Minister of Transportation, Meirav Michaeli,
Excellencies, dear colleagues,
Friends of the European Union,
It is a great pleasure for my wife Minja and I to welcome you all to our Europe Day Reception. Eyze kef she-atem po itanu! Bruchim Habaim! Ahalan Wa-sahalan! (Amazing that you’re here with us! Welcome! Welcome!)
We are so excited to host you here at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to celebrate Europe Day with us, after a long period of lockdowns, quarantines and restrictions.
This year, we celebrated Europe Day by hosting a video art installation featuring intriguing works by top contemporary European and Israeli artists, which we organized together with 17 EU member states and European Cultural Institutes.
In recent days, we brought the artworks to Eilat, Haifa and to Habima Square here in Tel Aviv. And tonight you can enjoy their works here, upstairs, at Cameri Square. After the reception, you are all invited to enjoy this exciting exhibition, called “Towards A New Community.”
Dear friends, slowly but surely we are overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. We do remember all those who suffered or are no longer with us, because of the pandemic, and we do look forward to going back to our normal lives. Despite precautions to prevent additional waves cause by the Delta variation, Israel has fully opened up. We congratulate Israel on its record-breaking vaccination campaign. The EU and Israel cooperated closely during the pandemic; indeed, the 12 million vaccination doses that have been delivered to Israel were all produced in the European Union.
Europe is on its way out of the pandemic, too. Over 325 million doses of vaccinations have been administered in the EU; a third of our adult population has been fully vaccinated.
Now it is time to get our economy back in shape. And we are determined to get out of this crisis stronger than ever. The EU has allocated €1.8 trillion to relaunch a greener, more digital and more equitable economy. Our recovery will of course be fully in line with EU priorities such as the European Green Deal, which set us the objective to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The fight against climate change is a global priority and we are ready to intensify our cooperation with Israel to meet this crucial challenge.
Israel stands to benefit from our recovery as well, as the EU has been, and remains, Israel’s most important trading partner – by far. In 2020, the EU represented 34 percent of total goods imported by Israel and 22 percent of total goods exported from Israel to the world.
The European Investment Bank continues to sign big cooperation agreements with Israeli enterprises. In April, for instance, the EIB announced that it would finance Israel’s Brenmiller Energy with 7.5 million Euros in venture debt to enable the construction of a first-of-its-kind manufacturing plant for innovative thermal energy storage systems.
But our relationship is so much more than just trade and investment. We cooperate in tourism, education, health, agriculture, environment, and many other areas – including transportation and aviation, such as the EUMedRail, SAFEMED or One-Stop Security projects. The Open Sky Agreement almost doubled tourism between the EU and Israel, and we are looking to travelling again. And we look forward to easing security to those air travellers commuting in Europe through the One Stop Security project.
During a recent visit to Israel’s biggest sea port, I learned that more than 61% percent of incoming and outgoing traffic in Israeli ports is with Europe – an impressive number that, Minister Michaeli, I am sure we can work together to increase even more.
The EU Delegation in Ramat Gan works together with government ministries, civil society organizations that so much contribute to Israeli society and municipalities.
In April, we marked 25 years of successful EU-Israel collaboration in the field of research and innovation. In 1996, Israel became associated to the fourth EU Framework Programme for Research. Since then, about 5,000 research contracts were signed as part of our cooperation.
Israel-based projects so far received a total of 1.36 billion Euro in funding in the framework of our Horizon 2020 program, which just ended. Negotiations about Israel’s association to our upcoming R&I framework programme, called Horizon Europe, are currently ongoing and look very promising.
As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said earlier this month: “Israel is a vitally important country for the European Union. Not only because of our common past, but also because of our common future.”
Dear friends, Europe Day usually takes place on May 9, but this year we’re celebrating it with some delay, partly because of COVID restrictions, but also due to the recent hostilities in and around Gaza. The European Union repeatedly condemned Hamas’ and other groups’ indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian targets in Israel and stressed that Israel has the right to protect its population from these kind of attacks, in accordance with international law.
