The EU and Israel: Facing the challenges together

EU’s commissioner for enlargement and European neighborhood policy makes plain centrality of breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Talking Peace 311 (photo credit: lior Mizrahi (AP))
Talking Peace 311
(photo credit: lior Mizrahi (AP))
Iam happy to visit your beautiful country for the first time in my capacity as European commissioner for enlargement and European neighborhood policy to discuss ways to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the EU.
Both the EU and Israel are relatively young actors on the international scene. We first established relations in the late 1950s, when what is today’s European Union was taking its first steps and Israel was a 10- year-old state struggling to establish itself against heavy odds.
Since then, the EU and Israel have both grown stronger, and so have our bilateral ties. A set of formal agreements has brought our diplomatic and economic relations to an extremely intense level. In parallel, Europeans and Israelis from various walks of life have discovered that they are increasingly enjoying the benefits of our proximity and similarity.
Israelis are finding that the EU, with its massive, borderless internal market, is an attractive destination for business, tourism and academic studies. Israeli filmmakers, authors, musicians and artists are finding an interested audience. Europeans for their part are beginning to discover that Israel is a “Start-Up Nation” – a hi-tech and entrepreneurial center of global importance.
Last year, there were more than one million tourists from the EU to Israel.
The European Neighborhood Policy has made a huge contribution toward deepening and broadening relations.
This policy has led to increased harmonization of Israeli standards and business legislation with EU practice, thus making it easier for Israeli companies to do business in the EU, which became Israel’s largest foreign export market. Last year, our total trade reached 20 billion Euros.
New agreements in the fields of trade in agricultural goods and conformity of standards have been signed, with a view of further improving Israel’s access to the EU market. A new comprehensive agreement on aviation is being negotiated which, once signed, is bound to bring more Europeans to Israel and Israelis to Europe. Finally, in the most rewarding field of our cooperation, research and development, Israeli scientists are involved in some 800 EU-funded research projects worth over 4.3 billion Euros.
DUE TO the intensity of our ties, in 2008 we decided to upgrade the relations to enhance our ability to achieve common goals. This decision is yet to be realized. There is an inescapable political element. A decisive breakthrough in the peace negotiations will pave the way to moving ahead with the upgrade.
The EU is fully engaged in supporting the Middle East peace process. Its commitment to Israel’s security is clear and firm, as is its belief that a peaceful resolution of the conflict can only result in two states living side-byside in peace, security and prosperity, based on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both. There is no alternative to negotiations between the parties, and the EU is fully engaged on the ground, as well as at political level, to help find a solution.
My colleague Catherine Ashton, EU Commission vice president and high representative for external relations, has come three times this year to discuss with her Israeli and Palestinian counterparts the EU views on the peace process and convey our support for direct negotiations.
Formidable challenges lie ahead of Israel, and the EU is prepared to provide all the support necessary to overcome them. Our cooperation so far has helped achieve important results, but has yet to reach its full potential.
As European commissioner for the neighborhood policy, I have started a reflection on how best to enhance its impact, and I know that I can count on the cooperation and advice of the Israeli government. It will be a great privilege for me to visit and have the opportunity of discussing the challenges and opportunities of our longstanding and vibrant relations. What matters at the end of the day is that the EU and Israel cooperate in a spirit of mutual trust for the benefit of their citizens. This is my objective for this visit in particular, and for the EUIsrael ties in general.
The writer is EU commissioner for enlargement and the European neighborhood policy.