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child poverty in spain
Since the end of Spain’s economic recession in 2014, the country is the largest grower in the EU, with a GDP almost twice that of the average European country. Despite a six-year recession that impacted both the entire population and other countries in the Eurozone, the economy seems to have recovered. However, despite Spain’s economic recovery, the rate and likelihood of children in poverty have increased exponentially. Curiosity arises as to how an issue like poverty could arise in a country as developed as Spain.

The Problem

The rise of child poverty in Spain despite the recovery of the economy seems counterintuitive. However, studies show that one in three children are likely to be impoverished or socially excluded, according to the EU’s latest figures. As the results of their studies show, Spanish children are not only encumbered by a lack of income, but also lack of socialization, meaning that child poverty in Spain is multidimensional; this means a lack of proper education, nutrition, future employment, and social time on top of the financial crisis that has remained in many middle and low-class families despite the national economic recovery. Impoverished families are unable to prevent their children from reaching the same fate because the turn of the recession has resulted in a job market that provides no opportunity for even the most qualified candidates.

This issue is most dominant in middle and low-class families, and the middle class is already dangerously small. The trademark economic concept of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is true in the Spanish socioeconomic classes and results in the stretching and thinning of the middle class. These larger socioeconomic effects are only symptoms of child poverty in Spain. The reason why the focus of the recession is on children is that they are the most at-risk demographic; when parents are impacted, it extends to their children.

The Larger Issue

Child poverty in Spain has adverse effects on the rest of society, including senior citizens, young adults, and parents. The growing number of impoverished children puts pressure on the social pension systems that account for one of the fastest aging populations in Europe. Children trapped in poverty will grow to be adults who remain reliant on social and governmental assistance. Many young adults avoided higher education due to attractive employment opportunities before the recession, leaving a large population of eager, unaccredited workers in a job market that no longer needs it. Because of the lack of opportunity in the job market, parents are reliant on unemployment benefits or the pension of their parents.

Effects of The Problem

Because child poverty in Spain is a multidimensional issue, the effects correspond to their complexity. In terms of education, Spain has experienced a drop out rate 23 percent higher than the EU average since the beginning of the recession in 2008. In general, Spain’s dropout and unemployment rates are high, specifically among those of disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

Studies show that even very brief bursts of intense poverty can impact child development for the rest of their lives. Economists and child development specialists predict that if this poverty persists, the adults of the future will have been stunted in their development due to their reliance on pensions.

What Is Being Done?

Even Sevilla, the fifth most populated city in Spain and a huge tourist destination, falls victim to increasing child poverty rates. There are many gaps in the welfare system that are unaccounted for, which are essential to the development of children. For example, because of limited monthly income but the need to continue to feed their children, families are buying enough food for everyone, but without the necessary nutrients for developing bodies. As such, children in Spain aren’t necessarily hungry, they are impoverished. So, NGOs like Save the Children fill in the gaps in children’s diets by providing nutrient-rich meals.

Save the Children works in several domains that benefit the needs of at-risk or impoverished Spanish children, including nutrition, health and education. By filling in the dietary and academic gaps in these children’s lives, their families will have some security. In 2014, Save the Children reached 14,889 children and 5,635 adults through programs that combat educational poverty, social exclusion, and workshops that prevent the issue from furthering. The hope is that as the recovery continues, economic reform will result in a balancing of socioeconomic classes and the disparity will vanish. Until then, NGOs like Save the Children will continue to try and cover up the remaining holes in the system left by the recession in the hopes that the children they serve will grow up to lead a generation where poverty is the exception, not the expectation.

Hope for The Future

Child poverty is a major issue because these children will grow up to be the leaders of their nation. The increased rate of child poverty in Spain is an alarming problem that is fueled by an economic crisis and a weak social infrastructure. Child poverty in Spain is different than in other countries. Spanish children are not poor in the traditional sense. They are fed and have access to education. The nature of poverty is more nuanced than a lack of resources. Children in Spain are fed, yet malnourished, have access to school, but often drop out. The other key issue is the lack of socialization among peers. However, with NGOs like Save the Children who provide programs to areas in need, this issue can perhaps be alleviated. With directed efforts towards these specific problems and programs that are tailored towards the specific nature of these issues, child poverty can be eradicated, securing Spain’s future prosperity.

Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr

Aged and Disabled in Ukraine

The elderly population is the fastest growing age group worldwide, and two-thirds of its population lives in low-income and middle-income countries. Such geographic locations have greater likelihoods of humanitarian crises, and the impacts of humanitarian disasters in these countries are more severe. Research shows the aged and disabled in Ukraine also have higher rates of poverty than younger, non-disabled people, making them more vulnerable during disasters. More than one-fifth of Ukraine’s population (more than 9.5 million people) were over the age of 60 in 2018. The country also is facing one of the world’s most acute global crises today.

Increased Vulnerability and Disproportionate Effects

According to HelpAge International (HAI), marginalization is having greater effects on older individuals, especially older women and the disabled. Since 2014, older persons have constituted more than one-third of the conflict-affected population — equivalent to more than one million people. Many of them have fled their homes due to violence along the contact line — a line dividing government-controlled areas (GCA) from non-government-controlled areas (NGCA). The number of affected people continues to rise as the ceaseless fighting impacts the mental health of the aged and disabled in Ukraine. These populations must contend with widespread landmines and restricted access to nutrition, healthcare, housing, pensions, fuel and public transportation.

Residents living along either side of the contact line and in NGCA are among the most vulnerable in Ukraine because humanitarian access is severely restricted in these areas.

The majority of individuals residing in and displaced from NGCA collect pensions. However, they can claim their pensions only if they are registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in GCA. They must also undergo complex and discriminatory vetting for pension verification, including home visits, physical identification in banks and additional safeguards. This approach is riddled with liabilities and creates serious humanitarian consequences because pensions are the sole source of income for most pensioners in NGCA. If approved, administrative requirements demand the aged and disabled travel through five checkpoints along the contact line every few months to avoid pension suspension. These individuals spend 50 to 80 percent of their monthly pension on travel expenses. Consequently, many seniors are cut off from their pensions because they either are physically unable to travel to GCA or cannot afford the trip.

Pensions are not the only reason seniors cross the contact line. They also cross to visit with family, obtain documentation and access medical services. The many restrictions imposed on crossing result in older and disabled persons waiting at entry and exit checkpoints for extended periods of time without adequate facilities like toilets, drinking water or shelter. Red tape often prohibits them from crossing with necessary items like medications and food as these may not be permitted goods. People also must renew their electronic passes on regular basis if they plan to cross — a near impossibility for much of the senior population who has no computer or internet access. These conditions are detrimental to the well-being of the aged and disabled, creating a dire need for mental health services, psychosocial support and life-saving aid.

Forgotten in the Midst of Crises

Marginalizing the older and disabled during disasters is not unique to Ukraine. In 2015, HAI interviewed hundreds of seniors across Ukraine, Lebanon and South Sudan. In all three countries, there was evidence of neglect. Most interviewees said they had never met with anyone to discuss their needs nor did they have sufficient information about available assistance. Almost 50 percent complained that health services were not equipped to treat their age-related conditions, and nearly half said they suffered from anxiety or depression.

Humanitarian Relief for the Aged and Disabled in Ukraine

HAI has worked with the elderly in Ukraine for more than 10 years and has provided them with community safe spaces. The organization has also directed advocacy and coordination efforts with NGOs and UN agencies to ensure that seniors are not excluded from receiving services and psychosocial support. HAI has established support groups and provided home-based care activities, assistive devices and hygiene kits to those of advanced age. However, despite the organization’s humanitarian assistance, a survey they conducted in 2018 showed that those aged 60 and older are still suffering.

The findings were echoed at a 2018 conference organized by the European Commission and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Brussels. The conference highlighted the support that the WHO and partners have given Ukraine to help combat the devastating effects of the country’s ongoing crisis. During the conference, it also was noted that despite the efforts of the WHO and its health partners, Ukrainian health needs still are on the rise. Speakers attributed the lack of improvement to a weak health system, limited disease prevention and insufficient treatment for chronic illnesses.

The conference also confirmed that the European Union (EU) will provide an additional €24 million to conflict-affected persons in eastern Ukraine, bringing their aid total for Ukraine to more than €677 million. The money will be used to fulfill the essential needs of the most vulnerable populations along the contact line, including IDPs and those in NGCA.

With coordinated efforts and increased humanitarian funding, permanent change for Ukraine is on the horizon.

