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BRUSSELS — After the Cold War, in which Europe and Japan played subordinate political — and military — roles to Washington, the European Union and Japan found themselves in the position of being “economic giants” but “political dwarves.”

Both have been shortsighted in privileging EU-U.S. and U.S.-Japan relations over building an EU-Japan relationship. The almost exclusive focus on economic concerns and trade has hampered the ability of both to strike out and shape developments in their own “near abroad” to counter U.S. hegemony.

In Tokyo during the 1980s, ties between the EU and Japan were largely economic. They were restricted because national sentiment, and hence domestic politics, was based on concern about the possible effects of trade liberalization.

In Brussels, EU leaders were divided. Alarmed by the trade deficit and trade barriers, some favored protectionism against Japanese access to the EU’s new single market. Others were open and alert to the possibilities and opportunities of liberalization.

Times have changed. Free trade won the day. With the multiple competing centers of the global economy, it is in the interest of both Japan and the EU to develop a sophisticated, open and free trading relationship. Business Groups in the EU and Japan would like to see the two sides negotiate an economic integration agreement, and thus leapfrog a simple free trade agreement.

In today’s political climate, with the rise of China and India, the value of EU-Japan relations will enhance free trade issues of environmental, foreign and security policy. With nation states losing sovereignty by the day due to the consequences of globalization, hence losing the ability to be autarkic, EU-Japan relations must look outward.

One key issue will be to attempt to work together to ensure an advantageous outcome to the Doha development round of trade talks. The current window of opportunity will not remain open much longer after summer, as the current U.S. administration loses its momentum. In the medium term, the new incoming U.S. administration must be pressured to catch up with the obligations of the Kyoto Protocol and go beyond to even stronger action to deal with climate change.

The EU’s power and influence in foreign and security policy will continue to grow, despite the setback of Ireland’s failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

Tokyo contributed nearly $13 billion to the first Persian Gulf War at the behest of Washington. Today it is contributing generously to Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa — all areas where the EU is also involved and where shared approaches and partnerships enhance benefits to givers as well as receivers.

Japan and the EU also share an equal interest in a successful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The EU should recognize the drive behind Japan’s desire to become a “normal country” regardless of whether this is formalized through a revision of the United States-imposed Constitution of 1947. At the same time we must acknowledge the legitimate concerns that will arise among the nations of East Asia and try to assuage them by directing Japan’s energies through the auspices of the United Nations and the Security Council. Normal countries take that path while “abnormal” countries threaten “preemptive deterrence.”

Cooperation in a global age is based on respect for and adherence to universal values. Near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the EU and Japan should unite in their approach and purpose. They must use each other’s strength to advance common global interests.

Glyn Ford, a European Parliament member on the EP Japan delegation, recently returned from Japan where he participated in the Party of European Socialists Dialogue with the Democratic Party of Japan, Social Democratic Party, and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation.

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