Israel and the EU: What's ahead?

The newly formed Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna is cooperating with Yad Vashem to promote Holocaust remembrance in Europe.

Cibran-Uzal 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Cibran-Uzal 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Where does the future of Israeli-European Union relations stand? Last week I met EU Ambassador to Israel Ramiro Cibrián-Uzal for a talk about relations between Israel and the European Union. The evolution of the EU from a regional economic agreement among six neighboring states in 1951 to today's supranational organization of 27 countries across the European continent stands as an unprecedented phenomenon in the annals of history. Although the EU is not a federation in the strict sense, it is far more than a free-trade association such as ASEAN, NAFTA or Mercosur. It has many of the attributes associated with independent nations: its own flag, anthem, founding date and currency, as well as an incipient common foreign and security policy in its dealings with other nations. In the future, many of these nation-like characteristics are likely to be expanded. Internally, the EU is attempting to lower trade barriers, adopt a common currency and move toward convergence of living standards. Internationally, the EU aims to bolster Europe's trade position and its political and economic power. Because of the great differences in per capita income among member states (from $7,000 to $69,000) and historic national animosities, the EU faces difficulties in devising and enforcing common policies. In 2004 and 2007, the EU admitted 10 and two countries, respectively, that are, in general, less advanced technologically and economically than the other 15. Eleven established EU member states introduced the euro as their common currency on January 1, 1999 (Greece did so two years later), but the UK, Sweden and Denmark chose not to participate. EU Ambassador to Israel Ramiro Cibrián-Uzal took up his position as the head of the European Commission delegation to Israel on January 1, 2005. He came from Brussels, where he worked with EC Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimir Spidla. Cibrián-Uzal joined the EC in 1988 and has served in its directorates general for environment, international trade and external relations. As an EU official he has represented the EU in numerous environmental, nuclear safety, nonproliferation and international trade negotiations, both at bilateral and multilateral level. The Kyoto Protocol, the IAEA Protocol on Extended Nuclear Safeguards and the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization are some of the major international activities in which Cibrián-Uzal has been involved. He has also represented the EU at several G-8 working groups and the World Trade Organization's Committee on Trade and Environment. Here are some excerpts of our meeting. What can be done to reduce anti-Semitism in European countries? The European Union and the member states are doing a lot on both the legal level, through projects on the ground and through formal and informal educational frameworks to reduce anti-Semitism in Europe. A lot of this work is being done in cooperation with Israel. The newly formed Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna is also cooperating with Yad Vashem to promote Holocaust remembrance in Europe. The FRA will have greater capacity to collect information and data, provide advice to the European Union and its member states, and promote dialogue with civil society on anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and racism. In the legal domain, the European Commission recently succeeded in having two important directives approved. The first is the European Union directive for combating racism and xenophobia that makes acts such as racist incitement and Holocaust denial a crime. The second is a directive that allows the banning of audiovisual media services that promote incitement to hatred, including incitement from non-EU countries. Last but not least, 2008 is the Year of Intercultural Dialogue in the European Union. These are just a few examples of how the EU is acting to counter anti-Semitism. We need, however, to continue and increase this work. Why haven't we heard the European Union's voice denouncing the academic sanctions in the United Kingdom against Israelis? The European Union opposes boycotts against Israel and has a very clear policy of fostering dialogue and closer relations with the State of Israel in all fields. The clearest example of this is the jointly agreed EU-Action Plan that is part of the European Neighborhood Policy, and which we are now implementing. The EU has no intention of responding to calls to disassociate Israel from European Community programs such as the 7th Framework Program for Research and Technological Development. Indeed, the trend the EU encourages is the opposite, i.e. for Israel to join more EU programs as part of its gradual integration within the single market of the European Union. How can the European Commission assist Israel to strengthen its commercial relations with moderate Arab countries? Since 1995, when the European Union and its Mediterranean partners launched the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, sometimes known as the Barcelona Process, the EU has been actively pursuing the goal of establishing a free trade area in the Mediterranean, including between the Mediterranean partners themselves and between them and the EU. One way of promoting Israel's commercial relations with its Arab neighbors is by means of the regular Euromed trade meetings, which Israel attends. Another way is by means of the instruments we have developed to promote regional trade, such as accumulation of rules of origin. Israel also takes part in regional trade networks like the MED MARKET network that deals with subjects such as free movement of goods, customs and trade facilitation measures, public procurement and so forth. Obviously, the political problems in the region still constitute a barrier to freer trade - and not just with Israel. But we are doing a lot, including at ministerial level to