The Decade of EU-Japan Cooperation: Part IV
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
'Bringing together people and cultures' is the fourth and final objective of the Action Plan for The Decade of EU-Japan Cooperation. Towards this end a multitude of projects and programs are in the works in the hope that they will promote mutual respect, dialogue and coexistence among the variety of cultures that exist within the two societies. The initiatives envisioned attempt to bridge the cultural gaps that often prevent individuals, groups, businesses and institutions from developing closer forms of cooperation and collaboration. Both governments believe that greater personal contact between Europe and Japan will help underpin the wider and deeper relationship that the two have in mind for the political and economic spheres.
The basic approach laid out in the Action Plan seeks to make full use of existing people-to-people contacts. This involves extending relationships between all levels of academic life, from pupils and schools, through students and universities, to professors and research institutes. It also envisions the promotion of schemes of exchange for young professionals for the purposes of training and/or work and ultimately strives to stretch this engagement across civil society as a whole.
A key aspect in this endeavor is the creation of a framework within which mutual co-operation between EU-Japan in the field of education can thrive. This stems from the belief that the problem lies not in the lack of avenues through which people can come together but in the fact that there is a total absence of coordination between the various programs that are available. By creating a framework both governments desire to simplify the process of exchange so as to make it more efficient and effective.
A primary consideration in this regard is the reduction of obstacles that prevent the mobility of teachers, administrators and students from engaging in cultural communication activities. Towards this end a number of practical measures have been contemplated. These include the organization of expert workshops to study the distinct systems of study credits that exist between Japan and the EU in order to facilitate student exchanges in the future. Another initiative involves the promotion of an exchange between researchers through the extension of monetary and occupational opportunities. Of specific mention was the idea of expanding the Jean Monnet professorial chairs to Japan and the possibility of inviting Japanese researchers to study at the European Institute in Florence. The creation of "centers of excellence" has also been recommended by the Action Plan where research institutes will engage in a process of intellectual exchange with a particular emphasis on foreign and security policy as well as European affairs (especially integration).
Much importance has been placed on the implementation of projects for young people who are starting out in life. Crucial to this is the expansion of existing EU-Japan exchange programs for interns. Currently, there are three programs that serve this purpose, namely the Vulcanus program, the pilot Europe Asia Business Internship Program and the Japan-EU Industrial Co-operation Program. The Action Plan seeks to promote the activities of these programs by providing further funding and in encouraging them into a process of collaboration and co-ordination. The creation of internship opportunities linked to official structures of the EU and Japan is also a priority. As a possible model, the EU has highlighted the European Commissions "stagaire" program as well as the European Parliaments "Schuman Scholarship". Following in this spirit, the two envision a system where European interns will be attached to the Japanese Diet and Japanese interns to the European Parliament.
As an incentive maker the EU and Japan are also attempting to create a system that would award annual prizes to EU or Japanese nationals who make significant contributions to the enhancement of dialogue and co-operation between the two. This could potentially involve individuals and organizations and is no doubt a good way to gain public relations.
The problem that both the EU and Japan face today is not that there is a lack of contact between the two societies, rather it relates to the fact that there exists little communication and collaboration between Japan and the EU. Promoting the ease of mobility between the two would be the first step in this direction. Communication and collaboration only take place when there exists the possibility for longer term engagement between individuals and institutions. As it is not easy for professionals, whether young or old, to leave personal responsibilities behind as they go abroad, both governments need to facilitate a more flexible and efficient scheme of interaction between Japanese and Europeans. As was mentioned at the outset, and as has been recognized by both governments, the creation of close cultural ties represents the first step towards promising political and economic relations.
At the conclusion of this four part series, which has described and analyzed each facet of the Action Plan laid out by the governments of the EU and Japan, it is hoped that all initiatives will be undertaken with great effort and creativeness. The overall initiative is worthy of praise only if it is implemented in its entirety. This includes dealing with touchy subjects such as human rights, gender issues, trafficking in drugs and in humans. It involves the need for both governments to take a stand and lead the way towards eliminating weapons of mass destruction, tackling the issue of climate change, promoting fair trade and fighting poverty. There are many indications that the EU and Japan are prepared to take great strides towards co-operation, nevertheless, beyond words action is what is needed. I encourage both governments and its citizens to embrace this Action Plan with a sense of urgency in order to fulfill the objective of creating a more just and equitable world where all enjoy human security.