Israel’s ties with the European Union remain strong, but are unlikely to be upgraded when the action plan for its bilateral relations expires in June, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
That plan, which exists under the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy that seeks to tie countries to the east and south of the EU into the EU, was put in place in 2005 with a three-year time frame.
But although the EU’s foreign ministers agreed to upgrade its ties with Israel in June 2008, by redrafting the plan and enhancing political contacts, it has yet to do so.
As a result, no new action plan has been developed. Instead, the 2005 plan has been extended twice and is likely to be extended for a third time next month.
“No one ever declared that the upgrade is frozen,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Wednesday. “But we all know that it has lingered on and been postponed.”
During a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Tuesday night, visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos that he would push for the upgrade to take place soon.
But Palmor said that there is no reason to believe that someone is going to accelerate the process just to meet the June deadline.
Progress on the upgrade stalled as the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians began to unravel in the winter of 2008-2009.
In an annual progress report on the action plan released on Wednesday in Brussels, the EU commended Israel for implementing many of the priorities set out in the plan.
But, it said, “deterioration in the overall political context, in particular as regards the Gaza conflict in December 2008-January 2009 and a lack of progress in 2009 on the Middle East peace process, affected the process of upgrading bilateral relations between the EU and Israel.
“The EU remains committed to upgrading relations with Israel, but the situation was not conductive to the resumption of the process,” the 2009 progress report read.
Israel’s annual progress report was one of 12 for 2009 that Brussels released on Wednesday on European Neighborhood Policy countries. There are 16 countries in the program.
At a press conference in Tel Aviv on the report, EU Ambassador Andrew Standley denied that an upgrade in Israel ties was specifically linked to the peace process.
He explained it this way: “When the political decision was taken to upgrade in 2008, it was made clear that [a decision on an upgrade would] consider regional aspects and political developments,” Standley said. “The conditions for the implementation of the upgrade have yet to present themselves. We look forward to the moment when those conditions would allow for the implementation of the upgrade.”
He did not specify what those conditions were.
“This is a political decision. The implementation of the enhancement of the relations is an issue under constant political review,” Standley said.
The upgrade as it has been envisioned so far would increase the level and frequency of political contacts between Israel and the EU, he said.
The existing action plan provides for a wealth of positive interaction in a wide range of fields such as telecommunications, transportation, energy, environment, education and the fight against terrorism and anti-Semitism, Standley said.
The ENP offers neighboring countries with close ties to the EU the ability to engage with European institutions and programs at a level that is akin to that of its member states.
In return, ENP countries promise to improve their economic and democratic practices and governmental institutions.
“Israel was the first country to develop an action plan and have it approved,” Standley said.
Israel has a high level of socioeconomic development, which set its apart from other countries in the program, he said.
Israel’s ENP report noted that its economy was one of the least affected by the global economic and financial crisis and among the earliest to stage a recovery.
Israel is far ahead of the others in adjusting its institutional economic and social structures to EU standards in a manner that it allows it to engage more successfully with Europe, the ambassador said.
“The kinds of activities that take place between Israel and the EU within the framework of this policy are of a very different quality and order compared to other countries [in the ENP],” Standley said.
At a press conference in Brussels, Stefan Fule, the commissioner for enlargement and neighborhood policy, said he planned to visit the region in the coming weeks.