April 21, 2019

‘Busy and exciting’ times predicted for EU-Japan ties

EU Ambassador Patricia Flor reflects on her career and upcoming events


    Patricia Flor brings new meaning to the phrase “hit the ground running.” Within two hours of her arrival in Japan last autumn to begin her assignment, she jumped straight into work.

    The ambassador of the European Union, Flor has had a keen interest in European history and culture since a young age, when she visited various countries around the continent with her family on vacation. In addition to her native German, the polyglot is fluent in English, Russian and French, with a “good command” of Georgian.

    Flor started out as a journalist, based on her interest in politics and media. During a six-month stint in the U.S. as a freelance writer, she had the chance to interact with the diplomatic community and thought it seemed like an interesting career path.

    Some years later, she was in Moscow conducting academic research. “I witnessed the demise of the Soviet Union. I think that was the moment when I said, ‘Do I want to always only report about events, or would I wish to sometimes participate as an active member, with negotiating with diplomats?’” she recalled.

    Flor cites “strength in unity” as a concept she finds personally inspiring, and this idea guides her professionally, too. “What one needs to realize is that in this complex world today, there are really no zero-sum games. The fact that you try to reach an agreement together, despite the fact that you may have to make some compromises, means the end result is a better outcome for everyone,” she said.

    During her multifaceted diplomatic career, Flor has represented Germany as an ambassador in previous posts and she compared this with working on behalf of the entire EU.

    “In essence, it doesn’t really differ a lot, meaning that I represent all of the European Union and its member states, but other than that I negotiate and engage in dialogue as an ambassador,” she said. “What is different is that I am guided by the EU policies. In some areas, like trade, for instance, the competence is really with the European Union. So no individual member of the EU can negotiate a trade agreement.”

    According to Flor, the best thing about working for the EU is the opportunity to be in a multicultural and multilateral environment, bringing different perspectives and histories together. And the biggest challenge? “Bureaucracy,” she said with a grin. “It just happens to be the case that every bureaucracy has its own specific rules, regulations and IT (information technology) systems.”

    Flor appreciates the opportunities afforded by her role to travel to various areas of Japan to meet with local officials and the business community. She is also called upon to visit and give lectures at universities and enjoys engaging with young people about Japan-EU matters.

    On the topic of youth outreach, EU delegation and member states diplomats have been visiting Japanese high schools since 2007 to give presentations under the “EU Comes to Your School” project. To date, more than 430,000 students have participated, with 2019 activities scheduled for November. Moreover, this year’s annual European Union Higher Education Fair will be held in Tokyo and Osaka for young adults interested in study and research opportunities in Europe.

    Japan and the EU recently signed an economic partnership agreement, which went into effect on Feb. 1 this year, removing previous trade barriers. Flor is looking forward to the resulting benefits, expressing hope that a positive effect on the growth of gross domestic product down the line will prove that such agreements are advantageous for all partners.

    A major event of mutual importance is the upcoming Group of 20 leaders’ summit, which will take place in Osaka on June 28 and 29. The ambassador and her colleagues will be working closely with the Japanese government to ensure its success. She is also keen to work on policies pertaining to other areas of common interest, such as marine plastic pollution and climate change.

    Immigration is an issue both the EU and Japan are grappling with. From a historical perspective, Flor points out that free movement of people within the EU has contributed greatly to growth and well-being, and adds that the key concerns now are global shared interests and finding good ways to manage immigration.

    “Within the EU there are, of course, very different views on immigration. It is one of the hotly debated issues currently, but at the same time, we have common policies,” she said. While noting that Japan needs to decide what is best for its own situation, Flor believes immigration policy is a good topic for dialogue exchange.

    Another topic, which resonates greatly with Flor on both a professional and personal level, is women’s empowerment. She is keen to see Japan make continued efforts in this area.

    Flor points out that role models in visible positions are very important for young women. When asked if she considers herself a role model, Flor said, “Funnily, I don’t think I ever thought about that in the past. But now, because I get these questions, yes, I realize it. When young women ask me for advice, I tell them, ‘Just do what feels right, something that you are passionate about and you want to achieve.’”

    While Flor is anticipating a busy and exciting period ahead for Japan-EU relations, she is looking forward to cultivating relationships on a personal level, too. “With all of my postings, I take away some friendships, which remain,” she said with a smile.

    A history of diverse diplomatic positions

    Patricia Flor hails from the German city of Nuremberg. After working as a journalist for several years, she joined the foreign service in 1992. Early on in her diplomatic career, Flor served as political officer at Germany’s embassy in Kazakhstan, followed by a position with the German Permanent Mission to the United Nations, where she chaired the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in New York. She went on to represent both Germany and the EU in a variety of roles. Prior to coming to Japan, Flor served as German Federal Government Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control in Berlin from 2015 to 2018. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, as well as a master’s in public administration from Harvard University. Flor has developed an interest in sumo since coming to Japan and enjoys exploring Tokyo on foot.

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