The EU and Japan forge close ties through the EU Commission to Japan

by Danielle Tate-Stratton

Japan and the European Union (EU) share a combined population of roughly 620 million, good enough for less than 10 percent of the world’s population, yet between them are responsible for more than 40 percent of its GDP. Recognizing this combined power, the EU and Japan have been building a strong relationship since 1974, with the establishment of the Delegation of the European Commission to Japan. Enjoying full status as a diplomatic mission and represented by the Head of Delegation, Hugh Richardson, who is accorded all of the rights of an Ambassador, the EU Commission to Japan works to further highlight and strengthen the ties between these two entities. According to the commission, “Both the EU and Japan share the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and are committed to an open international economic system based on market principles. These common interests make the EU and Japan natural allies in their efforts to develop a stable multilateral political and economic system.” It is these similarities that help further a partnership, which was officially strengthened in 1991, with the signing of the Joint Declaration on relations between the European Commission and its Member States and Japan in The Hague.

Now, as the EU celebrates 50 years since its inception, it continues to work with Japan to support common international and inter-governmental goals. This pact of cooperation has a history spanning 16 years—since 1991 when the first Joint Declaration was signed with the idea of opening up communication in order to work towards common goals held by the EU and Japan. In 2001, those goals, including the desire to promote freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and the principles of a market economy were renewed with the 2001 Action Plan. In order to work towards these goals, several regular political meetings take place, including annual summit meetings and biannual meetings between the EU Troika (President of the Council of the European Union, the new High Representative for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security  Policy and the EC Commissioner responsible for CFSP) and Japan. The EU and Japan both work together to develop each other’s interests; for instance, Japan has been investing in developing European nations such as Bosnia, while the EU has taken a vested interest in promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The EU Commission to Japan also works to support and promote the interests of EU businesses in Japan (as opposed to Japanese businesses in the EU). For instance, until last year, the EU Commission ran a very successful program entitled “Gateway to Japan”, which helped small and medium sized European companies break into the Japanese market.

Despite being the second largest economy in the world, because of the tradition-steeped business culture here, it is considered to be harder for foreigners to break into the market, something that this program aimed to help through campaigns targeting the Construction Materials, Environmental Technologies, European Fashion Design, Healthcare, Information & Communication Technologies, and Interior Lifestyle sectors. Assistance went to companies in the form of technology and trade fairs in Japan, as well as preparation in Europe, financial and logistical support while in Japan, and follow up support for companies once in Japan. For European companies, these sector-specific trade fairs were a valuable way to make connections. In fact, the third and final campaign concluded having put 1,070 companies from 24 member states into contact with potential business partners in Japan over the course of 38 events. Plans are afoot to reinstate the campaign in 2008 and also to match European businesses with opportunities in Korea.

On a more individual level, the Executive Training Program is geared towards individual businessmen from the EU looking to succeed in the Japanese business environment. The program started in 1979, and since its inception, over 1,000 businessmen have taken part in this comprehensive program which sees participants spend three months learning about Japanese business culture in either London, Paris, or Milan, before embarking on six months of intensive language learning and cross cultural training at Waseda University, with the goal of attaining JLPT level two or three. The program concludes with a three-month internship in a Japanese company. This has led to the development of several extended relationships. For instance, in his post-trip report, British water engineer David de Hoxar said that, “I expect that my time in Japan working with MKK and learning about Japanese business will lead on to a long and profitable relationship between Southern Water and MKK.”

All program participants must be sponsored by a company with EU-ties, which has five or more employees. For further information on how your EU-based company can get involved, visit In addition to these longer-term programs, the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation ( offers a series of shorter, five–six day training seminars for EU-based professionals, both in Japan and the EU as well as the Vulcanus in Japan program which sponsors young engineering or science students from the EU and gives them the chance to partake in four months of language training followed by eight months of Japanese work experience.

Although those programs are aimed squarely at entrepreneurs, the EU and Japan also offers a weeklong series of more general events each year. Coming under the umbrella of ‘EU-Japan Friendship Week’, the series of events is scheduled around Europe Day each May 9 and have grown to far exceed the one-week time frame. This spring’s events included EU Quiz Days at Chuo University, Lectures on the euro given by Dr. Günther Grosche, EU Film Days at the National Film Center, Tokyo, school enrichment programs, and talks and symposiums about Europe held across Japan.

Inspired by the success of Friendship Week, several Cultural Institutes, open year round, have formed across Japan. Seven countries including Germany, the UK and the Czech Republic are spreading their countries’ culture throughout Japan. Recently, the Goethe-Institut (Germany), in Tokyo, hosted modern day explorer Michael Martin, who discussed his incredible, multi-year journey and ensuing book through the Deserts of the Earth while showing hundreds of slides to a packed audience of people enjoying German beer and sausages.

With 27 delegations making up the EU, and more being constantly added as they begin to meet the EU’s standards, known as the Copenhagen Criteria, which, in part, require countries to have a solid democratic government and a respect for human rights and the rule of law, the EU offers unparalleled diversity to Japan. With a central body—The European Union Commission to Japan—governing and implementing a variety of programs based around entrepreneurship, science, art, culture, people to people exchange, and political policy, its easy to get involved.

A Brief History of the EU in Japan
Now boasting 27 member-states, the EU is a global force to be reckoned with. However, in 1959, when the first bilateral diplomatic seeds were planted, only a few member states were officially recognized. The history of both the EU and its diplomatic ties with Japan is a short but impressive one; read below for a short overview of this diplomatic partnership.

1959: Japan’s Ambassador in Belgium is accredited as Japan’s first Representative to the three European Communities.
1974: Establishment of the Delegation of the European Communities in Tokyo.
The Joint Declaration on relations between the EC and its Member States and Japan is signed in The Hague. (1st EC-Japan Summit)
1979: The Executive Training Programme (ETP) is set up by the European Commission.
1984: 1st EC-Japan Ministerial Meeting.
1986: The Commission launches its fellowship scheme to enable young research scientists to work in Japanese research bodies and universities.
1987: The EC-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation is established in Tokyo.
1996: The EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation is established in Brussels, Vulcanus programme is started.
2001: 1st EU-Japan Friendship Week.
2007: 16th EU-Japan Summit in Berlin.