(Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Spokesman)
The EU-Israel Association Council - the body, headed by foreign ministers, which conducts the bilateral relations between Israel and European Union member states - announced today (16 June) an upgrade in the relations between Israel and the EU. The announcement was made at a meeting in Luxembourg, attended by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and EU foreign ministers. This will usher in a new era in Israeli-European relations.
More than a year ago, FM Livni attended a meeting of the Association Council and initiated the upgrading process between Israel and the EU in recognition of Israel's upcoming 60th birthday. At the meeting, a working group was set up to examine the Israeli foreign minister's proposal and to determine the existing and new areas in which cooperation between Israel and the EU would be enhanced.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led by FM Livni and the Western Europe Division, together with various other government ministries, have been working since the last meeting of the Association Council to set up negotiations as quickly and comprehensively as possible for the purpose of upgrading Israeli-EU relations.
The announcement marks the completion of intensive work accomplished by, on the European side, the German, Portuguese and Slovenian EU Presidencies and the EU Commission; and on the Israeli side, a Foreign Ministry team headed by Senior Deputy Director General Yossi Gal, Deputy Director General for Europe Rafi Barak and Ambassador to the EU Ran Curiel.
After the announcement, accelerated negotiations between Israel and the EU will begin, headed by the French Presidency, on the specific content of some of the basic agreements that were formulated today. These are areas that have the potential for close cooperation between the Israeli and European public: the economy, science, trade, the environment, culture, academia and higher education, jurisprudence, and youth, among others.
Israeli-EU relations will be upgraded in three areas: increased diplomatic cooperation; Israel's participation in European plans and agencies; and examination of possible Israeli integration into the European single market.
Some details of the upgrade agreement:
Diplomatic: institutionalization of the diplomatic dialogue between the Israeli and EU leaderships, by means of regular annual meetings on a senior level. In addition, there will be increased meetings between government ministers, senior officials and parliamentarians from both sides.
Israel will join European agencies, programs and working groups. This will mean bringing the Israeli economy and society closer to European norms and standards, and increasing the competitiveness of Israeli companies in the European market, primarily in the field of high-tech, with the signing of an aviation agreement that will lower prices for both sides, and others.
Israel's integration into the European single market - A joint working group will examine the areas in which Israel is capable of integrating into the European single market. This will lay the groundwork for an additional upgrading of relations in the future.
Israel's relations with Europe and with the EU have been improving in recent years. Israel enjoys a significant improvement in diplomatic relations with most European states, as well as with EU institutions, which is expressed, among other ways, in the many visits to Israel paid by European leaders.
In the past year a number of important agreements have been reached, including: an upgrade in the diplomatic-strategic dialogue between Israel and the EU; Israel's joining the R & D program of the EU; and an additional liberalization in the field of agriculture. A framework agreement was signed for Israel to enter EU programs, and an aviation agreement is ready for signing. Also, a high-level business dialogue has been established between Israeli and European business communities. Negotiations on free trade in financial services are also about to begin.
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Remarks by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni following the Association Council meeting:
This is a special day for me as Foreign Minister of the State of Israel. Today, we mark a new phase in the relationship between Israel and the EU. And, for me, it is a special honor to do so in the year that we celebrate 60 years since Israel´s independence.
The time is ripe for concluding the discussion on deepening our relations and cooperation with the intention of establishing additional foundations for the future. I am pleased that at the end of a year of deliberations we are able to convene here in Luxembourg and to declare that Israel and the European Union have decided to upgrade their relations. I believe that the upgrading of our relations benefits us both, and opens a new phase in the growing and deepening ties between Israel and the EU.
I know that the decision was not easy and I appreciate the open and serious discussion you have had on this issue with us and between yourself. This is the culmination of a process I launched here over a year ago, together with the EU leadership, and under the German presidency, to upgrade our relationship - and it also marks a new beginning.
It is clear that Israel and Europe share the same values and the same interests. The political dialogue between us has improved substantially both in quantity and in frequency. Today we have decided to upgrade our relationship even further in various fields including: political, economic, scientific, legal, cultural, education, counterterrorism and much more.
Israel and Europe also share many of the same challenges, especially in our region. I want to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for the key role the EU plays as a Quartet member in relation to the peace process. This includes EU support for the Annapolis process, for capacity building in the Palestinian Authority, and for taking a firm and clear stand against the extremists and the enemies of peace, including Hamas and Iran.
Finally, I want to thank Foreign Minister Rupel of Slovenia, High Representative Javier Solana and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner for their leadership and for a successful Association Council meeting - in which we mark an important milestone in EU-Israel relations.