Petr Jezek: “The role of the EP Delegation for relations with Japan has become increasingly important”

Meeting place for the building of good relationships with Japanese Parliament or real diplomatic tool of influent parliamentary diplomacy? What is exactly the real aim of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with Japan? Petr Jezek(PPE), chair of the delegation, answers Daisuke Sanuki (1).

As chair of the delegation of European Parliament for Japan, how would you describe the structural characteristics of this structure? And how are its members nominated?

The European Parliament Delegation for relations with Japan is composed of 45 members in total. 24 of them are full members; the other 21 are substitute members. Members of the delegation are nominated according to Rule 212 of the Rules of Procedure. Firstly, members of the European Parliament have to express their interest in the delegation. Then political groups submit their nominations to the Conference of Presidents (CoP) which then submits proposals to Parliament according to the d’Hondt distribution system. Members are elected at the first or second plenary meeting following the re-election of Parliament for the duration of the parliamentary term.

Beyond this, what are exactly the delegations’ missions and principal activities, and what are the president’s missions? As you may know, not many people do even know that such a delegation exists.

Well, the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Japan is one of the most established in the Parliament. The delegation was created in 1979 and has held annual inter-parliamentary meetings (IPMs) with counterparts from the Japanese Diet since then. The IPMs are held alternately in Japan and at one of Parliament’s places of work. The 34th EU-Japan IPM was held in Tokyo in February 2013. In addition, the Bureau of the delegation or specialized working groups regularly visits their counterpart Parliament to examine specific subjects and to prepare the IPMs.

What kind of subjects, to come back to my question?

The items on the IPMs’ agenda cover areas such as trade, economic and financial issues, environment and climate change, security in the Pacific region, human rights, cooperation in the field of science, technology & innovation. One of the key topics of the EU-Japanese dialogue at present is the process towards a deep and comprehensive EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The EU relationship with Japan is founded on the 2001 EU-Japan Action Plan. But it has broadened in recent years along the lines of the Action Plan and now extends far beyond the trade-related focus of the 1970s and 1980s.

Are these political exchanges limited to inter-parliamentary talks?

No. Furthermore, the delegation meets regularly with Japanese authorities (mainly the Embassy), but also with the EEAS, the European Commission, stakeholders such as NGOs, think tanks, civil society representatives and business associations.

Could we therefore say that the Delegation cannot only be seen as a place where elected people meet but, maybe more, as a key player in a kind of EU-Japan parliamentary diplomacy?

The EU Japan inter-parliamentary delegation constitutes a specific instrument in the external affairs activities of the European Union and helps maintain and develop the Parliament’s international contacts with Japanese counterparts. Its role has then become increasingly important, effectively becoming a form of parliamentary diplomacy.

Could you illustrate that point?

To give you an example, the inter-parliamentary delegation contributes to the work of Parliamentary committees and other Parliamentary bodies, as well as systematically providing material for discussions, in particular in the areas of bilateral inter-parliamentary relations; bilateral political, economic, financial and social relations; international agreements and the external aspects of Union policies on the internal market. The EU-Japan inter-parliamentary dialogue can therefore play an important role in further strengthening EU-Japan relations, for example by serving as an early warning function when identifying possible obstacles in the relationship, thus contributing to greater mutual understanding and to efforts to convince respective public opinions. This concerns in particular the on-going negotiation processes for the Free Trade Agreement and the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), currently key topics in EU-Japan relations. As these agreements cover a wide range of issues, the topics of the inter-parliamentary meetings will be as broad as those of the previous legislative period. Besides trade and economic issues, the on-going negotiations on the SPA underline the increasing attention to strategic issues, such as the arms build-up in the region and the question of maritime security, as it pertains to freedom of navigation in international waters, of importance to both the EU and Japan. Another point to raise on the agenda is the identification of common global interests – in the wider sense – of importance.

But, concretely, how did – or do – the inter-parliamentary dialogs contribute to certain previous or actual discussions and negotiations between EU and Japan, in such areas as the Agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters (2010), COP10 in Nagoya (2010), or SPA?

As I mentioned previously, the EU-Japan inter-parliamentary delegation is an instrument of EU external affairs activities and a form of parliamentary diplomacy. Both the International Trade (INTA) and the Foreign Affairs (AFET) committees also perform such a role. That is why the delegation develops more and more contacts with these two committees. To be more concrete, some of its members are part of these committees and I also participate in relevant meetings of these.

The relations between INTA, AFET and the Delegation are then pretty close, if I follow you…

Yes and I believe it is important to maintain those close relations in order to have a broader picture of the situation in Japan. To go back to the specific areas you’ve mentioned previously, we will for example discuss the Trade Agreement in the delegation and invite the EP rapporteur on the issue to present his perspective on it. Some members of the delegation who are also members of the INTA committee will participate and inform us, keeping in mind that INTA committee is responsible for this. And, as the delegation Chair, I am also often invited to the regular meetings of the INTA standing rapporteur with the EU’s Chief Negotiator. I really think this is a real added value for our work when it comes to exchanges with the Japanese Diet.

During the Nagoya COP10 Summit, the European Parliament has sent a special delegation of MEPs. Did they have any influence on the intergovernmental negotiation?

I cannot say to which extent the delegation might have influenced the negotiations. But I believe, however, that it is important for legislators to attend these kind of negotiations, as they can then ensure the mainstreaming of the discussed item in parliamentary work and the monitoring of government policy at national level. By creating, amending and ratifying laws, they can therefore translate the consensus reached internationally into tangible actions at the national and local levels.

According to all developments you’ve mentioned, would you say that the Delegation became a key player in the EU-Japan inter-parliamentary relations?

EU-Japan inter-parliamentary relations will undoubtedly be reinforced as we will have an important input to make in strengthening the already strong diplomatic relations between the two sides. The main reason is that the European Parliament has gained more power since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. This is clear in the field of international trade where the EP gained further legislative power. In other fields, it has gained more political weight. The Japanese side is fully aware of this. Therefore, they consider contact with the EP paramount when addressing the EU institutions.

(1) Daisuke Sanuki (Japan) is graduated in Master 2 “European studies” at Science Po Strasbourg.

Photo: European Parliament audiovisual service : Petr JEZEK, K.KOSAKA – 35th EU-Japan Interparliamentary meeting (IPM) – 29/04/2015

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