UPDATE: Jan 08, 2021
Strengthened relations under the SPA
—- How do you see the current relationship between the EU and Japan?
The relationship between the EU and Japan is closer than ever,based on the firm foundation of the EU-Japan EPA and SPA. The EPA boosted trade in both directions by 6% in 2019,the first year of enforcement. It has demonstrated that free trade and an open economy is a positive factor, and protectionism is not the right answer to the challenges of our time. Differently from the 1970s, the EU today is a global actor, security actor and diplomatic actor. Our relations were further strengthened under the SPA. Quite recently, the EU maritime mission together with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force visited Djibouti and carried out a joint naval exercise off the coast of Somalia. Another important area is the rules-based international order. The EU and Japan cooperate closely in international and multilateral fora such as the UN, WHO and WTO, and both of us are making efforts to strengthen them. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that Japan’s goal is becoming carbon neutral by 2050. We warmly welcome his important declaration. The EU has already committed to this goal as a global champion to fight climate change and secure a green recovery from the coronavirus. We should broaden our engagement in renewable energy, hydrogen, and the green economy. Research and innovation cooperation to fight the coronavirus is also important and we should work together.
—- As your priority mission in 2021, what activities will you focus on?
I sincerely hope that we can have a physical EU-Japan summit meeting in Tokyo. I also hope to see the postponed Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. We will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement entering into force. We must see that the coronavirus does not disrupt our cooperation, dialogues and engagement. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there are options to go digital and use our existing networks. We organized a series of EU-Japan webinars on how to deal with the COVID-19 issue. I was encouraged that 3,500 people participated virtually, and 75% were from Japan. We have opened the European Higher Education Fair in digital form. One hundred webinars from universities of 23 EU member countries will be making presentations. We have many Japanese students who have shown interest.
—- Would you give us your views on the future relationship between the EU and the UK?
The EU without the UK is still the world’s second largest market following the US. Regarding the UK, I personally regret their sovereign decision to leave the EU family, but they will remain a neighbor and there are many ties — family, business, culture— and none of that will change. The EU wants an ambitious, future-oriented partnership with the UK as we agreed in the Political Declaration. We expect the UK to observe and respect all the agreements we have made, for instance the Withdrawal Agreement. Getting such a partnership would be mutually beneficial. However, it is all up to the negotiations, and there are some sovereign choices to be made by the UK in terms of how they want to define this relationship and also their own future with the EU. For the EU, we are ready to negotiate 24/7 until the last moment to find a good basis for our future relationship with the UK.The EU has also prepared for the scenario of a no-deal, while negotiations continue. That means if that is the final outcome, we will be ready.
—- In what ways is the EU dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?
All of Europe has been hit hard by this pandemic. I should acknowledge that initially when this pandemic started it was difficult for the EU Member States.But soon, everyone realized the need to manage this crisis at EU level. The EU agreed on measures to ensure that the flow of goods in the EU Single Market could continue despite the lockdowns. Now, the EU has an emergency stock of critical goods and has begun to provide them to Member States.The EU agreed to create a €750 billion ‘recovery fund’ to mitigate the economic shock from the pandemic, and to raise necessary resources from public markets for the first time. The EUMember States agreed on rules for how to open borders to third countries, and adopted a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement. To also respond to the climate crisis, we need to strive for green recovery after the pandemic. I would say that the EU has learned lessons and has managed well in responding to it. The EU is eager to cooperate with Japan as a partner in our response to this pandemic. Both the EU and Japan have contributed to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, and are working with the WHO. The EU has invested heavily in vaccine research and development, but it’s not yet clear when this vaccine might be available to everyone and how efficient and long-lasting its effects will be. We do not yet have any certainty or reassurances.
(Interview by Shu Tamaru, FEC Counsellor)