stimulate greater trading contacts between Israel and its neighbors. Besides the Euromed trade ministerials and the initiative to cumulate rules of origin, the Commission is also actively pursuing trade cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. What does the European Commission intend to do in order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases? Well, as you probably know, in March 2007, the EU's leaders set ambitious goals for the reduction of greenhouse gases, namely the unilateral reduction of greenhouse gases by at least 20 percent and to increase to 20% the share of renewable energies in energy consumption by 2020. Moreover, the EU promised to increase the emissions reduction to 30% by 2020 when a new global climate change agreement is reached that includes commensurate commitments by other major world partners. In order to deliver on those commitments, the European Commission agreed at the end January on a far-reaching package of proposals. These measures will dramatically increase the use of renewable energy in each country and set legally enforceable targets for governments to achieve them. All major CO2 emitters will be given an incentive to develop clean production technologies through a thorough reform of the Emissions Trading System that will impose an EU-wide cap on emissions. How can the EU and Israel join forces to that end? The EU and Israel already fully share the same objective of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Both sides have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and Israel benefits from the Clean Development Mechanism, a UN initiative that allows the transfer of clean technology to countries that don't have fixed reduction targets. In the EU-Israel Action Plan, which is part of the European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Israel cooperation on the environment, including in the field of climate change, is mentioned as a priority. Part of this cooperation takes the form of professional seminars which allow Israeli professionals and government ministries to draw on the knowledge and experience of European counterparts and to prepare legislation that is more in line with international and EU best practice. In the coming months, Israel will host two events relevant to the reduction of greenhouse gases: one on the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control EU Directive, and the other on the Kyoto emissions trading mechanism. Of course, Israel is also a full member of EU's 7th Framework Program for Research and Technological Development, which has reduction of greenhouse gases emissions as one of its areas of activity. How can Israeli companies and entrepreneurs take part in the European effort to replace fossil fuels? One way is via the Eureka network for market-oriented R&D, where Israel has been a member since 2000. This allows Israeli companies to join counterparts in Europe to develop new products, including in the energy field, while benefiting from national funding. Israel has also recently joined Eurostars, a new public-private program financing research-intensive small- and medium-sized companies. One of the priorities of the 7th RTD Framework Program is research into renewable energies. Israel is fully associated to the Framework Program, and Israeli industry participates in a large number of projects co-funded by the EC. What do you think about the new electric car that is being pursued by two Israeli entrepreneurs? It sounds very intriguing and I know that Israel would like to position itself as a leader in this field. If partnerships can be formed for its development with European companies, that would be another sign of how Israeli and European businesses are increasingly finding significant synergies. Of course, the EC continues through FP7 the funding of research into clean-car technologies, including the development of electrically-powered cars. How can the European Union's institutions help promote that initiative in Europe? One of roles of the EU's institutions is to put in place the legal frameworks that promote important areas like the use of clean energy and energy-saving devices. But it would be improper and unfair for them to intervene to support the initiative of this or that company regardless of whether the company is Israeli or European. This is a matter for the private sector. How can Israeli small- and medium-sized enterprises reach out for a bigger share in the European market? This is mainly a question and a challenge for the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, but the European Commission is helping by giving the institute access to the Euro Info Center network. The Israeli branch of this network is based at the institute. This allows Israeli exporters who open a file at the center to link up with another 300 similar Euro Info Centers situated in 48 countries, which makes this the biggest business network in the world. Through this network Israeli exporters can disseminate their profiles, receive information on business opportunities in the European Union, and also identify possible partners for business opportunities and investments in Israel. Israel is also the first neighboring country of the EU to participate in the Competitiveness and Innovation Program, under which the European Commission promotes innovation, entrepreneurship and growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises. Israel has joined the first of three pillars under the CIP, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program. Through the CIP, Israel can cooperate with all 27 member states of the European Union, as well as with other third countries joining the CIP, on a large variety of projects and schemes on competitiveness and innovation. The CIP program runs from 2007 to 2013 with a budget of €3.6 billion. Last but not least, the recently established EU-Israel Business Dialogue, which is chaired on the Israeli side by Mr. Yossi Vardi, the hi-tech entrepreneur, is another mechanism to help Israeli companies, including SMEs increase their business links with Europe. [email protected] Ari Syrquin is the head of the International Department at Joseph Shem-Tov Law Firm