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Shake-up In Australia – EU Links: Ambassador …

  • April 2nd, 2011
  • Posted by 7thmin

brendannelson-resize.jpgChanging relations with the Europeans …

The Australian Ambassador talks about a turn-around in attitudes towards the EU.


Australia’s Ambassador to the European Union, Brendan Nelson, says old antagonisms and “Euro-scepticism” promoted in the political community are fast being eclipsed by closer relations worked out at diplomatic level.

In Australia for mid-term consultations, Dr Nelson said (1.4.11) negotiations on the partnership agreement, at sub-treaty level, put forward in 2008 were expected to end in the coming months.

“We should have a mandate from the European Commission in May or June, and we expect to have it completed by the end of the year”, he said.

The EC president, Jose Manuel Barroso, was likely to  initial the document during a visit planned for September.

(Mr Barroso had to drod a trip planned for February 2009 at short notice, due to “urgent business” connected with the world economic situation  at that time; see Euaustralia Online, “Man heading Down Under – later”, 7.2.09).

The Ambassador said hard realities were being dealt with in many fields of business, politics and security, and the new agreement with Europe would be a framework for many of those.

It would focus especially on the three areas, of trade; the environment and climate change; and science, technology and research, where there had already been major changes; like the important 2010 wine agreement, and expanded exchange programs in education and research. (See EUAustralia Online, “Wine deal: break out the bubbly”, 31.8.10).


Other moves had included Australia’s support for getting passport name records installed at EU airports, a system that had recently seen five suspects arrested over planned acts of terrorism, plus several arrests of drugs traders and pedophiles off on sex tours.

(See EUAustralia Online, “Plan to keep passenger names on EU flights”, 7.2.11).

Another was a key battle, still-alive, to ensure kangaroo meat sales to Europe, a significant industry for Australia, against a lobby at the European Parliament putting up “cultural” arguments against it.

(See recent kangaroo meat dispute, Russia: EUAustralia Online, “Roos bred up but Russia ban stays”, 5.1.10).

He said it would remain that Australia – EU relations did not have a “Tier 1” booking in the whole international field; the proposed new concord would not extend to a full free trade agreement settling Australian demands on agriculture, and European demands on financial services, though the “door can be left open” on free trade.

The agreement will have a preamble affirming protection of human rights and common values, consistent with EU policy of including rights and democratic standards of governance as a condition of all associations. Earlier Australian reservations on committing to codified statements on rights have been withdrawn for this compact with the Europeans.


As Australia’s EU Ambassador, Brendan Nelson says he’s acutely aware of tense relations in times gone by – much of the negative feeling still not forgotten.

“Many in Australia were deeply scarred by Britain’s entry into the Common Market in 1973”, he said.

He was referring to the loss of preferential trade with Britain, a legacy of Empire which offered some shelter from the fiercely competitive climate of world markets – especially in farm trade.

Confrontations followed over the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the then European Community, which not only locked foreign goods out of the fortress, but dumped vast amounts of subsidised produce on markets outside.


By 1990 Ministers from the Hawke and Keating Labor governments were disavowing the old “buffalo diplomacy” that had worked back home for the rural lobby, but got nowhere in Brussels; many farm industries likewise had lost interest, finding good outlets elsewhere, (e.g. sales of prime beef to Asia, with import duties on beef to the EU, beyond a derisory minimum, making it not worthwhile to go there).

(The CAP has itself been radically altered. While subsidies remain on farm costs and rural development, direct production-based payments, which would put huge above-cost  surpluses on the markets, have been steadily phased out. See EUAustralia Online: “Farming out the money”, 27.10.06; “Backgrounder: Update on the CAP”, 29.10.06; “Australia to EU: more farm changes needed”, 12.7.07; “Farming milestone …”, 19.6.07; “Wine and sugar: Ministers facing up to changes”, 20.7.07; “Agriculture: EC’s spending claw-back …”, 28.12.07).


Dr Nelson this week reported signs of a structural change  in 2002 when the Liberal Party Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, signed on to closer relations with China and also Europe.

rudd.jpgHimself a former senior Minister at that time, and later Liberal leader, Dr Nelson said the bi-partisan element in  policy on Europe was recognised with his appointment as Ambassador by Kevin Rudd, the next Labor Prime Minister.
Mr Rudd (picture) set up the partnership agreement now being completed, in a visit to Brussels early in 2008, followed up last year by his successor, Julia Gillard (picture, with Jose Manuel Barroso) .

gillardbarrososmilesthumb.JPGSee EUAustralia Online: ‘“Be partners and cut farm protection’ says Rudd”, 3.4.08; “Australia-EU Talking treaty”, 8.10.10.

“The Common Agricultural Policy and agricultural trade now takes up about 5% of my work at the embassy”, Brendan Nelson said this week.


Though that would not be the end of the story, what with only a weak Australian media presence in continental Europe, and the volume of anti-EU briefing that still goes on in London; all coming to the fore with the sovereign debt crisis during the last few years.

“You could think that it was all going to fall apart in Europe …”, he said.

“There is an entire industry with a voracious appetite for reporting negative stories on the European Union.

“There are people whose job is to write about the latest crises of the EU.”

So it has been in the Australian political community, even up to the last few years:

“We had a tense relationship with NATO and people did not have a lot of time for the European Union.

“Australians are can-do people and our foreign policy was built on the relationships with the United Kingdom and the United States, and through the United Nations support for multilateralism, and building closer relations with Asia, then with China.

“Generally speaking the political class has seen the European Union as completely bureaucratic, largely focused on its own interests, though now there is a different consensus on matters also considered important, like trade, defence relations and particularly agriculture.”


brendan-nelson-ldresize.jpgDr Nelson was addressing a Brisbane forum of the Europe Council of Australia, and spoke with Lee Duffield (picture) from EUAustralia Online.

In further postings to come, based on this wide-ranging address about developing EU-Australia relations:-

  • How Australia was “pissed off” with NATO before negotiating a proper deal on handling the Afghanistan commitment.
  • Support for the European Idea: “Impressive” expansion of the European Union under its “Lisbon Treaty” reforms, with much more power to the European Parliament; a powerful EU foreign policy machine under construction, and the “European President”, Hubert Van Rompuy, managing-down the crisis over sovereign debt – “The European Union, and Germany, will not be abandoning the Euro.”
  • Of all things, as this 25th April approaches, Australian backing for Turkey to be admitted to the European Union.

Picture wikipedia