Monday

26th Sep 2022

Opinion

Japan is back: Is Europe ready?

  • EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (l) and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe (r) shake hands at the 2015 G20 summit in Antalya. (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

Since the dramatic conclusion of World War II, Europe and Japan have been bound by their long-standing belonging to the ‘wider West’, sharing common values and interests such as democracy and the rule of law, market economy and political and economic multilateralism.

Despite occasional low-points due to ‘trade wars’ in the 1970s and 1980s, and the inherent difficulty in fully connecting the various policies of two players at the opposite edges of Eurasia, relations between Europe and Japan have long served as building blocks for an essentially Liberal world order.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The end of the Cold War presented both sides with a transformed international environment, marked by the dismissal of the high hopes of ‘Pax Americana’, the rise of new powers from Latin America to Eastern Asia, and the fast-paced and multidimensional dynamics injected by globalisation in growth-hungry economies and ageing societies in Europe and Japan.

Recent regional and global developments such as Russia’s ‘geopolitical return’ and the crisis in Ukraine, China’s assertive regional stance, maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas and the US’s ‘Asian pivot’, the unsolved difficulties in restoring an effective multilateral trade system via the World Trade Organization (WTO), will significantly affect Euro-Japanese relations in the near future.

Add to that a lethal mix of conventional and brand-new challenges including ISIS’s ‘sovereign terrorism’ in the Middle East and North Africa, modern piracy in the West Indian Ocean and North Korea’s persisting ‘nuclear gambling’.

Also, since his coming into office in late 2012, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has put forth an ambitious global agenda, including a deal-making impetus in international trade as the ‘third arrow’ of his ‘Abenomics’ formula to boost the Japanese economy, and the adoption of the country’s first-ever National Security Strategy, thus energetically reaching out to Japan’s old and new partners across the world, including Europe.

This calls into question the level of ambition of the historically deep-rooted but politically overlooked partnership between the European Union and Japan.

Towards a stronger economic and political EU-Japan partnership?

From their inception in the mid-1970s, EU-Japan relations have developed into a fully-fledged strategic partnership mostly focussing on economy and trade, foreign policy, development and security. These ultimately remain the key policy fields where further progress is badly needed if both sides truly intend to make the relationship a solid and mutually advantageous anchor in the troubled waters of international politics.

Since March 2013, the EU and Japan have been negotiating an ambitious Free Trade Agreement (FTA)/Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Despite the political impulse given by the latest EU-Japan summit in May, the wishful target of finalising the deal by 2015 was missed.

Such a delay is partly due to the difficulty in reaching a compromise on technically complex areas such as agricultural products and processed food, public procurement, non-tariff measures and geographical indications.

However, the expected economic gains of such an agreement would be significant for both sides, and could potentially link up with the current making of ‘mega-deals’ such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to the long-term benefit of world trade and investment liberalisation.

With the next round of negotiations taking place in Brussels at the end of next month, it is high time for the chief negotiators and their political masters to secure the domestic consensus needed, both in Japan and among EU member states, to move the bargaining to its final stage.

But EU-Japan cooperation also goes beyond economic relations. The two sides have been cooperating closely on issues such as stabilisation and post-war reconstruction in the Western Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, are maximising their synergies in operational theatres such as the Gulf of Aden and the Sahel, have been active in advancing the global debate on multilateral development aid and climate change diplomacy, and have swiftly adopted economic sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea.

The on-going crafting of its ‘global strategy’ also provides the EU with a key opportunity to better reflect on what kind of distinctive role Brussels can and should play in the Asia-Pacific, including in its intricate and volatile security environment. The present negotiations over a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) will thus have to upgrade, and further prioritise, EU-Japan teamwork in the broader external relations domain.

Overall, EU-Japan relations are experiencing a delicate but promising political juncture. This was recently confirmed by the EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and prime minister Abe, under their joint auspices, during the November G20 summit in Antalya, in which they pledged to see the FTA/EPA finalised during the course of this year.

Yet, stronger political will, and a consensual but far-sighted vision, remain essential pre-requisites for success. 2016 will be a crucial year for EU-Japan relations to deliver on the ambitious goal of a comprehensive and meaningful strategic partnership for the next few decades.

Time has come for the European stars and the Japanese sun to shine bright again – this time, together.

Andrea Frontini and Romain Pardo are both policy analysts at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU tiptoes toward trade pact with Japan

Senior European and Japanese officials have indicated their support for a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two sides, although EU officials remain cautious over Japan's real willingness to lift trade barriers.

Why are liberal democracies not winning the argument?

Unlimited freedom to say whatever one wants, the right to love and marry whomever one likes, a democratic decision-making process - we should not fool ourselves into thinking that these are universally accepted concepts.

Agenda

EU-27 to back integration This WEEK

EU leaders meet in Rome to recommit to European integration after Brexit, but Greece and Poland serve as reminders of economic and political divisions.

EU and Japan closing in on trade deal

[Updated] The EU and Japan edge closer to securing a free trade deal on Thursday, ahead of the G20 summit at the end of the week where US protectionism will be an issue.

Column

How to respond, if Moscow now offers peace talks

It is difficult to see how Vladimir Putin can survive more major setbacks or outright defeat. Should this happen, Russia will find itself in a major political crisis. But offering him negotiations now would help him, by easing domestic pressure.

News in Brief

  1. More Russians now crossing Finnish land border
  2. Report: EU to propose €584bn energy grid upgrade plan
  3. Morocco snubs Left MEPs probing asylum-seeker deaths
  4. EU urges calm after Putin's nuclear threat
  5. Council of Europe rejects Ukraine 'at gunpoint' referendums
  6. Lithuania raises army alert level after Russia's military call-up
  7. Finland 'closely monitoring' new Russian mobilisation
  8. Flights out of Moscow sell out after Putin mobilisation order

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  5. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling

Latest News

  1. Ireland joins EU hawks on Russia, as outrage spreads
  2. Editor's weekly digest: Plea for support edition
  3. Investors in renewables face uncertainty due to EU profits cap
  4. How to apply the Nuremberg model for Russian war crimes
  5. 'No big fish left' for further EU sanctions on Russians
  6. Meloni's likely win will not necessarily strengthen Orbán
  7. France latest EU member to step up government spending in 2023
  8. Big Tech now edges out Big Energy in EU lobbying

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us