Sunday, September 7, 2008

Three Presidencies agree on broad programme

Brussels, September 2 - The 18 month three consecutive presidency programme was addressed by French, Czech and Swedish ministers today (September 2) at the European Parliament in Brussels. Speaking to journalists, the three ministers highlighted the continuity of the efforts of the presidencies to address issues of vital interest to the European Union.

The Czech Republic during its first six months of 2009, will observe the 20 years of fall of Iron Curtain and five years of the big European enlargement, according to Alexandr Vondra, the Czech Deputy Prime Minister.

The two main issues that his government will pursue will be energy security and building the eastern partnerships. Noting that the US elections will be over then, the Czech presidency will be "looking forward to energising trans-Atlantic co-operation in all areas." "Balkans seems to be somehow forgotten but we along with Sweden will move forward at least with Croatia," the minister said adding, "We expect to move to the final stage the talks with at least Croatia."

Cecilla Malmstrom, Swedish foreign minister called her upcoming second half of 2009 presidency as "most exciting" as it follows the completion of the European parliament elections and the formation of a new European Commission.

Answering a question from New Europe about what the three presidencies are planning to do about the EU's foreign policy which is nothing but a "reconstruction policy," nowadays, the French Europe Minister, Jean-Pierre Jouyet agreed saying, "We can not have a foreign policy just specialised in reconstruction. We need to do some deep thinking about European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) before the end of the year. Europe's response should represent both civilian and military stand points."

Swedish foreign minister lamented the lack of Lisbon Treaty provisions in force saying, "If we had the Treaty, we would have had better machinery and we could have done better," adding, "We have to work on finding and working on specific neighbourhood policy with a very pro-active European policy."

"Political will and commitment are required to do that," she added.

South Korea, EU fail to resolve FTA differences

Seoul, September 1 - South Korea and the European Union failed to narrow their gap in their free trade agreement (FTA) talks, South Korean Trade Ministry sources said on August 29, but European Union negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero told New Europe on August 30 in Seoul, “We had a very fruitful discussion and we agreed to continue talks.”

About the ministerial level meeting before the end of the year, the EU negotiator told New Europe, “We expect to have the meeting sometime in October this year.” 

South Korean Deputy Trade Minister Hye-min Lee joined his European counterpart Bercero in the eighth round of talks held in the framework of FTA negotiations since April last year.

During a three-day negotiations in Seoul, South Korean capital, the two sides decided to go ahead and seek a package solution on “sticky” issues like auto trade with a meeting proposed in mid-September, Korean sources told New Europe. 

According to business sources speaking to New Europe the EU had flatly rejected the demand of South Korea with a booming auto-industry, to drop tariffs on South Korean cars within three years after the bilateral talks take effect.

Earlier on the eve of the talks, Deputy Minister and Deputy chief negotiator Lee spoke to New Europe on the “sticky” issues and expectations on both sides. “On the services sector, the EU expects we should give more than what we have given to the US - but when we negotiated with the US - we already had EU FTA in mind.” “What we have agreed with the US is not just for the US but also for the EU. The Europeans are asking for more than that which is very difficult,” he said. 

“We will be obliged to change our regulations but European will not change anything while Europeans are set to gain from the FTA,” the Korean negotiator added. 

On the general relationship with the EU, Minister Lee lamented, “If all the countries are place in order of relation with the EU, Korea will be placed last,” asking, “Please name any country that has less relations with the EU.” 

The Minister Lee was, however, hopeful in saying, “FTA can be a backbone for future relationships with the EU and Korea. Privileged relationship originating from FTA can give rise to more generalised relationship development between two sides.” Min-soon Song, assemblyman of the opposition Democratic Party and former Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade till 2007 told New Europe, “These negotiations started when I was the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Korean government is eager to have the FTA.” 

Pointing to already finalised US Korea FTA, he said, “The successful record of negotiations with the US for the FTA can be a good analogy and personally I support these negotiations.” Another major obstacle to the FTA negotiations is the legal sector as Doo-Sik Kim, an international trade lawyer told journalists at a lunch organised by the Korea Press Foundation on August 25. 

Addressing the fear of Korean legal sector about the take-over and expansion of the European law firms in the Korean market, Kim said it was one of the least highlighted subjects but there is a strong opposition from the concerned lawyer lobbies. The EU is South Korea’s second largest trade partner after China. In 2007, the bilateral trade volume between South Korea and the EU amounted to USD 89.8 billion.