ISSN 2330-717X

Shared Futures: Europe And Australia In The 21st Century


By José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission

Keynote Address at Australia National University

It is a great pleasure to be here ladies and gentlemen. After a rescheduling in 2009 this visit is long overdue and one that I am personally very pleased to be undertaking.

Let me echo the earlier acknowledgement of the First Australians, and may I also recognise the hundreds of people joining today through internet live-streaming, not only in Australia but across Asia and the Pacific.

The modern links between the peoples of Europe and Australia are deep and well-known. 70 per cent of Australians have European ancestry and we host many of each other’s largest expatriate communities, quite aside from our deep economic and political ties. Even our hosts today, the Australian National University, were witnesses of the European Community from its inception, through Vice Chancellor Sir Douglas Copland, who led the Australian delegation observing our processes in 1951.

Since the last official visit of a serving European Commission President, 30 years ago, our world has changed dramatically and at an increasing pace. From Communism’s collapse to the rise of the global economy and spread of information technology, the backdrop to our relationship has transformed.

Amidst this transformation the European Union sees Australia a natural, solid and essential global partner.

We see much to admire in Australia. With a diverse and growing population, and an economy reformed to meet the challenges of globalisation head-on, Australia shows it is possible to combine economic reform with strong social protections and progress. Australia’s continued economic growth is testament to decades of policy innovation and discipline, helping Australia to its rightful role as significant actor in this dynamic region.

The European Union has responded to a different context and holds its own lessons for those who seek freedom, peace and prosperity. As Prime Minister Hawke noted in 1985, the EU is “a triumph of enlightened self-interest over self-defeating pursuit of the narrowest national interest”.

Though we are still building our Union, we have achieved a great deal. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, for example:

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso

We have grown from 12 member states to 27, with more applying to join. Our Union today stretches from the Arctic to the edges of Asia and Africa.

We have built the world’s largest single market – some three times the size of China’s – and we are its biggest trading bloc.

We have created a common currency that increasingly acts as a global reserve.

And today we are actively improving our economic governance and foreign policy capabilities to match the new global realities.

If you have ever travelled to Europe you have experienced the benefits of our Union; from the visa-free Schengen zone to the convenience and efficiency of the Euro. And if you have not had the chance to visit, you still receive the benefits; from six decades of peace to the stability gained from the spreading of democratic liberal values.

Europe’s global interests

To put that in an overall strategic context, the 27 member states of the European Union are sharing sovereignty. We do this because it is clear to us that in order to secure our social market model and global interests we must act as more than the sum of our parts, and be an effective participant in multilateral fora.

Indeed, that is why we value our relationship with natural partners like Australia, not only bilaterally but through forums such as the United Nations and G20. In a world as inter-connected as ours, we reject utterly the notion that geography might influence who our friends and partners are.

It is certainly true that the world is experiencing a great rebalancing of power, mostly centred on Asia. It is also true that Australia is ahead of the global pace in embracing this shift. We view favourably Australia’s increasing economic links and participation in Asian regional fora, and want to connect with your experience in the region.

Let me assure you that the European Union affirms the rise of Asia as a win-win situation for the world, which Europe wants to be a part of. These shifts do not mean Europe is irrelevant, either to Australia or global affairs. In fact the rise of Asia and other emerging economies is also directly linked to the policies of open economies, free trade, stability and development assistance that the European Union has championed over the years.

Geopolitical power and challenges need to be seen from increasingly broad perspectives. While the European Union’s geo-political power is not military in nature, it is not limited to soft and economic power. Foreign policy today goes well beyond trade and peace. It stretches from climate change negotiations to migration flows to counter-terrorism to food, development and aid. On issues as diverse as competition law, industrial standards and privacy, Europe’s influence spreads virally in a way that tends to encourage a global race to the top rather than a race to the bottom.

What is relevant to the European Union’s relationship with Asia and Australia is that these are all areas where the European countries have chosen to delegate all or part of their sovereignty to the EU institutions. The European Union is as deep and real as its Member States. And so the EU’s relevance as a global actor is increasing, even as the relative influence of countries in Asia and groupings such as ASEAN is rising also.

Recent substantial overhaul of our structures and institutions, primarily through the Lisbon Treaty, allows us to increasingly act with the coordinated and united voice that the world seeks from Europe. In coming years and decades this will enable the European Union to increase its global footprint – extending beyond its place as an economic superpower.

This does not mean that the solutions to Europe’s challenges can emerge overnight. The basic legitimacy of the EU comes from our Member States. This involves political constraints, and the obvious complications of co-ordinating 27 nations using more than 20 languages. We aren’t a super-state and we never will be. But at the same time we are much more than an inter-governmental forum.

This visit is an example of how the European Commission is determined that the current crisis will not force the European Union into an endless cycle of introspection. Europe’s future lies in adjusting its engagement and role in world affairs, not in internal squabbles. To that end we are moving towards convincing medium and long term approaches to both national budgets and Eurozone governance; the full impact of this progress becoming apparent over the next three years.

A new chapter in EU – Australian relations

The European Union is fully aware that Australia is also adjusting its global engagement and is not content to play a narrow regional role. As an active middle power and an essential partner in international forums such as the UN and G20, and events from Afghanistan to the Arab Spring, the EU and Australia stand together on the global stage.

Let me underline my strong belief that our relations are on a firm footing. We appreciate that Australia is taking a pro-active approach to its relationship with the European Union. And we deeply appreciate working together around the world to defend and promote our fundamental values. These are values that Australians have twice come to Europe to secure, at severe cost.