– Julianne Russo
Photo: Pixabay

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Serbia

These top 10 facts about poverty in Serbia indicate both the struggles and progress of the country. Serbia officially became its own nation in 2006, following the split of the country known as Serbia and Montenegro. Being a newly independent country, it faces challenges of poverty and unemployment. Nonetheless, progress is being made, as these top 10 facts about poverty in Serbia are showing:

  1. Twenty-five percent of Serbians are impoverished. This percent translates to close to 1.8 million people. Absolute poverty, a more severe condition of poverty has been slowly decreasing, from 7.6 in 2010 to 7.3 in 2016.
  2. Poverty levels vary greatly in each region of Serbia, but in general, the south has a greater rate of people at risk of poverty than the north. Rural areas, where almost half of the population lives, has the double rate of poverty comparing to urban areas.
  3. Households are 10 times more likely to be impoverished if the head of the house has not completed primary school. The risk of poverty directly correlates with the level of education of the head of the household.
  4. Serbia is vulnerable to floods and earthquakes. Earthquakes affect 60,000 people a year and result in losses of $300 million. Floods are even more frequent and also more impactful, affecting 200,000 people and causing a loss of $1 billion yearly.
  5. The primary school completion rate is 94.8 percent. High school completion rate is 90.1 percent. Enrollment rates have been rising since 2010, for males and for females as well. In fact, female higher-education enrollment rate surpasses the male enrollment rate by 17 percentage points.
  6. The overall unemployment rate is 14.8 percent. Youth unemployment rate is 44.2 percent. According to UNDP, the reason for these high rates is the disparity between workforce needs and the Serbian education system. Serbia has adopted the youth employment-focused National Employment Action Plan, among other plans, in an attempt to decrease unemployment from 23 percent when it began in 2013.
  7. The YF Innovation Serbia project, which was completed in 2016, is another way Serbia has made progress towards improving unemployment rates. One of the goals of the project was to encourage entrepreneurship in Serbia by assisting startups, funding projects and opening research institutions. It ultimately helped improve Serbia’s economic growth and create more job opportunities for its citizens.
  8. Serbia is currently working on becoming a member of the European Union. To achieve this goal the country must go through a pre-ascension phase which includes economic development, increased human rights and an improved government system. To aid with this process, the European Union has allocated 1.5 billion euros for Serbia’s development.
  9. Serbia’s GDP is projected to grow by 3 percent or 4 percent by 2020. In 2017, Serbia’s economic growth was slowed by drought and energy production issues but this was a temporary setback. Other sectors, such as industry and services, did show growth despite these problems.
  10. Serbia’s Human Development Index score was 0.745 in 2014 with an average annual increase of 0.6 percent. This score reflects the high level of human development in Serbia

While poverty still remains an issue in Serbia, the action is certainly being taken to counter it, especially through joining the EU. The standards that the EU holds for its members encourage a better economy and quality of life of its citizens. In the past, most countries have seen economic growth as a result of this same process. Evident in these top 10 facts about poverty in Serbia, Serbian poverty shows promise of slowing down.

– Massarath Fatima

Photo: Flickr

Hungary_refugee

Though the European refugee crisis has largely faded from the international media’s spotlight, thousands of asylum-seekers continue to enter Europe by any means possible with the hopes of starting a new life. In the face of this ongoing humanitarian crisis, the Hungarian grassroots organization Migration Aid has harnessed the power of social media as a means of delivering aid and guidance to thousands of refugees.

Migration Aid was founded in June 2015, at the height of the European refugee crisis, by a handful of concerned citizens in Budapest that desired to help people in Hungary. The organization originated as a closed group on Facebook, which was utilized as a virtual planning board for orchestrating aid delivery, which included food and supplies distribution. The organization also consisted of various specialty groups with coordinators assigned to handle legal matters, storage, logistics and any other issues. Migration Aid set up centers in the railway stations of Budapest and the surrounding area, and quickly grew to over 600 volunteers.

Two years have elapsed since the group’s inception, during which time Migration Aid has helped feed, clothe and provide direction to thousands of refugees, but the situation faced by asylum-seekers in Hungary remains extremely tenuous. Hungary’s geographic location has forced the country into a major role in the crisis, as it is a popular by-way for migrants hoping to settle further afield from the Middle East in Northern and Western Europe. Between January and August of 2017, 2,491 asylum applications were registered in Hungary alone.

The European Union has endeavored to establish a comprehensive and effective means of responding to what has become the largest global displacement crisis since World War II. In September 2015, the European Commission announced a minimum quota of refugees that each EU member country would be expected to host, with the intention of fairly distributing the burden of providing for the record numbers of migrants streaming into the continent. It was also in September 2015 that Hungary closed its borders to refugees, and began strictly limiting their movement throughout the country.

