Opening Remarks on the e-conference on EU-Japan Relations, Olivia Tambou

The purpose of this small post is to contextualize the future papers of this e-conference on EU- Japan relations.

Why an e-conference on EU-Japan relations?

The year 2020 marks the first anniversary of the new step in EU-Japan relations within the provisional application of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, of the one part, and Japan, of the other part, and the Economic Partnership Agreement which entered into force on 1 February, 2019.

One year is a short time to assess the real impact of these new agreements, but this is the time to analyse their significance more deeply and to offer our readers details on their contents. The e-conference will consist of a dozen working papers from both European and Japanese colleagues, which will present aspects of both agreements.

Beyond this temporal reason, material reasons justify the need to strengthen our common knowledge of EU-Japan relations. It appears that despite the dynamic academic cooperations, few studies of EU-Japan relations are available. In a former post, Edoardo Stopionni interviewed the professor Yumiko Nakanishi and presented a lively Japanese community interested in the EU and EU law studies. This interview highlighted the Europeans’ lack of information on the European-Japanese reality. It heightened our curiosity on the specificity of the EU-Japan relations which is why we thought it would be a good topic to celebrate the fourth anniversary of Blogdroiteuropeen.

What is the historical background of EU-Japan relations?

According to the literature available (see below), the relations between Japan and the EU started to converge around 1991, following a period of relative isolation. After 1991, geopolitical and economic changes enabled a real structuring of the relations between the EU and Japan. Some key points on both of these periods will be explained briefly for a better understanding of the current situation.

1. From relative isolation to the first structuring of the relations (1959-1991).

An imbalanced and asymmetrical interest had been the key trend of the first relations between the European Communities and Japan. After World War II, the European Communities and Japan focused respectively on their own reconstruction. Japan had strong relations primarily with the USA. Japan preferred traditional bilateral trade discussions with individual European states, rather than with a supranational entity such as the European Commission. Nevertheless, the nomination of the first Japanese ambassador to the European Communities dates back to 1959, whereas the first EC delegation to Japan was not created until 1974. One of the reasons for the creation of this EC delegation was to allow the European actors to be more, and better, informed of the Japanese political and economic situation. At this stage, the economic relations between the EC and Japan were characterized by a strong deficit in favour of Japan. In vain, the EC Commission and the European Parliament asked Japan to open its market to the European actors. In this conflictual context, the EC-Japan Summit was created in 1984, as an annually bilateral summit. This period ended with the Joint Declaration of The Hague in 1991, in which both sides agreed on the need for the « intensification of their dialogue and to strengthen their cooperation and partnership. » This included a diplomatic dialogue towards safeguarding global peace in a post-communist world.

2. Toward the institutionalisation of EU-Japan relations (1991 to the present).

Despite the Joint Declaration of The Hague, the European Commission noticed the marketing, market restrictions and discriminations practices in the electronics, information and communication industries in Japan, in 1995. This led to anti-dumping rights.

Therefore, the turning point came much more in 2001 with the adoption of an Action Plan for EU-Japan Cooperation at the 10th EU-Japan Summit. This plan was the first step on the path to the current agreements. The principle of an EU-Japan trade agreement was adopted in the 20th EU-Japan Summit, in 2011. In other words, 1991, 2001, and 2011 marked the main milestones from with the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) and the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations started. More details will be given on this negotiation in the working papers of the e-conference. At this stage, one should remember that despite 60 years of relations, these agreements are the first mixed agreements between the EU and Japan. These agreements were negotiated in a new legal context, because the Treaty of Lisbon significantly improved the European Parliament’s powers to ratify of such agreements. Last but not least, the significance of these agreements need to be understood with the current redistribution of the power in Asia, in particular the strategic position of China.

How will the e-conference be held?

The e-conference will start on Thursday, 7 Mai 2020 at 8:30 a.m. (GMT+1) with the publication of Professor Yumiko Nakanishi’s paper, « The significance of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Japan in the International Order. »

Each Thursday, a new paper will be published at the same time. Please subscribe to blogdroiteuropeen so you don’t miss a publication.

This e-conference was organised by Yumiko Nakanishi, Professor of European Union Law at the Graduate School of Law, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, and Dr. Olivia Tambou, Associate Professor at the University of Paris-Dauphine, Editor of Blogdroiteuropeen. Special thanks to both Dr. Edoardo Stopionni and Dr. Alessandra Donati, senior research fellows at the Max Planck Institute of Luxembourg and members of the blogdroiteuropeen team, for their contribution to the organisation of the e-conference.

Additional readings :

  • Hosoya Chihiro : « Relations between the European Communities and Japan, » Journal of Common Market Studies 18, no. 2 (December 1979): 159-174
  • Monjal, Pierre-Yves : l’Union européenne et le Japon ou la double ouverture économique. Considérations générales sur les relations économiques entre le Levant et le Couchant, Revue de droit de l’Union européenne 4/2015 p. 1-70
  • Yakemtchouk Romain, L’Union européenne et le Japon, Revue du Marché commun et de l’Union européenne 2007 p. 430
  • The Mission of Japan to the EU :
  • Delegation of the EU to Japan :


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