European Jewish Press
Israel to attempt upgrade its EU status
By Ashley Perry
JERUSALEM-BRUSSELS (EJP)--- Israel is examining the idea of upgrading its relations with the European Union and gaining the status of Norway and Switzerland, which although not members of the EU have free passage for people, capital and merchandise between them and the rest of the EU countries.
The EU-Israel Association Council, the ministerial body which monitors the EU-Israel relations in the framework of the Association Agreement, is to meet next Monday in Brussels in the presence of Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
The EU side will be chaired by German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The EU-Israel Association Agreement, signed in 1995, included in its preamble a declaration that the European Union, the member states and Israel are interested in promoting the integration of Israel’s economy into the European economy.
The Agreement underwent a ratification process between 1996-2000, and entered into force in 2000.
The Association Agreement established two main bodies for the EU-Israel dialogue. The EU-Israel Association Council at ministerial level and the EU-Israel Association Committee at the level of senior officials which meet at regular intervals, to discuss political and economic issues as well as bilateral or regional cooperation.
An Israeli inter-ministerial group has met recently in Jerusalem to discuss upgrading the relations with the EU. Many organs of the Israeli government along with the Israeli National Security Council, academics and NGO’s are working towards a proposal that will be presented at the Brussels meeting.
"We are looking into several options to find the best way to improve our relations with the EU," a senior foreign ministry official has said.
"It will require authorization of all the government ministries."
According to a recent survey by a German political foundation, 75 percent of Israelis woul like to join the EU.
Although Switzerland rejected joining the EU and the agreement on the European Economic Area by public referenda, it still retains very close links with EU.
There are agreements of free trade and free movement of peoples between the EU and Switzerland. Norway also has similar agreements with the EU, making its ties very close to the EU.
Although many see the risks to these two nations by being outside of the EU, Israel harbours no such ideas and would be happy with this status.
The EU is Israel’s main trading partner. More than 30 percent of Israel’s exports are to the EU and 40% of its imports come from the EU.
One organisation that Israel could seek to join is the European Economic Area (EEA) which comprises the 27 EU states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
European Neighbourhood Policy
Monday’s EU-Israel bilateral discussions will also focus on the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) framework under which the EU offers its neighbours a privileged relationship that brings advantages to both sides.
The European Commission has proposed to promote the ENP policy in order to strengthen political, trade, economic and human rights agreements between the EU and nearby countries, including Israel.
The proposals include, among others, the possibility of opening EU programs and agencies to Israeli participation.
On a visit in Israel earlier this week, External Relations European Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner stressed that EU-Israel relations "have moved into a warmer era".
She however added that Israel’s "indecisiveness" toward the European Union is clouding the future of bilateral relations.
"We strongly sense that Israel has not yet made up its mind how to work with us, not surprising given the EU’s complexity and its multifaceted identity," she said in a speech at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
She said the EU is interested in deepening its economic ties with Israel, developing stronger cooperation on energy and transportation issues and increasing the exchanges between business people, academics, local authorities, artists and young people.
At their Brussels meeting, EU foreign ministers will also discuss with their Israeli counterpart the latest developments in the Middle East peace process, especially the upcoming formation of a Palestinian unity government, as well as other regional developments such as the Iranian nuclear programme.