It is a welcome sign of changing times in the Middle East that a mission of 65 industry associations and representatives from 17 member states of the European Union is visiting Israel for two days in late October on a “mission for growth.” The mission is led by Antonio Tajani, the Italian politician who was a cofounder of the Forza Italia party in 1994 and was the former spokesman for the government of Silvio Berlusconi, and who is now European Commission vice-president responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship. The aim of the mission is to strengthen business relations between the EU and Israel and to explore opportunities for cooperation between European and Israeli SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises).
The mission is to discuss various sectors of the economy: among them are space technologies, information and communication technology, water and environmental technologies, raw material, and homeland security. Commissioner Tajani in May 2012 called for Europe to become more innovative in order to compete with other countries and engage in “robust and sustainable growth.” In September 2013 he was even more downright: “We (Europeans) face a systematic industrial massacre.” The conclusion was that European industry must be made more robust, sustainable, and more growth-oriented.
The premise of the mission to Israel is that the dynamic economy of Israel can help the growth and competitiveness of industry in the EU countries. The expectation is that this can be done by promoting innovation and sustainable growth, by helping EU companies operate in Israel, and by promoting partnership between Israeli and European companies in those sectors identified as leading industries in Israel. The EU appears to have acknowledged the significant strides made by Israel in research and development.
All this is flattering to Israel and is a welcome change from the less than cordial political posture of the EU towards Israel in recent years. Conflicts have arisen over the EU Venice Declaration of 1980 which was the EU’s first official statement on the Arab-Israeli conflict, over the participation of the EU in the 1991 Madrid peace conference, over the Israeli Operation Grapes of Wrath when Israel in April 1996 was defending itself against terrorism by Hezbollah in South Lebanon, and especially over the Israeli settlements in the disputed territories.
The most recent contentious decisions of the EU came in 2013 when the EU issued a directive that the Israeli government declare in any future arrangements with the EU that settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are outside the State of Israel. EU grants, funding, prizes, or scholarships will not be given to Israelis unless this is made clear. Since 1998 the EU has held that the territories are not part of Israel and therefore products produced in them must not benefit from preferential treatment.
The October 2013 mission must be put in the context of trade and cultural relations between the two sides already in existence. The EEC, the forerunner to the EU, established diplomatic relations with Israel in …read more