BRUSSELS (Aug. 28)
In a step that promises closer ties between Israel and the 12 member states of the European Union, England and France have agreed to Israel’s full participation in the E.U.’s scientific research and development programs.
The step, which had been previously opposed for protectionist reasons, came only days after Foreign Minister Shimon Peres secured a promise from German authorities that they would help push forward Israel’s request to upgrade its overall trading status with the European Union.
According to an Israeli source, the agreement by France and England to allow Israel’s participation in the E.U.’s five-year scientific research programs paves the way for a final decision by the remaining members of the E.U. at a meeting next month of the European Research Ministers Council.
Participation in the E.U.’s scientific programs could give Israel some $30 million in annual benefits.
The speeding up of technological and scientific links with the E.U. is also of great importance to Israel since it could help close its current $5 billion trade deficit with the E.U., which is its main trading partner.
Israel’s participation in scientific research could also open the door for European companies to profit more from the high technological level of Israeli industry.
For months, Israel has been engaged in negotiations with the E.U. to update its 1975 trade and economic agreement with the European body, particularly in the area of research and development projects.
NEGOTIATIONS PROCEEDING SLOWLY
The E.U. decided to strengthen relations with Israel after it signed the Palestinian self-rule accord last fall.
But, according to several sources, negotiations on the formalization of a new agreement are proceeding slowly.
One of the problems appears to be the scope of the agreement both parties would reach for cooperating in the scientific and technological arena.
In a statement issued at their biannual European Summit Conference, held in June at the Greek island of Corfu, the leaders of the E.U. expressed their desire that any updating of the 1975 agreement with Israel be coupled with a separate agreement on scientific and technical cooperation.
They also asked the European Council of Ministers to “do their utmost that these two agreements may be completed before the end of the year.”
In June, Peres met with the E.U.’s Council of Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg in an effort to establish closer economic ties with the 12 European states that comprise the E.U., which was formerly known as the European Community.
Israel is seeking to have an associate status with the E.U., similar to that of such countries as Switzerland and iceland, which are not full members of the organization.
This status would give Israel similar benefits to those of the union’s regular members, except that it would have no voting rights within the organization.
Before Israel and the E.U. agree on a new overall trade pact, negotiations will continue on a number of issues, including Israeli agricultural exports and telecommunications.
More meetings involving experts from both sides are expected before any agreement is concluded.