Earlier this month, President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, visited Israel.
Just weeks after EU foreign ministers had castigated Israel for its policies in the West Bank, Mr Barroso said at the official dinner hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres: “We are committed to continually strengthening the vital links between Europe and Israel — economic, social, cultural and scientific, and I reiterate the EU’s fundamental commitment to Israel’s security.”
Those sentiments were embodied in an EU move this week to upgrade its diplomatic and trade ties with Israel.
Part of its new European Neighbourhood Policy, the European Commission’s Action Plan looks to boost the “scope and intensity of political co-operation” between the EU and Israel, to reduce trade barriers, and to align economic legislation in specific areas.
It will also deepen “trade and economic relations, extending them to cover, inter alia, the service sector, particularly financial services, and provide the conditions for increasing investment and exports”.
Even if the Association Agreement — the first EU-Israel agreement, signed in 1995 — remains the framework for co-operation, the Action Plan is a declaration of mutual objectives and commitment to building foundations for enhanced EU-Israel relations.
This is very good news for Israel and the EU. Another surprising positive is that the Action Plan covers issues such as fighting terrorism and combating antisemitism.
A step towards better and stronger long-term relations between the EU and Israel, if this partnership becomes as strong as expected, Israel will be on track to become a member of the EU.
Difficulties will arrive when the European Parliament discusses the matter: the traditionally critical voices will try to impeach the plan or reduce it to a vague document.
The European Parliament will be the Action Plan’s crossroads, but this plan is a strong basis for Israel to move closer to the EU.
Nuno Wahnon Martins is B’nai B’rith International’s Director of European Union Affairs