It’s fashionable these days to write off Europe.
The continent that gave us the democracy, the Renaissance, Einstein, the industrial revolution, modern medicine…
And, in more recent times, the continent that has been a world leader in human rights, climate change, development assistance and peace-keeping.
And yet, the fiscal challenges faced by Greece, Spain, and others — are so advanced and deep-set — so the argument goes - that Europe has lost its way.
By comparison, the surging economies of Asia — first and foremost China — are expanding to a new position of leadership, eclipsing the European success of past centuries.
This talk of European declinism is so advanced it’s even slightly ahead of American declinism.
I have to say: I don’t accept this logic.
Don’t get me wrong.
The fiscal and structural challenges that Europe faces are immense, and in some ways unprecedented.
The debt crisis is simply the biggest threat to the global economy today.
In the context of the modern state, with its social welfare structures, the debt situation that Europe faces is daunting.
The human impacts are very real.
But let me be clear: I am optimistic about Europe.
We should look beyond 2012.
And, given the scale and scope of global geostrategic change, it is important that Europe does remain coherent and engaged with economic and political events beyond its borders.
We all have a stake in Europe’s success.
Amid the arguments about growth- or austerity-led recoveries, I am confident Europe will emerge strong and united from its current problems.
Tonight, I want to take something of a step back from the challenges of the present, to take a longer perspective on Europe, and on Australia’s relationship with the European Union.
50th anniversaries are good for taking that sort of perspective.
The importance of Europe
Europe remains a vital and important project.
Remember, the EU pre-existed the currency union and is much more than a currency union.
In the days after the Second World War, Europe’s leaders were more concerned with a much more existential question: how to prevent another catastrophic war.
In 1950, proposing the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, Robert Schumann said:
“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan….
The Schumann Declaration explicitly set the goal of making war not only unthinkable, “but materially impossible”.
By the delivery of an ongoing peace dividend, half a century on — the European project has already been profoundly effective.
A singular transformation has come to a continent that had been wracked by centuries of conflict.
The absence of war.
Specific tensions have remained - memories of Sarajevo are hard to forget.
But the EU has shown that in a stable, peaceful environment, imbued with democracy, respect for human rights and freedom and including vital safety nets, economic opportunity is infinitely more attractive than conflict.
Today, the EU constitutes a peaceful, wealthy zone accounting for a quarter of the global economy.
It accounts for more than that, in terms of world trade — more than a third of total global two-way trade, goods and services, is with EU member states.
And despite the current troubles, Europe remains the major player in outward investment: nearly 44 per cent of all global direct outward investment is owned by European countries.
More, Europe continues its role as a source of inspiration, ideas and innovation.
The single market has allowed for some extraordinary reforms.
Harmonized industrial, and environmental standards.
And yes — the single currency.
For decades, Europe has been at the forefront of the evolution of ideas of social justice at the national level.
I believe the invention of social safety nets has been one of the signal achievements of the 20th Century.
We in Australia recognise that Europe has a lot to offer, which is why we are keen to develop our relationship.
Australia is a valuable partner
Australia, too, has much to offer.
Humans inhabited our continent for tens of thousands of years before European arrival.
We continue to work towards reconciliation and a greater and more equitable role for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our national life.
We still have a lot of peace to make.
The National Apology was an important step on that road.
We inherited democracy, and gave it our own stamp.
Female suffrage — states like South Australia led the world in extending voting rights to women.
The secret ballot.
We’ve been prepared to fight for democracy and freedom, too — including in Europe.
Per capita, our sacrifice during the First World War was among the highest in the world.
We are also an open, competitive society that is not afraid of finding our place in the world.
Through much of the 20th Century, we resisted truly opening ourselves to global competition, preferring to believe that protecting our industries was helping our growth.
Our foreign policy was more a function of our history, rather than our geography.
But — particularly since the Hawke Government in the 1980s, the Keating Government in the 1990s — structural reform has enlivened our economy.
Working hard for an open, competitive economy, we’ve given ourselves more capacity to pay for the things most important to our society: education, health, programs to tackle disadvantage.
We’ve made ourselves part of our region, bringing our society and our economy to Asia.
We’ve opened our society to the world, rejecting a narrow nationalism based on ethnicity for a dynamic, multicultural spirit.
We have been the beneficiaries of widespread migration from Europe, particularly in the post-war period.
We’ve worked hard to build a rules-based, peaceful order in our region.
Australia has been a leader in helping bring together the Asia-Pacific region.
Through institutions like APEC, and membership of the G20 and East Asia Summit.
We’ve been active in building closer relationships and new cross-cultural linkages in our region.
Our relationship with Indonesia is a stand-out on this front.
Our economic ties with our northern neighbour continue to grow apace.
Which shows what can be achieved by a partnership between a young democracy with the largest Muslim population in the world, and a longer-established democracy with a very different social and cultural history.
Australia is also an economic leader.
As Europe and the United States have struggled through the global financial crisis, Australia has avoided a recession.
There are many reasons for that, like our rich mineral inheritance.
But fundamentally, our success has come from our economic openness.
Our commitment to trade is what has made us relevant to the extraordinary industrialisation taking place in China, and other parts of Asia.
Over many decades now, we have been committed to international security.
We were involved in the birth of our system of modern institutions in the ashes of the Second World War.
Over the years, we have deployed over 65,000 personnel to 50 UN and other multilateral peace and security operations.
Today we have over 3,000 people deployed on missions overseas.
Our commitment to global peace and security is why we are seeking to win a seat on the UN Security Council in elections to be held in October.
We believe we’ve played a valuable role over many years — and can continue to provide useful insights, particularly given unique place in the Asia-Pacific.
Both the EU and Australia should be proud of the contribution we’ve made over the past 50 years.
The world today is more peaceful, in many ways, and we both bear some of the credit for that.
But peace and understanding must still be fought for.
We live in a world of intense and dramatic change.
The best way to respond to that is to work together on the serious issues we face.
We are working together in the World Trade Organization, and in the G20, to support a liberal, rules-based order.
We have a common understanding of the importance of tackling climate change.
Both of us are acutely aware that the impact of climate change will fall hardest on some of those states least able to adapt to its effects.
We are both providing practical help to Pacific island countries to deal with the realities of climate change.
We each recognise the damage being done to our oceans.
Both through the effects of acidification — the absorption of more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the oceans.
And through the damage done by over-fishing.
Both Europe and Australia understand the critical importance of building cross-cultural understanding.
We are working together through the Asia-Europe Meeting to deepen understanding between our two regions.
We co-operate on aid delivery.
The EU agreed to deliver food-security assistance in South Sudan on Australia's behalf.
And the EU and Australia are working on a strategy that would enable Australia to deliver a component of the EU’s assistance in Fiji.
And we remain vital partners on global security.
Australia is working alongside the EU and its member states in Afghanistan.
We have just announced a comprehensive package of assistance for Afghanistan worth $250 million per year for the next four years.
In the past, our relationship was focused mostly on trade and market access issues.
But it has matured into a broad-based and forward-looking partnership.
We are now negotiating a Framework Agreement to provide a further impetus to our cooperation.
In many ways, our relationship is like the European project itself.
It is growing, bit by bit, deeper and deeper over time.
In another 50 years, I am sure a future Australian foreign minister will be looking back on the centenary of our relationship with an even keener sense of its importance.
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