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EU enjoys close ties with Japan

by Hans Dietmar Schweisgut

Ambassador Of The European Union To Japan

Today is Europe Day, marking the day in 1950 when then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman laid out a vision for post-war Europe that was to form the basis of the integrated Europe we know today.

I have just returned from Brussels, where I attended this year’s EU-Japan Summit. It was the final stop — and fitting culmination — for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 10-day sweep of Europe during the Golden Week break.

For a few years now, leaders of the EU and Japan have been working to bring the bilateral relationship to a higher level to realize its unfulfilled potential, delivering benefits for all our citizens. I believe this is increasingly becoming a reality. Europe and Japan not only share and uphold values and principles such as democracy, human rights and a rules-based and peaceful world order; we are also stepping up tangible cooperation in areas ranging from trade and investment, to defense and security to innovation and people-to-people exchanges.

After decades, if not centuries, of terrible wars, the nations of Europe — both victors and vanquished — had had enough, and Schuman’s call for the joint production and management of the materials necessary for military aggression, coal and steel, bore fruit. In 1952, the European Coal and Steel Community was founded. With six founding members, the ECSC was the first step toward the European integration we celebrate today, whereby in just a little more than six decades, the EU now boasts a membership of 28 countries with a total population of more than 500 million. Our largest enlargement to date was in May 2004, when we welcomed 10 new states into the European family — Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia —and put an end to the postwar division of the continent; we celebrate the 10th anniversary of that historic occasion today as well.

Just as special this year, however, is that we mark the 40th anniversary of the opening of a delegation of what was then the European Communities (EC) here in Japan and which has evolved to become the Delegation of the European Union with the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. The 1970s were trying times for bilateral relations between Europe and Japan, as both were affected by the negative impact of the oil shock of 1973. At a time when Europe was facing difficult structural issues in its economy, Japan was increasingly being accused of vigorously promoting its exports while at the same time keeping its market closed, resulting in what Europe and other trading partners saw as an unhealthy trade surplus. As a result, the main focus of bilateral negotiations between Europe and Japan back then was how to deal with trade frictions.

It was against such a backdrop that the Delegation of the EC in Japan was established in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward in July 1974.

In March 1978, the EC and Japan issued a joint statement after consultations in Tokyo on the measures to be taken to correct or at least mitigate the impact of Japan’s trade surplus. The statement was regarded by European leaders “as a first step,” but the trade imbalance was not corrected as swiftly as they would have liked.

During the 1970s and 1980s, efforts were made not only to correct the trade imbalance — Japan agreed to various voluntary export restrictions, while actions were taken to spur imports of European products into Japan — and also to broaden industrial cooperation with the launch of the Executive Training Programme by the European Commission in 1979 and the creation of the EC-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation in Tokyo in 1987. More exchanges among academics, journalists and researchers were actively encouraged.

Bilateral ties strengthened in the 1990s after a series of European Treaties, notably the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty, made it clear that Europe was heading toward deeper integration, economically and politically — a process that was to create the EU as we know it today.

On July 18, 1991, the Joint Declaration on relations between the EC and its member states and Japan was signed in The Hague, on the occasion of the first EC-Japan Summit. This document marked a turning point in ties between Europe and Japan by moving the relationship beyond trade and investment. Policy dialogues began on a wide range of issues, from social and labor issues to the environment, industrial policy and science and technology. Summits between the leaders of the two sides began to be held on an annual basis.

The launch of the single European currency, the euro, in January 1999 was a milestone for political and economic integration in Europe, and made the EU a significant player in the global economy. Policymakers in both Europe and Japan were increasingly aware that a closer partnership between these large economies and like-minded, mature democracies would benefit not only each other, but the world as a whole.

In January 2000, Yohei Kono, then Japan’s foreign minister, gave a policy speech in Paris in which he called for a decade of bilateral cooperation to launch a “Japan-Europe Millennium Partnership,” supported by three pillars: realizing shared values while respecting diversity; strengthening bilateral political cooperation, in such areas as conflict prevention and nuclear nonproliferation; and working to share the benefits of globalization worldwide.

Following this, the leaders of the EU and Japan agreed at their summit a year later on a 10-year action plan for bilateral cooperation titled “Shaping Our Common Future.” The plan listed more than 100 areas where the EU and Japan could deepen their collaboration, and covered issues as diverse as reform of the United Nations to strengthening cooperation on information and communication technology, development policy, societal challenges such as aging societies and enhancing people-to-people exchanges. We were well on our way to becoming strategic partners working together on global challenges. This action plan launched more focused dialogue on foreign policy issues, and in such policy areas as environment, information society, science and technology and trade and financial services. It also laid the groundwork for new projects for cooperation.

Meanwhile, the EU underwent a major institutional change with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, which has given the EU the institutional framework to make good on its pledge to become a player in the international community befitting of its economic clout. As a result of the Lisbon Treaty, the delegation in Tokyo became part of the EU’s diplomatic arm, the European External Action Service, and came under the authority of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The delegation now has a significantly enhanced mandate and represents all of the EU Institutions in Japan, dealing with foreign and security policy, economic and trade policy and global issues such as climate change and energy security.

While the 2001 Action Plan achieved a lot during the first decade of the new millennium, it still did not fully exploit the potential in our relationship. The EU and Japan therefore agreed in March 2013 to launch parallel negotiations toward two agreements: a strategic partnership agreement, a legally binding pact that would set out fields for cooperation on political, global and sectoral issues, and an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA). Just over one year has passed since the negotiations began, and we are currently in the midst of a review process for the FTA.

Looking back over the past four decades, much has been accomplished. Mr. Kono’s speech has proven far-sighted — the EU and Japan are natural partners. We believe in rules-based, effective responses to global challenges. Given our combined global economic weight and international standing, we have a common responsibility to show joint leadership. Our cooperation now covers some of the most pressing and complex global challenges, from energy security to achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, from green growth to cybersecurity. We are moving beyond official bilateral dialogues to concrete cooperation in multilateral forums on disarmament, nonproliferation and human rights. And beyond the meeting rooms, we have some good stories to tell: Anti-piracy cooperation in the Gulf of Aden is a good example of the EU and Japan working successfully together. On Jan. 18, the French EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia Operation Atalanta flagship FS Siroco, in cooperation with Japanese assets, captured the crew of a dhow that was suspected to have been used as a pirate mother ship. Five suspected pirates believed to be responsible for an attack on an oil tanker a day earlier were apprehended.

Best of all perhaps, people-to-people contacts between the EU and Japan are steadily increasing. We currently support four EU Institutes in Japan, which promote bilateral academic cooperation and education not only in such areas as European political science and economics, but also in other fields including environment, medicine and other science and technology-related areas. On a more individual level, in 2004 the EU launched Erasmus Mundus, a program that offers scholarships and opportunities for academic cooperation between Europe and the rest of the world, and some 40 Japanese students have made use of this unique opportunity since its inception.

In a world as complex as today’s, close collaboration between like-minded partners has never been more important. We look forward with confidence to the next stage in our partnership.

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