Since the economic relationship between the EU and Australia began to take shape in the 1960s and 70s, the old notions of Fortress Europe and Fortress Australia have disappeared. In recent decades our collaborations have been ever closer and fairer across a growing number of fields. From higher education to science and technology; aviation security to development cooperation – even in agriculture where some differences remain. In fact, Australia and the EU have no fewer than 10 separate dialogues running.

Through our Partnership Framework, a welcome step forward in 2008, we are already giving significant emphasis to our shared global challenges in our formal relationship.

Building on this momentum the Commission, like the Australian Government believes it is time to go further – to open a new chapter in the relationship.

This is why I welcomed Prime Minister Gillard’s proposal to upgrade relations, made during the Asia-Europe summit last October. The European Commission has responded positively by recommending to EU Member States that we open negotiations with Australia for a treaty-level Framework Agreement: to govern and give impetus to our relationship.

Yesterday I had very productive exchanges with Prime Minister Gillard in this regard. We agree that we must anchor our relationship for the long term, and our challenge is now to transfer our shared interests into shared treaty-level commitments and action.

These processes naturally take time, but I believe if we can reach agreement on the far-reaching exchange of highly classified information, as we have done in July 2011, then we have good hopes of progress. I believe we have a lot to learn and gain from each other.

Such an agreement would provide a basis for closer cooperation on a wide range of sectoral policies. From education and science through to counter-terrorism and also the fight against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The EU in the Pacific

Cooperation in the Pacific is another key component of the strategic partnership between Australia and the EU that would be assisted by an updated Framework.

As by far the largest global development donor – taking account of Commission and Member States contributions – it is no surprise that the EU is also the second-largest aid donor in the Pacific after Australia. Together, by joining our political and financial forces alongside those of New Zealand, we can maximise the absorption of funds and our overall impact. Most significantly by promoting good governance – in particular Fiji’s return to democracy – and regional integration; while also mitigating climate change, and attaining the Millennium Development Goals. This would build on the enhanced forms of coordination foreseen in the Cairns Compact – such as joint programming and delegated cooperation agreements.

The EU, Australia and Asia

More broadly, Australia and the European Union share the objectives of enjoying peace, security and trade with Asia. The change taking place in Asia is unfolding at a rapid pace, and as I have said earlier we see these changes and Australia’s involvement in the region as positive.

The EU is building multi-dimensional relationships with Asian countries, determined that we should listen and learn from each others’ experiences. Such stronger relationships are essential to deal with global challenges. Though we were ASEAN’s first dialogue partner in 1972, in the past the EU’s relationships in Asia have been largely economic. We need to go beyond a purely mercantilist approach and engage politically to shape collectively a new global governance.

The direct dialogue offered through ASEM – the forum that gathers all 27 EU Member States plus virtually all Asian States – is essential for bringing about these improved relationships. I am grateful that after 15 years the forum is still characterised by a sense of momentum. We must make it more effective still.

The European Union believes the forum is stronger as a result of Australia’s participation, and also because of the broader scope of issues now covered. I am thinking of course of issues such as climate change which force us to address all the aspects of our relationship together, and the fact that security issues are now on the agenda of ASEM. The European Union is of course willing to play a role in regional security in Asia as it has done, in the role of honest broker, over issues such as Aceh.

We realise that our Union does not serve as a direct model for Asian regional integration. But at the same time it remains something of a catalyst and reference point for those working towards closer relationships in the region. Those relationships may exist from government to government, business to business or people to people. They will take time to develop, but I have no doubt the will to develop them is there.


Moving onto one of the most complex and lasting issues of our time. A new Framework Agreement between the European Union and Australia would also increase the scope for closer cooperation on energy and climate issues.

The green economy is the economic growth story of Europe’s future, and indeed the world. That is the only way to satisfy the aspirations of the nine or more billions who will live on this planet in 2050.

Our approach to climate change is therefore built on science but tailored to economic realities and possibilities. You could say Europe is pursuing green reforms and innovation for three reasons: science, self-interest and our sense of responsibility to future generations.

Australia must naturally define its own interests, and pursue them through the mechanisms of its choice. But it is clear that carbon pricing and trading is an opportunity for nations to firmly stake a place at the centre of the next great economic and political theme faced jointly by all of us. Those that create and dominate the new markets supporting this transition to the low-carbon economy stand to gain a great deal: competitiveness, growth and jobs.

The pricing and trading of carbon enables more efficient markets and forces us to allocate our resources more effectively, for example by increasing capital investment in new technologies in the manufacturing sector. In this way a carbon price helps us deal with the pressures of the globalised economy as well as the environmental threat. No nation which looks to trade as a means of to prosperity can afford to overlook this.

For these reasons the European Union welcomes the Australian Government’s efforts to tackle the carbon issue, and to develop a policy that will over time link to our own.

In saying this I must stress that our respective approaches to emissions reduction are not at odds with the need for a global agreement. In particular a global agreement that includes collectively measurable and verifiable emissions reductions from all major emitters.


Finally, let me conclude that the European Union – Australia relationship has huge potential, which we are only just starting to unlock. I have travelled here because I want Australians and the Australian Government to know that the European Union is committed to achieving this potential.

I also want to convey the message that despite occasional portrayals, the European Union works effectively. It has worked for sixty years as a driver of peace and prosperity through compromise.

It is these aspirations that we will bring to the table as we continue to deepen our relationship with Australia. We have long shared interests; we have been building closer relations; it is now time to build on that through sharing further action.

For a European, Australia is as far away as you can get. However, I must confess that so far, in particular here at the ANU, I have been feeling as if I were at home.

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