Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Interview: Mr. Christian Ehler, Chairperson of the European Parliament's Delegation to Korean Peninsula

In accordance with Rules 198 and 200 of Parliament's Rules of Procedure, the European Parliament may set up standing interparliamentary delegations, Parliamentary Cooperation Committees and Joint Parliamentary Committees. The number of these bodies may vary from one legislature to the other.
The interparliamentary delegations' main objective is to establish, channel and promote parliamentary dialogue with the partner countries' legislative institutions and also with the parliamentary institutions concerned with integration at regional or sub-regional level. Such objectives are achieved by means of regular gatherings at Parliament's places of work and in the counterpart countries, during which topics of mutual interest in the national, bi-regional and international spheres are discussed.
Information gathered is made available to Parliament's other Members by means of regular reports or reports drawn up by the chairman after each visit or interparliamentary meeting. The reports are usually submitted to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Sub-Committee, Development, International Trade and when directly relevant to other Committees. They sometimes give rise to European Parliament resolutions.
The Delegation for relations with the Korean Peninsula covers relations with both States on the Peninsula: South Korea and North Korea.
The Korea Delegation is a young one. It was created with the 6th Parliamentary term in 2004. Before that South Korea-related activities fell in the remit of the Delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia, ASEAN and the Republic of Korea, whereas North Korean affairs were dealt with in the Foreign Affairs Committee, which eventually sent limited ad hoc delegations. Interparliamentary meetings with South Korea were relatively frequent, considering the area covered by the Delegation.
The delegation holds regular meetings in Brussels and Strasbourg to examine matters such as the current economic and political situation in the Korean States, humanitarian and Human Rights issues, inter-Korean relations, regional security issues, as well as the negotiations between the EU and the South Korea on a Free Trade Agreement.
The Chairperson of the European Parliament's Delegation in the last term were successively Mrs Ursula Stenzl and Mr Hubert Pirker. The current Chairperson is Mr. Christian Ehler, who made his first visit to Korea in this capacity last month. While his schedule was packed, he did make time for an exclusive interview on the current state of relations between both sides.
He noted that this a very important period for the relationship. While everyone is anxiously talking about the impending EU-Korea FTA, the broad public has underestimated the importance of the new Framework Agreement on the relations between the EU and Korea which was signed recently.
He noted that the new Framework Agreement is an important step in the relations. It addresses a broad range of global issues and areas of international concern, which include non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cooperation in the fight against terrorism, climate change, energy security and development assistance.
The text naturally includes standard political clauses - human rights, weapons of mass destruction, small arms and light weapons, counter-terrorism, the International Criminal Court and migration- and provisions for socio-economic cooperation, including cooperation in the field of justice. It provides a basis for deepening and broadening co-operation across the board.
He noted that together with an ambitious and comprehensive FTA this framework agreement will establish a good basis for strengthened partnership between the EU and Korea as global players. The delegation members therefore took this visit to South Korea very seriously.
“The delegation is very much in a working mood, and we are not here for a casual visit. We are in line with the European Commissions decision to choose Korea as a strategic partner in this region. It is of utmost importance that we create something like a new generation which is obliged to this new strategic partnership,he said.
He noted that the delegation wants to go beyond political and FTA talks and is seriously considering to create a young leadership program. It si pretty much for the same reason that the members also visited the SB Limotive plant, a 50:50 joint company of Samsung and Bosch, which targets to develop, manufacture, and sell lithium-ion batteries for automotive applications. With the formation of SB LiMotive both companies show their commitment to be a long term partner in the business of electrified mobility. SB LiMotive brings together the key skills to shape the future for automotive batteries by leveraging both world leading lithium-ion technology and automotive systems experience.
The scope of business covers lithium-ion battery applications for the automotive sector including オHEV, HEV, PHEV and EV.
This same kind of partnership should become visible in all spheres of the relationship between EU and Korea. Beyond agreements and political decisions, this is future of EU-Korea relations , a project like that in small scale should reach higher levels of penetration, he said.
Speaking on the EU-Korea FTA, he noted although the agreement was initialed last year, technically the text of agreement is not yet tabled in Parliament. They are in the process of being translated.
“We would proceed as we start first reading either before recession in July or the beginning of the next session in late August. Our political aim would be to deliver that before the G20 meeting in Korea. While very ambitious, atleast from the side of leadership of big groups, this is the timetable. It is upto the Commision and the Korean side to get the wordings of the agreement right,he said.
Mr. Ehler noted that the members we do not want to take FTA as a hostage to solve all other problems. He feels that in Korea there is awareness of this and hopefully it will be delivered by the end of the year.
He also referred to the recent tensions between South and North Korea, regarding the sinking of navyship Cheonan and said that he fully accepts the statement issued by High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton.
She had voiced great concern of the results of the investigation, conducted by the authorities of South Korea with the participation of international experts, into the causes of the sinking of the Cheonan on 26th March, with the loss of 46 lives.
“The findings of the investigation are extremely disturbing, in particular the evidence presented of North Korean involvement. Based on these findings, I strongly condemn this heinous and deeply irresponsible action. I commend the restraint which the government of the Republic of Korea has shown in a tense situation of national grief and outrage,she said.
It was because of this strong feeling that the delegation skipped a visit to Pyongyang, and showed South Korea that they can live up to strategic partnership.
We don't want to exaggerate the EU position in the surrounding 6 party talks. But it does not make sense to shut down all channels, and we will continue with humanitarian assistance to North Korea, since the ordinary people are not to blame,he said.