappear, by working together, Japan and the EU can meet and overcome them. So we should take a page out of the book of the EU’s founding fathers, for whom the road ahead was just as challenging, complex and uncertain, yet who, through dogged commitment and determination, succeeded in realizing their vision. They deserve to remain a cause for celebration and inspiration to us all.