[EMBASSY VOICE]Let’s tighten Korea’s bond with the EU

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[EMBASSY VOICE]Let’s tighten Korea’s bond with the EU

When European ministers and diplomats meet in Brussels for their regular monthly meetings, they routinely greet each other as friends and enjoy meeting as political partners. Discussions may be tough, but in the end, agreements are always reached.
They know European nation-states can no longer win by themselves or afford to be split on fundamental issues in today’s globalized world. Only by combining forces can they master future challenges. When European leaders meet on March 25 in Berlin to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Communi-ty, they will be deeply mindful of this political wisdom.
The EU has become a fascinating combination of states, peoples and institutions. It may not be easy to get a full grasp of its inbuilt mechanics quickly. And to reassure the Korean reader: Europeans themselves sometimes also find it difficult. But they know the EU has changed our lives profoundly for the better. It represents an unprecedented zone of prosperity, growth, state-of-the-art technology and innovation. European universities are among the oldest and finest in the world and our civilizations and cultures are a never ending source of inspiration.
The EU is neither a federal state nor a confederation, but it offers much more cohesion and common policies than, for instance, the United Nations.
Its success results from a unique process of integration at various levels, in different fields. That integration means member states must make voluntary partial transfers of sovereignty to institutions such as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank.
Every six months one member state ― Germany in the first half of 2007 ― takes over the rotating presidency of the Council, the supreme organ, in which all member states and the European Commission jointly make decisions. With Bulgaria and Romania as new full-fledged members at the beginning of the year, the EU now consists of 27 states with a total population of almost 500 million. Its gross national product counts among the largest in the world.
Relations between the EU and Korea are in good shape. In substance, they are even better than they seem at first glance. Why is the European Union important for Korea and why do Europeans need Korea?
First and above all, the EU embodies the core values of free civilizations and human rights, as does Korea, with the same commitment to a true and viable democracy. We essentially share the same values.
Second, we have common experiences. Many of today’s EU members fought under the United Nations command in the Korean War. Both Korea and Europe have had to live with a long period of division and unequal development. Europeans overcame the division of their continent when the Cold War ended, watched the democratic movements in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland gain the upper hand, and saw Germany become re-united after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Through it all, our allies and friends were supportive. The lessons from these historic changes are being studied in Korea with great interest.
Third, the EU is now Korea’s second-largest trading partner. Our total trade volume approached $72 billion last year. Koreans and Europeans are more and more involved in significant partnerships and joint projects. Our contacts are numerous and warm-hearted. The EU has become the biggest foreign investor in Korea, whose central location in the dynamic triangle with China and Japan offers excellent opportunities to extend cooperation between our societies. Hopefully soon, we will enter into negotiations on a EU-Korean free trade agreement. The benefits for both sides could be considerable.
European investment in multilateral cooperation helped end the Cold War and halted the confrontations on the European continent. Since then, the EU has made great steps in developing a common foreign and security policy. The most striking proof today is the engagement of the EU in 13 peace missions worldwide. Who would have predicted this global engagement for peace, freedom and human rights only 10 years ago? The EU’s central tenet is effective multilateralism. With regard to the Korean Peninsula, we will continue to support the six-party talks on finding a settlement to the North Korean nuclear issue. The risks of an uncontrolled nuclear race and proliferation are of a truly global nature. The EU is keen to contain them through diplomacy.
I believe, in the framework of international organizations such as the United Nations, the OECD and the Asian European Meetings ― ASEM ― the EU and Korea can cooperate even more closely. We are confronted with the same challenges worldwide and we share vital interests. The Republic of Korea, now the 11th-largest economy in the world, can contribute substantially to stabilizing peace, securing environmental protection and fighting poverty. Many consider it a model for successful growth. Koreans, in turn, have studied the European economic success story. We are close and our bonds are strong. We should make more of it in the future.

*The writer is the German Ambassador to Korea.

by Dr. Nobert Baas

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