Should Israel join the European Union? A new study could help policy-makers decide.
"Ha'ihud Ha'eropi Visrael: Temunat Matzav 2003" [The EU and Israel: State of the Play 2003] by Dr. Nellie Munin, published by the Israeli Ministry of Finance, 261 pages, no price cited
This book by Dr. Nellie Munin, Israel's economic attach�e to the European Union from 1999 to 2003, fills a vacuum in Israel's professional literature on the ties between the EU and Israel. The book's importance is augmented by the fact that many people are today voicing their support for Israel's joining the EU or for its adoption of the euro as its national currency. Dr Munin presents us with a wealth of facts and figures and describes in detail and at length the special relationship between Israel and the EU.
Anyone who studies the data published by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics will discover Israel's considerable economic dependence on the EU, which is Israel's chief trading partner. For example, the EU imports 77 percent of Israel's agricultural produce; half of Israel's incoming tourism is from the EU and a large portion of Israel's gross national product (GNP) depends on the EU. Some people argue that, because of this economic dependence, Israel's relations with the EU will always be good and will even improve with the passage of time.
On the other hand, Israel is important to Europeans for many reasons: It is an economic and political entity whose existence cannot be overlooked; it is an important supplier of technologies, know-how and unique weapons to the European market; it ensures freedom of navigation and protection of the environment in the Mediterranean; it protects important EU interests, such as the holy sites; and it contributes to the war on global terrorism and prevents terrorists from making their way to the West.
It would seem that the economic connection with Europe is a more natural one for Israel than the economic connection with the United States. Although this opinion is not popular, it cannot be ignored for the following important reasons: The geographical distance and the time differences make it easier for Israel to do business with the EU, for example, from the standpoint of sea and air shipping costs, while the business hours of the EU's financial institutions (banks, stock markets, etc.) are similar to those in Israel.
For these reasons, there are those who argue that Israel should aspire to become a full-fledged member of the EU. The chief advocate of this approach is Prof. Alfred Tovias, who is Walter Rathenau Professor in European Economics at the Hebrew University's Department of International Relations.
He is a world-renowned expert on European integration. Prof. Tovias has published many articles on the ties between Israel and the EU; however, for some reason, his views on Israel's membership in the EU have not sparked any practical moves in that direction.
The first part of the book follows some of the changes generated by Europe's integration, including the monetary union; the process of economic coordination between EU member states; the process of the EU's expansion; harmonization in the financial services market (banking, insurance, and the capital market); attempts to coordinate legislation on direct and indirect taxation; and demographic issues in the EU - such as the unemployment problem, immigration and an aging population - and their ramifications for the EU's economy.
The second part focuses on the economic relationship between Israel and the EU: It describes these relations and analyzes their future objectives. In Munin's opinion, the EU's economic policy toward Israel derives in part from its overall economic policy toward Mediterranean states. The EU originally wanted to sign bilateral agreements with Mediterranean states and, at a later stage, to strengthen its ties with the entire Mediterranean region. The policy is termed the Barcelona Process, whose name is derived from the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership agreed upon between the foreign ministers of the EU and 12 Mediterranean partners (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Malta, Cyprus and the Palestinian Authority) in Barcelona in November 1995. The agreement is founded on mutual recognition of the value inherent in development of close partnership ties in areas where there is a common interest because of the proximity of the regions.
The Barcelona Process
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership focuses on three central objectives: the creation of a region of peace and stability based on the principles of democracy and human rights (political and security partnership); the creation of a region of mutual prosperity through the establishment and ongoing maintenance of free trade between the EU and the Euro-Mediterranean partners and between the partners themselves (economic and financial partnership); and the improvement of mutual understanding between the nations of the region and the development of a free, prosperous civil society (cultural, social and human partnership).
As noted above, the outcome of the Barcelona Process is a series of regional association agreements. Regarding Israel, the legal framework for the relationship between the EU and Israel is the association agreement signed in Brussels on November 20, 1995 and ratified by the parliaments of the EU's 15 member-states, the European parliament, and the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The agreement went into effect on June 1, 2000 and replaces the 1975 agreement on cooperation.
The main points in the association agreement include a continual political dialogue; sections concerning the right to create institutions; liberalization of services; freedom of movement of capital; legislation promoting competition; reinforcement of economic cooperation on the broadest base possible; and collaboration on social matters. In addition, an Association Council, operating at a ministerial level, has been created, as well as an Association Committee, which is responsible for the agreement's implementation. In Munin's view, a close study of the agreement will show that only part of the agreement's potential has been tapped so far.
Even before the agreement's full implementation, the European Commission in March 2003 adopted a position paper that proposed a new framework for the EU's relationship over the next decade with Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and countries in the Southern Mediterranean, including Israel, that are not candidates at this stage for membership in the EU, but which will soon find themselves across the border from the EU. This is the proposal that is termed in the EU "Wider Europe" and which was presented at the European Council in Copenhagen. The expansion of the EU (following the entry of 10 new members in May 2004) will be a golden opportunity for the promotion of stability and prosperity beyond the EU's new borders.
The Wider Europe concept, which is still in its initial stages of formulation, proposes that, in the next decade, the EU will aspire to work in cooperation with other countries in order to develop a region of prosperity and good neighborly relations, or a ring of friendly nations with which the EU will enjoy a relationship of close, peaceful cooperation.
The position paper proposes to neighboring countries the opportunity to participate on a partial basis in the EU's internal market in return for real progress in proving that they share the EU's values and that they are effectively implementing political, economic and institutional reforms.
The reforms must be accompanied by integration and liberalization aimed at the encouragement of the free movement of people, goods, services and capital - the four freedoms declared in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
On this matter, special attention should be focused on the words of the European Commission's president, Renato Prodi, who has said that, in the present era of globalization and the crystallization of a supra-national civil society, the EU's foreign and internal relations can no longer be separated. Instead of creating new lines of separation, a deeper integration of the EU and the ring of friendly nations will accelerate the mutual dynamics in the political, economic and cultural spheres.
According to the position paper, the new policy should be advanced in the area of good neighborly relations by means of strategic programs of action at the national and/or regional level that would be formulated by the European Commission in collaboration with neighboring countries. Nonetheless, Munin explains that Israel should focus on the implementation of the association agreement before contemplating further steps. In her view, the context of an expanded Europe does not run contrary to this conclusion; quite the opposite, it dovetails neatly with it.
It is interesting to note that, in June 2003, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Gunter Verheugen, visited Israel and, in a meeting with Minister without Portfolio in the Finance Ministry Meir Sheetrit, proposed that professional teams from Israel and the EU work together in order to draw up the outlines of a special program for the upgrading of relations within the context of the Wider Europe initiative.
Munin's book is intended in part to serve as a guide for policy-makers, government officials and the private sector and help foster their understanding of the complex processes the EU and its institutions in general, and the EU's relations with Israel in particular, are undergoing. It is to be hoped that it will benefit the public debate currently in progress on the topic as talks are about to be resumed with the Europeans on the upgrading of relations and on the Wider Europe program.
The book's chief drawbacks are the lack of an index and the fact that the table of contents does not convey the message that a very significant part of the book deals with the Wider Europe program, which is a highly substantive issue for Israel today. In a few years, Israel might possibly be willing to concede certain symbols of sovereignty in order to join the European trade bloc; however, a pertinent question will then arise: Will Europe be interested in Israel?
Avi Nov is a doctoral student in the faculty of law of Hebrew University.