For us, Israel’s security is non-negotiable. Let me be clear: Le’yisrael yesh et ha-z’chut lehagen al atzma! (Israel has the right to defend itself!)
As you may know, Europe Day commemorates the Schuman Declaration of 1950, in which a French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, first proposed the idea that would later culminate in the creation of the European Union. After centuries of wars, Schuman thought it was time for France and Germany to work together, not against each other, for the benefit of both countries and indeed the entire continent. It was a quiet revolution producing historical results, turning battlefields into negotiating tables, misery into prosperity, anchored into common values.
This is the story of the European Union, it is our story, and we are proud of it. In this vein, we believe that peace is possible here, too, between Israelis and Palestinians.
The recent cycle of violence showed the importance of restoring a political horizon towards a two-state solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in safety and security, freedom and democracy. The European Union stands ready to support dialogue between the sides.
Dear friends, as soon as the pandemic started ebbing, I have resumed my travels through this beautiful land. Just in the last couple of weeks, I criss-crossed the country – from Haifa to Eilat, from Yokneam to Julis, from Ashdod to Bnei Berak, from Be’er Sheva to Jerusalem.
I have spoken to countless Israelis from all walks of life, and I know that they all genuinely want peace and peaceful coexistence. We are also, of course, more than aware of the obstacles.
Last year, new Arab countries established diplomatic relations with Israel, and today Israel’s Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, is visiting the UAE for the first time. We welcome wholeheartedly these developments.
Dear friends, as you know, a new government was recently sworn in in Jerusalem. Allow me to once again congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on taking up this important position. We’re looking forward to cooperating closely with all members of the new cabinet in a constructive and comprehensive way.
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, called Minister Lapid on the same day the new government was sworn in, and invited him to Brussels. In their conversation they agreed on the importance of strengthening the bilateral EU-Israel partnership. This very early contact reflects their mutual commitment to working closely together to this end.
Indeed, it is our sincere hope that EU-Israel ties can turn a new leaf under the new government. We want to deepen our dialogue with Israel, and look forward to discussing ways to reinvigorate our partnership.
The EU and Israel share not only common interests, but also a commitment to fundamental values such as democracy, the rule of law and gender equality. This is the one key message that I kept stressing in all my encounters over the last four years.
In my meeting with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the gadol hador of the Haredi community, I reiterated the EU’s abiding commitment to religious freedom and noted the European Commission’s plan to publish its first-ever comprehensive strategy on fighting antisemitism and fostering Jewish life in Europe later this year. We are committed to work with Israel to fight racism, xenophobia and antisemitism.
When I attended the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance, or met with at-risk teenagers at a shelter for LGBTIQ youths in Tel Aviv, I stressed that every single human being has the right to be proud of who they are and to define their own identity.
Dear friends, this is sadly the last time that I am addressing you at a Europe Day. After four years as the head of the EU delegation in Ramat Gan, it is time for me to move on to a different diplomatic posting. My relationship with Israel, of that I am certain, will continue.
My interest in Israel began nearly 30 years ago, during my university years. When I was first posted here, 15 years ago, our first son was born at Tel Hashomer. I will never forget the chorus of Mazal tovs from the other fresh fathers at the hospital.
Israel is a fascinating, diverse, complicated, challenging, sometimes frustrating but always stimulating and charming place. I am captivated by the ancient and turbulent history of this land, which I discovered in every stone and personal story. Wherever I go, I will carry of piece of Israel within me.
Yes, I am little sad to leave this country. But I am absolutely sure that my successor, who is set to arrive in September -- just in time for Rosh Hashana -- will continue to work tirelessly to advance EU-Israel relations.
Our ties are already so deep, yet still hold a lot of untapped potential. May the coming years see the EU-Israel partnership grow further.
Happy Europe Day, Yom Europa Sameach! Todah rabah!