Israel and the European Union are in advanced talks over convening a bilateral ministerial forum in 2017 for the first time since 2012, according to a senior EU official.
Speaking to the Times of Israel, Nicholas Westcott, the director of the EU External Action Service’s North Africa and Middle East department, said they hoped to convene the EU-Israel Association Council next year.
Westcott, who is effectively the most senior EU official on the region apart from EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, said that it would be an opportunity “to look at a ministerial level how we can take the [EU-Israel] relationship forward.”
It is understood that the forum would be attended by Mogherini herself and Israeli Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who is considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During a week-long visit to Israel, Westcott has met with officials from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and elsewhere. “The main focus was on EU-Israel cooperation, which is moving in a relatively positive direction,” he said. “We are looking at areas where we can deepen cooperation within the existing framework and beginning to think about what the next generation of framework might be.”
Since the EU-Israel Association Council last met in 2012, Israel’s relations with the EU have been at times strained over a number of issues. In 2013, the EU issued guidelines which stipulate that Israeli entities operating beyond the pre-1967 borders cannot receive funding or support from Brussels. In 2015, the EU advised that member states should separately label goods produced in the West Bank, although Mogherini later clarified that the guidelines were non-binding.
Last week, the EU’s Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen said although “the EU and Israel might have disagreements…this should not overshadow the deep and close relationship we enjoy and have had over the decades on economic and trade matters.”
“The general economic situation is great, trade is improving and growing by the day,” he added.
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