On visit to Hiroshima, European Council president expresses willingness to promote nuclear disarmament, denounces Russia for nuclear weapons threat

by Junji Akechi and Kana Kobayashi, Staff Writers

On May 13, European Council President Charles Michel made his first visit to the A-bombed city of Hiroshima. After Mr. Michel toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in the Peace Memorial Park, located in the city’s Naka Ward, he vigorously denounced as shameful and unacceptable Russia’s suggestion after that country’s invasion of Ukraine that it might use nuclear weapons. As risk of the use of nuclear weapon rises, Mr. Michel said that ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction was an urgent task and expressed willingness to promote nuclear disarmament efforts globally through collaboration with other nations including Japan.

Guided by Takuo Takigawa, the museum’s director, Mr. Michel spent about 30 minutes touring the facilities. In addition to “White Panorama,” an exhibit using computer graphics to show how the landscape of Hiroshima was instantly destroyed, he attentively took in photographs of children who experienced the atomic bombing as well as A-bomb images painted by survivors. After the tour, he signed a guestbook and wrote a message that included the words, “May our actions be guided by the tragic memory of Hiroshima.”

In his statement at the museum, Mr. Michel mentioned that the atomic bombing tragedy revealed the worst of what human beings are capable of and called on the world’s political leaders to visit Hiroshima and comes to grips with the reality of the bombing. He also pointed out how the global nuclear risk had increased, with reference to the missile testing conducted by North Korea. Based on a May 12 meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who represents Hiroshima Prefecture’s District No. 1, he stressed the importance of cooperation between Japan and Europe on issues related to security and defense, such as nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

In the rain, he laid a wreath of flowers at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. During a meeting with Hiroshima City Mayor Kazumi Matsui, Mr. Michel said that Hiroshima played a key role in sending out to the world a message of opposition to the proliferation of “weapons of mass destruction.” After the meeting, Mr. Matsui said, “I appreciated the fact that Mr. Michel is trying to respond to the situation based on his understanding of the reality of the atomic bombing as a representative of the EU, which shares a border with Russia.”

Mr. Michele then listened to the A-bombing testimony of Keiko Ogura, 84, an A-bomb survivor living in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward, and later met with Hiroshima Prefectural Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki. Both of the meetings were held behind closed doors. Mr. Michel and Mr. Yuzaki exchanged opinions on such topics as the importance of nuclear weapons abolition. Minoru Terada, who represents Hiroshima Prefecture’s District No. 5 and serves as special assistant responsible for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues in Prime Minister Kishida’s Cabinet, agreed with Mr. Michel. “The EU leader’s visit to Hiroshima is of great significance because it can send a strong message of peace to the international community.”

Mr. Michel assumed the presidency of the European Council in December 2019, after taking office as the prime minister of Belgium. He was reelected to his second term as European Council president in March 2022 and is the second sitting European Council president to visit Hiroshima, following Donald Tusk, who visited the city in June 2019. In conjunction with the regular Japan-EU summit meeting with Mr. Kishida, Mr. Michel was accompanied on his trip to Japan by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

(Originally published on May 14, 2022)