Friday 9 May 2008

EU congratulates Israel on its 60th anniversary and aims for closer ties

From Haaretz:

"The European Union on Thursday also congratulated Israel on the 60th anniversary, with officials vowing to forge even closer ties with the Middle Eastern state.

The head of the bloc's executive, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, said Israel's significance for Europeans went "beyond normal forms of cooperation with a close neighbour."

"Both the European Union and the state of Israel were born out of the same great convulsion of the Second World War and the Shoah," Barroso said in a message.

"In its 60 years as an independent state, Israel has had to contend with many challenges. Yet through it all it has continued to adapt, develop and prosper.

"We now take almost for granted impressive Israeli achievements in fields such as science and technology, industry, agriculture, education and the arts. In retrospect, we can only wonder at how all this was achieved under such difficult circumstances," Barroso added.

The commission chief noted that the EU and Israel were already cooperating on a range of issues such as climate change, counter-terrorism "and the fight against racism and anti-Semitism".

The EU is Israel's main trading partner and Israel is the only non-European country to participate in the EU's Research and Development programme, noted External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

"Hundreds of project proposals by Israeli researchers have received EU funding, for example developing innovative cancer diagnostic techniques, hydrogen cars, machine translation techniques. Also, Israeli students are benefiting from scholarships under the EU's Erasmus Mundus exchange programme," Ferrero-Waldner told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

And Israel is now close to being granted "special status" within the EU's neighbourhood policy, officials in Brussels said.

Such a special status might include deals in the area of air transport, higher education, trade in agricultural products and services, social security, customs, information society, environment as well as consumer protection.

"The EU and Israel are closer now than they were ever before," the commissioner said.

Other European dignitaries on Thursday also sent their well wishes to Israeli President Shimon Peres."

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