Furthermore, Hungarian officials have resisted compliance with the quotas and policies made obligatory for all members of the EU. In March 2017, the Hungarian government implemented a law requiring that all refugees whose asylum applications were pending be housed in detention centers. When it was discovered that the housing units available at these detention centers were comprised of shipping containers, and that refugees were being forced to pay for their stay, the United Nations refugee agency urged the E.U. to stop sending asylum seekers to Hungary, declaring this mandatory detention a violation of international law that guarantees people access to asylum.

Additionally, Viktor Mihály Orbán, a Hungarian politician, petitioned the European Commission President to exempt Hungary from the migrant relocation quotas, a request which was denied and earned the Hungarian government a lawsuit for failure to comply.

In the face of the conditions now being imposed on refugees, Migration Aid has developed new strategies to help people in Hungary. Recognizing the need for information dissemination pertaining to the new laws and regulations, the organization developed a new application named InfoAid, which seeks to provide information to asylum-seekers in their native language. According to Migration Aid’s website, the InfoAid app seeks to provide the following types of information:

  • what rules apply to them
  • where they can receive care
  • what is going on in transport
  • where there is safe drinking water in Hungary
  • where and how they should buy train tickets
  • where they can receive medical care
  • how they should collect the waste they generate
  • where, when and why they have to register and what exactly it involves

The InfoAid app supplies information in English, Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. Migration Aid is currently seeking the help of volunteer translators so that they can keep up with the need for translated information, as well as expand their offerings to include Greek and Pashto.

Thanks to internet technology, anyone around the world with relevant language skills wondering how to help people in Hungary can act as an invaluable source of aid by donating their time and skills. More information about volunteering can be found on Migration Aid’s official website, or on the Facebook page.

For individuals desirous of contributing but who lack the language skills requisite to volunteer, Migration Aid also accepts monetary donations, which are fundamental to the organization’s ability to help people in Hungary. Now more than ever, the innovative and progressive efforts that this organization continues to make on behalf of refugees in Hungary is a tremendous source of hope and comfort to many.

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

The Poverty Rate In Belgium
Belgium is a country located in western Europe between France and the Netherlands. It became an independent nation from the Netherlands in 1830 and was then controlled by Germany during World War I and II. The foundation of the EU and NATO allowed the country’s capital, Brussels, to become the home for numerous international organizations. The influence of the organizations and membership in the EU and NATO has allowed the poverty rate in Belgium to remain low.

Currently, the poverty rate in Belgium rests at 15 percent. Like many other European nations, Belgium has a high standard of living and per capita income. Belgium consistently ranks among the top nations in the Human Development Index (an index that measures the quality of life in countries). In 2007, Belgium ranked number seven, which was ahead of the country it once was a part of — the Netherlands.

When measured in 1992, 3.7 percent of the population was in the lowest 10 percent of the income bracket. About 9.5 percent were in the lowest 20 percent, 14.6 percent were in the second 20 percent, 18.4 percent were in the third 20 percent and 23 percent were in the fourth 20 percent of income.

The highest 20 percent made up 34.5 percent and the highest 10 percent made up 20.2 percent of income. These statistics indicate the low poverty rate in Belgium and the little income inequality.

Although there is little income inequality in Belgium, 16.7 percent of people under the age of 18 lived in families that fell below the poverty line. Since 2012, the risk of being under the poverty line for people under the age of 18 has decreased considerably. Thanks to numerous social welfare programs, the risk of a person under 18 being under the poverty line in Belgium has fallen from 27 to 15 percent.

The social welfare system is a primary reason for why the poverty rate in Belgium remains low. The country has programs for family allowance, retirement, medical benefits, unemployment insurance and even a program that provides a salary in the event of an illness.

Belgium is a country that has managed to tackle the issues of income inequality and poverty while remaining a small nation. The social welfare system in Belgium in conjunction with its cooperation with the EU and NATO are one of the primary reasons for the success of the country. Thus, countries interested in lowering their poverty rates should follow Belgium’s example.

Nicholas Beauchamp
Photo: Flickr

Philippines and the EUAs of May 2017, the Philippines decided to end development assistance from the European Union. The Philippines is willing to reject €250 million worth of aid to prevent the EU from interfering in its internal affairs.

