Japan, the EU and Human Security: Part I
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
On April 26, Romano Prodi became the first European Commission President to address the National Diet of Japan. Although the speech was largely full of rhetoric and decorative aspirations, it did highlight some important issues that Japan and Europe need to consider seriously. Most important of which was the need to think in terms of "global responsibilities". As has been outlined in the Action Plan for EU-Japan cooperation, these responsibilities are encapsulated by the objective of promoting human security for all. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of human security, in essence it implies guaranteeing individual economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.
In order to provide a better understanding of what is implied when Japanese and European leaders pledge to promote human security, the EU Report will briefly consider the significance and state of the above mentioned rights over the next two editions. This will not only provide a clearer picture of what is required of Japan and the EU but will also serve as a guideline for accountability over the next ten years of cooperation. As President Prodi put it in his speech to the Japanese diet, "ambitious political declarations are worth nothing without solid groundwork". The aspiration of this series will be to identify that groundwork in order to give meaning to political declarations.
Part I of this series will begin by defining the notion of economic, social and cultural rights. It will then move on to describe what this means in terms of Japan-EU cooperation.
Our reference point for economic, social and cultural rights is found in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which became effective in 1976. These rights guarantee that each individual has the right to work and to just and favorable conditions of work; to rest and leisure; to form and join trade unions and to strike; to social security; to special protection for the family, mothers and children; to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing and housing; to physical and mental health; to education; and to scientific and cultural life.
It must be stated that there is a considerable amount of controversy surrounding economic, social and cultural rights. This controversy encompasses states, which believe that these rights are superior to civil and political rights and others who do not recognize economic and social rights as rights in themselves. Those of the former position (Cuba, China and former Communist states) believe that the right to free speech is of little value to those who are starving and illiterate. The later grouping (which includes the United States) argues that treating them as rights undermines the enjoyment of individual freedom, distorts the functioning of free markets by justifying large-scale state intervention in the economy, and provides an excuse to downgrade the importance of civil and political rights.
Japan and the EU, like the majority of countries, are located towards the center of this debate. They believe that economic and social rights go hand in hand with civil and political rights. This is most evident when one examines domestic labor and general welfare policies in Japan and the EU. Both employ a considerable amount of state intervention and are supported by a commitment to job and social security measures on the part of corporate cultures and community values. Nevertheless, increased competition and globalization are challenging these policies, cultures and values and are forcing rapid changes in how the two governments promote these rights domestically.
The same goes for their contribution to the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights internationally. As was pointed out by Romano Prodi in his speech to the diet and as has been enshrined in the EU-Japan Action Plan, the two recognize the importance of reducing the gap between the richer and poorer countries. Towards this end, they boast of being the two largest aid donors in the world. However, in recent years their contributions have been dwindling steadily in light of global and domestic economic, political and security constraints.
The fact is that as the EU and Japan begin their decade of cooperation, fundamental rights to decent living conditions, food, basic health care and education are being widely denied. According to the 1999 State of the World's Children Report, nearly a billion people, one sixth of humanity, are functionally illiterate with two-thirds of them being women. The 1998 Human Development Report indicated that of the 4.4 billion people in developing countries, nearly 60% lack basic sanitation and almost 30% have no access to clean water, 25% have no adequate housing, 20% have no access to modern health services, 20% of all children do not attend school and approximately 20% do not have enough dietary energy and protein. What this means is that over 800 million people, that is two times the number of people in Japan and the EU combined, go to bed hungry every night.
By recognizing the importance of contributing to the promotion human security on a global basis, both Japan and the EU have understood that they have a responsibility to aid developing countries, the majority of which are not able to meet the minimum core obligations in respect of these rights, in providing social security. As such, over the next ten years they must work to improve the situation in developing countries based on the benchmarks provided above.
As was outlined by Prodi, Japan and the EU have similar value systems. Key among these is their common commitment to serving universal needs. These include all aspects of social security. The two societies remain, although to a lesser extent each year, welfare states. Both believe in compulsory and free education as a fundamental right and as a requisite for individual and community development. Both maintain universal health care systems, which guarantee medical access to all citizens at affordable and subsidized prices. Both societies are committed to the principle of job security and adequate working conditions. Nevertheless, it must be recognized that these systems are not without problems. Unemployment is rising in both economies and the quality of health care and public education is in question.
Considering that Japan and the EU are committed to the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights as a fundamental societal value there is much that can be achieved internationally. The two have moved beyond the ideological debate that divides countries such as the United States, which disagrees with the principle of economic, social and cultural rights, and Cuba or China. In contrast, Japan and the EU have a common understanding as to the need for these rights in terms of development and security. Considering their rich resource and knowledge base, the two can create and implement large-scale development programs that produce fundamental changes for the better in countries and communities in need. In fact, there is no grouping with more potential to induce positive change in our world than the Japan-EU partnership at this point in time. On the other hand, a failure to transform the tragic reality in communities in need for the better, despite the potential to do so, will be met with grave disappointment.
The EU and Japan have both declared that they will not turn their backs on countries that are being left behind. It is time to translate such political ambitions into solid groundwork by working towards guaranteeing the economic, social and cultural rights of all.