The 2013 Japan-EU Summit – unequal expectations for a “Global Political Agreement”?

EU Japan summit image

The 21st Japan-EU (European Union) Summit will be held in Tokyo on Monday, March 25. What can we expect?

Past performance does not offer much cause for optimism. In 1991 both sides signed the Japan-EU Joint Declaration, which was followed in 2001 with a 10 year Action Plan. Now after more than 20 years since the Declaration not much action has followed. Even the action plan itself expired in 2011.

However, there may be reasons to hope for this relationship to pick up. Japan has been the object of extra attention from Europe of late (link), and vice versa (link). This is particularly true of attention from the UK, as covered in an earlier post (link). Estonia has hopes to engage Japan further on cyber security (link). The EU had an ‘Asian Summer’ last year (link), and says it is keen to keep up the momentum in 2013. But are expectations similar on both sides?

If you read Japan’s ambassador to the EU, Kojiro Shiojiri, expectations for the summit on Japan’s side are high –

To truly shift gears in our relations we must also [in addition to the Economic Partnership Agreement] conclude a substantial and broad based political agreement, which we call a Global Partnership Agreement (GPA). This agreement will be the first ever legally binding document between Japan and the EU which comprehensively covers political and security areas. We need to make its content ambitious and substantial. ” (emphasis added)

Ambassador Shiojiri notes the security cooperation between Japan and the EU with reference to counter-piracy off the horn of Africa, and looks to the GPA to provide new impetus for cooperation on Human Rights, counter-proliferaton and cyber terrorism. In a recent talk with ‘Friends of Europe‘, he had this to say:

For Japan, the EU is a crucial partner, not just a strategic partner,” says Ambassador Shiojiri. “Both the economic and political agreements between the EU and Japan are very relevant. The political agreement is about peace, security and responsibilities. The economic one is about revitalising our economies and societies. The world is changing. The political agreement will allow the EU and Japan to work together to respond more effectively and take on bigger responsibilities to tackle global challenges,” Shiojiri told Friends of Europe ahead of the Tokyo summit. We have political declarations but Japan and the EU do not have a joint enterprise or project. This time we should be ambitious and produce added value for our relationship,” he said. “We should be closer. The width and depth of our relations are not commensurate with the importance of our partnership. We should shift gears and transform our relations.”

In an earlier speech in November 2012, the Ambassador also indicated that he anticipated progress on cooperation on space and disaster management, but he went further, saying (about counter-piracy cooperation off Somalia) that:

I hope that the political agreement will enable us to strengthen this kind of cooperation with the CSDP and facilitate Japan’s participation in EU missions” (emphasis added).

Certainly there is precedent for non-EU members to take part in Collective Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions. The United States participates in CSDP missions in Kosovo and Congo. In May 2011 the EU and US concluded a framework agreement facilitating US participation in EU-led crisis management operations. Similar agreements are in place also with Canada, Iceland, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine. So why not Japan? How better to demonstrate concrete ‘action’ on the political and security front with Japan, and for the EU to show it is serious about its pivot to Asia?

That is all very well in terms of Japan coming to Europe – now how about the other way around?

This summit will be in Tokyo, and it will be interesting to see if Prime Minister Abe – who recently called for the UK and France to stage a ‘comeback’ into Asian security (link) – will be inviting the institutions of the EU to play a stronger role in Asian security too. If not, it would tend to confirm the suspicion that getting Europeans involved in Asia is achieved more easily via bilateral channels rather than the EU’s institutions for foreign and security policy.

Will the EU respond to Abe’s call? The omens are not great – the High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy and EEAS chief Ashton is not expected to attend (nothing to do with her condemnation of Japan’s use of the death penalty, I hope; so much for cooperation in the field of Human Rights). The EU Delegation to Japan’s site says that “The EU will be represented by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. European Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht will also participate in the summit”. Hmm. More trade again? Who is covering the political and security file?

We’ll have to wait until Monday to know (and there’s a press briefing this morning in Brussels), but it feels to me like the EU handling of the summit may provide further confirmation of these trends –

(1) EU lets its relations with Asian countries be dominated by economics and trade priorities and neglects politics and security issues (again. Whatever else is said);

(2) EU is reluctant to make any move on security issues that could be interpreted as taking sides on Asia’s security problems (for fear of jeopardising economic relations with China or spooking Washington about European independence);

(3) Asian nations looking to engage Europe on security and defence issues are better off going bilaterally.

But I hope the desire to maintain momentum from the European Pivot in 2012 will also bring some progress on security cooperation –

a) something concrete on cyber defence?

b) a commitment for Japan to move from ‘cooperation’ to ‘participation’in CSDP missions? Mali may be a bit much, but Indian Ocean counter-piracy is possible.

I would like to see (but don’t expect) the EU and Japan to work on some other things through their Framework Agreement:

(i) A Human Security approach to preventive action (e.g. to head off instability and conflict in places like Sahel, Central Asia).

(ii) A statement on what common commitment to ‘a rules based approach’ means for Asia’s maritime disputes?

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