Relations between the Philippines and the EU have soured in the past year. In 2016, EU member countries called for strict monitoring of human rights abuses committed under President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ policy. Almost 9,000 people were killed in the Philippines since Duterte took office on June 30. Many were small-time users and dealers who police say were sho tin self-defense by officers during legitimate operations.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said that Duterte approved a recommendation from the finance ministry “not to accept grants that may allow interfering with internal policies.”

EU official Gunnar Wiegand defended the EU’s practice of setting conditions in exchange for aid. “You know why? Because it’s the money of our taxpayers. They want to know where their money goes,” Wiegand said.

The longstanding relationship between the Philippines and the EU became formal in 1980 in the European Cooperation Agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In July 2012, the EU-Philippines Partnership Cooperation Agreement provided a legal framework for further cooperation in a range of areas. These included political dialogue, trade, energy, transport, human rights, education, science, technology, justice, asylum and immigration.

This agreement also doubled the planned grant assistance to the Philippines for the period of 2014 to 2020. Funds increased to €325 million, up from €130 million in the period from 2007 to 2013. The Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines states that this seven-year support strategy focuses on “the rule of law” (improved governance and increased cooperation in the justice sector) and “inclusive growth” through sustainable energy and job creation.

The EU also provided aid to Manila’s efforts to end the insurgency in Mindanao, a 50-year conflict that killed more than 120,000 people, displaced one million and prevented economic growth in the region.

The EU is also one of the most important providers of aid to the Philippines in the case of natural disasters. One example of such was after Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The EU provided €180 million in humanitarian assistance and early recovery interventions to help those affected by Haiyan.

Wiegand stated that the EU will not “beg” the Philippines to accept its aid and that there are “no lack of other countries” for the EU to fund if the Philippines rejects its offer.

Some officials contend that this is only a temporary setback for relations between the Philippines and the EU. Economic Planning Minister Ernesto Pernia is skeptical of Manila’s decision. “I will not take that as policy. It is more of a reaction to criticism. I don’t think it’s going to remain as such,” Pernia said.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: UN Multimedia


According to the 2014 Euro Health Consumer Index, Luxembourg ranks eighth in Europe for comprehensive healthcare. This makes sense, given the fact that Luxembourg is the wealthiest country in the EU. Even so, Luxembourg still faces diseases that threaten its citizens. This article examines the most major diseases in Luxembourg and what measures have been taken to advance patient care and lower mortality rates.

Most prevalent of the major diseases in Luxembourg is cardiovascular disease. According to the statistics portal funded by the Government of Luxembourg, in the year 2014, cardiovascular diseases caused approximately 31.2 percent of deaths. Ischemic heart diseases, as well as other forms of heart disease such as heart failure and cardiac arrest, were the leading causes of death within this category.

Cancer causes 30.6 percent of deaths in the country. Cancers of the digestive system accounted for the highest rate of death in this category, followed closely by cancers of the respiratory system. These two cancers alone cause 52.5 percent of cancerous deaths in Luxembourg.

Respiratory diseases account for 6.97 percent of deaths. Chronic lower respiratory diseases, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, influenza and pneumonia result in the most deaths, 76 percent, within this category.

The top diseases in Luxembourg align with global health trends. The World Health Organization found that cardiovascular diseases are the most deadly diseases all over the world, contributing close to 15 million of the 54 million deaths in 2015.

Luxembourg’s government has taken steps to combat some of these diseases in an effort to lower mortality rates. For instance, the Ministry of Health has implemented a four-year national cancer plan from 2014-2018. This plan is designed to develop cancer prevention methods and improve recovery processes.

Like so many other countries around the world, Luxembourg has made it its mission to find a way to not only combat the major diseases but also to better the lives of its citizens.

Harry Meiteen

Photo: Flickr


Since 1990, Sweden has been working toward reducing the acidification of lake water and reaching its renewable energy goal of 50 percent by 2020. The Scandinavian country ensures that the drinking water conforms to National Food Administration requirements before being released for public consumption.

The water quality in Sweden is currently at a very high standard. The lake water passes through various stages of purification before it is distributed as drinking water. In the initial stage of purification, the water is decontaminated with mechanical and chemical methods. The second stage leads the water through “slow sand filters that extract the remaining organic pollutants.” Once the water is purified of contaminants, it is processed into the distribution network.

According to ClimateChangePost (CCP), which publishes the most recent information on climate change and adaption, water quality in Sweden could face considerable consequences due to climate change. Half of Sweden’s local water supply is derived from the 95,700 lakes and watercourses that dominate its landscape. The other half is extracted from groundwater.

Climate change projections indicate that more frequent heavy rainfall will elevate levels of sewage overflow. The U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health published an article identifying the link between extreme precipitation and the outbreak of waterborne disease. The study analyzed the time period 1948 to 1994 and demonstrates that “51 percent of waterborne disease outbreaks were preceded by incidences of heavy rain.” This is in part because contaminated raw water creates widespread health risks, such as microbiological growth.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported that microscopic parasites, Cryptosporidium, were found in Östersund’s drinking water during an outbreak of gastroenteritis in November 2010. Cryptosporidium was found in 174 cases of the 700 cases of gastroenteritis. Located in northern Sweden, Östersund’s drinking water tested positive for Cryptosporidium.

On Mar. 30, 2017, the drinking water in Stockholm received a Certification of Quality by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The certificate states that the drinking water in Stockholm City is of “high and consistent quality.” The water is sourced from Lake Mälaren, Lovö and Norsborg.

With close monitoring of climate changes and scientific studies, it is hopeful Sweden’s water supply will continue to produce high-quality drinking water.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Germany: The Gold Standard
Water quality in Germany has been regulated by an effective water management division. The country’s water technology and purification processes are highly regarded internationally. The German government implemented water protection procedures such as water waste charges, the preservation of natural habitats and laws to penalize water pollution.

Germany has an abundance of fresh water; 2.2 percent of the country’s surface area is covered by 11 predominant rivers, 291 dams, and other natural lakes. Approximately 11.7 percent of the fresh water is assigned to drinking water protection.

In 1998 the European Union (EU) adopted the ‘Drinking Water Directive’ (DWD), which set a foundation for high-quality standards for European drinking water. The DWD guidelines include parameters that must be fulfilled to assess drinking water quality.

Currently, the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), represents 80 percent of drinking water production and 60 percent of wastewater disposal in Germany. BDEW supports sustainable energy, the protection of water supply and proper wastewater disposal.

On October 4, 2016, BDEW convened with the Federal Ministry for Environment to state its opinions on major energy developments to be implemented over the next 15 years. The meeting focused on “the future of public services in the water sector.” Key results of the collaborative effort include extending fresh water and groundwater protections to unused resources, creating an “integrated cross-sectoral environmental legislation,” as well as implementing consequences for “enforcement deficiencies in the environmental law.”

As the water quality in Germany increases, the cost of tap water rises as well. A solution to water inflation is the re-use of wastewater, also known as water recycling. By reusing processed water, the required heating and cooling energy are lowered, saving energy and money. Recycling water also reduces the cost and effort needed to filter and purify unprocessed water. When the processed water is reused, it is already free from unwanted micro-organisms and harmful elements.

Germany’s strict environmental legislation and multiple industrial measures have enhanced its water quality and advanced long-term sustainability.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr


This week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to Brussels, Belgium, in order to continue discussions of free trade with Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, leaders from the European Union. The discourse has been ongoing since 2013, but it has faced a number of roadblocks.

Abe has promised to proceed with a deal as soon as possible in hopes of strengthening Japan-EU relations, specifically in terms of political and economic cooperation.

Japan-EU relations have generally sustained good-natured bilateralism. Tokyo maintains strong business connections and investment ties in many EU member nations such as Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Additionally, Japan remains the EU’s sixth-largest trading partner, accounting for more than $133.7 billion in trade during the 2016 fiscal year alone.

The sense of urgency surrounding the dialogue of free trade has been catalyzed by Japan’s growing geopolitical instability. With the developing turmoil between North and South Korea and China’s regional dominance, Abe’s administration has prioritized stronger political relationships, specifically security ties, with its allies.

For this reason, one major point of contention in Japan-EU relations in the past has been with respect to the weight and significance of security dynamics within the relationship at large. Japan has maintained concern that Europe is inflexible when it comes to investing a substantial militaristic and diplomatic presence in Asia.

This stipulation is of particular importance to the Abe administration as it would establish the EU’s commitment to a strategic and cooperative response to international violations — specifically, freedom of navigation as China continues to increase its control over the East and South China Seas.

Japan’s fear is that the European Union has not yet decided how it will balance its trade relations with China, while still being able to condemn the nation for its invasive activities in Southeast Asia.

Nonetheless, both leaders in Japan and the European Union agree that a free trade agreement is the most conducive approach to strengthened political and economic ties.

Overall, a free trade agreement promises to strengthen Japan-EU relations by increasing market access and lowering tariffs for both regions and improving Japan’s political influence in Europe.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr