I’m delighted to be joined by a delegation from Australia here, and particularly want to acknowledge our Ambassador-designate, Lynette Wood, who will be commencing formal duties shortly, my parliamentary colleagues from the German Parliament, delighted to see you here.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed an honour to be invited to speak at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation here in Berlin and I’m very pleased to be back in Berlin again as Foreign Minister.
It is an exciting time for the Foundation, given the huge amount of policy work being conducted at this very important point in the history of the European Union.
And I’m particularly pleased to hear that the Foundation will be setting up an office in Australia, and I certainly encourage you to do so as soon as possible.
Yesterday, my parliamentary and ministerial colleague, the Defence Minister of Australia Senator Marise Payne and I participated in the first German / Australian 2+2 ministerial dialogue with our counterparts, Ministers Steinmeier and von der Leyen.
While this was an historic milestone in our bilateral relationship - I understand the Germans do not hold a 2+2 with any other country than Australia - it was evident from our deep and frank and open discussions that we are two countries divided only by distance.
Vibrant democracies, committed to freedom, the rule of law, open market economies with a similar world view and perspectives largely aligned. Ours is a friendship between two natural partners. So, let me expand on this in a broader context.
Ladies and gentlemen, after the end of the Cold War, it seemed, for a time, that the ancient battles over sovereignty and land borders in most parts of the world were more or less settled.
The trend of the times – typified by the advent and growth of the European Union – was towards collaboration between nations, towards the respect for and application of international law and away from conflict.
A key element of the safeguard against conflict was that nations would not use military force to change geographic borders.
And that was essentially the case until 2014 when Europeans experienced perhaps the most profound strategic shock in two decades.
The Russian annexation of Crimea, and its treatment of Ukraine, was an explicit rejection of that principle and therefore represented an open challenge to the European Union itself.
Then in 2015 another strategic shock struck European shores from the south with an unprecedented flow of people from war-torn Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, and North Africa.
In the space of twelve months, one million people flowed into Europe, placing huge pressures on the capacities of national governments and on European unity.
Protectionist and nationalist instincts that had been slowly building across Europe for years suddenly found a cause through which to advance these agendas right into the heart of the European Union.
A third strategic shock came this year in the form of Brexit – a democratic earthquake with consequences that are hard to fully comprehend and are likely to take years to play out.
Overlaying these three huge strategic shocks is, of course, the terrible, unfolding, evolving threat of terrorism – which has struck repeatedly and tragically on European soil, at times in the centre of some of Europe’s greatest cities.
It seems that, after sixty years, we have reached a crucial point in the European project.
None of these recent challenges detract from the extraordinary benefits that have come from European unity, particularly:
- the absence of a major war, like those which tore apart this continent twice in the 20th Century
- the strong support Europe’s own development and integration gives the international order, international frameworks and international law
- and the prosperity that has been gained through Europe’s part in globalisation.
However, the pressures now coming to bear on the European Union have intensified and are extraordinarily complex.
Many people – sometimes even majorities of national populations – have been wondering whether the long arc of European integration has been worthwhile.
Some have questioned whether the security and prosperity gained from this unique experiment in the pooling of sovereignty has justified the social change and economic upheaval implicit in any project of this scale.
We’ve seen this with Brexit, but it’s also expressed in opinion poll after poll across Europe – the fragmentation and polarisation of political power, the increased support given to nationalists or to those who offer populist solutions – whether they can deliver or not – to Europe’s challenges.
Today, I’ll talk about why it is vital that the European project continues to succeed and remains resilient.
The fact is, all of us – that is, all of us who live in the liberal democracies that were incubated and nurtured by the nations of Europe – have a stake in Europe’s success.
While different European nations have played significant roles at different times throughout history – when we look at Europe today, it is without question that this continent is at the heart of the Western evolution of liberal democracy.
Now, longstanding continuous democracies like Australia naturally want to see Europe continue to succeed, because we believe the fundamental political model and values that we share are intrinsically for the greater good.
We want to see this influence spread – not shrink.
However, when we look around the world today, there are widespread signs of democracy in trouble.
As the 20th Century drew to a close, it was a reasonable bet that the long ideological battles over which socio-political model was best for the management of human affairs had been settled.
Democracy had spread to country after country around the world, on every continent – a far cry from the predominantly autocratic world a century earlier.
Marxism failed in the Soviet Union and the number of democracies thereafter proliferated. China’s embrace of formal socialism seemed increasingly qualified by its greater desire to emerge as a market economy, particularly as it made its historic move into the World Trade Organization in 2001.
Yet the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 spurred a massive loss of faith in Western financial practices and institutions.
Jobs, investment and growth have been hard to come by in many Western economies, sluggish at best, leading to rising concerns about equality and opportunity.
The countries of the West – including the United States and European – have struggled with concerns about spiraling debt, the inability of governments to enact meaningful social and economic reform, the massive loss of jobs associated with major structural change, and so on – all of these factors have played into a narrative of loss of dynamism in the West.
The United States, a model of democratic values and freedoms, finds its political system struck by partisan gridlock, although no-one should ever underestimate the capacity of the United States to reinvent and rejuvenate itself.
In some democracies, the voting public has lost faith in the political class and are turning to candidates claiming to be anti-establishment, the anti-politician.
People all around the world – including in the European Union and Australia – are feeling disenfranchised from their own democracies.
Some have come to think that the West’s very freedoms now lie at the heart of some of our most complex challenges – the push for the open movement of people and multiculturalism, for example – and have left us vulnerable.
The perception that democracy is struggling creates doubts in the minds of the leaders of developing countries when they look for inspiration about how to transform their societies.
As China has grown exponentially in economic power and influence, the model of one-party rule, with an economy dominated by State-owned enterprises, seems a viable alternative.
In other parts of the developing world, another model offering tantalising prospects to some is theocracy.
The emergence of non-state actors like ISIL with its perverse attempts to impose a warped model of Islam on populations via caliphate is one example.
There is a possibility of more authoritarian Islamic governments, based on adherence to one rigid form of thought, as opposed to our values of individual freedoms and freedom of speech, religious tolerance, secular institutions, open markets, and so on.
Much worse is the possibility of criminally-run economies – narco-states, perhaps, or kleptocracies – corrupt forms of governance that do much to enrich a tiny population of ruling elites but little for the vast majority.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe in the genius of democracy. None of the other alternatives offer the world anywhere near the benefit of the liberal democratic model. Churchill had it right.
None can provide lasting stability or prosperity, which, by the way, is why so many successful people in some developing countries and economies leave for the West and send their children to our educational institutions.
In last month’s edition of Foreign Affairs, Stanford University's Larry Diamond provides a cogent summary of why democracies are good for us:
- they look after the human rights of their citizens
- they don’t go to war with each other
- more often than not, they have more developed, stronger economies – which makes them more stable, and prosperous.
Authoritarian regimes, on the other hand, are “inherently unstable”.
Diamond points out that while the West has been struggling with a crisis of confidence in the strength and vitality of our democracies, authoritarian leaders have been making hay, exporting to other developing states their toolkits for repression, surveillance, conflict and destabilisation.
They are multipliers of instability.
The fact is, we need liberal democracies like Europe, the United States and Australia to not only be successful, but to be seen to be successful, so they are a positive model for others.
A global retreat of democracy and the inherent values of freedom and respect for human rights would have major strategic consequences for us all.
A global retreat of democracy would mean more instability, more conflict, less observance of fundamental rights and less prosperity.
To ensure we reinvigorate global security and prosperity into the future, we must renew and refresh our democracies, and our faith in democracy’s transformative power.
This will mean strengthening our institutions and safeguarding principles such as freedom of speech and the rule of law.
And our democracies must be functioning – there’s much more to a functioning democracy than a vote.
Many authoritarian regimes hold “elections” and use the results to impose tyranny on groups with lesser power at the ballot box.
Future success lies, as it always has, in taking the hard decisions to make sure we remain the exemplar of development globally - hard decisions, both socially, and economically.
First and foremost, we need policies that maintain trust in open
We need to resist negative impulses towards isolationism and
Australia recognises, for example, the scale of the migration challenge facing Europe.
Maintaining orderly border control is critical to national sovereignty and cohesiveness – Australia believes that very strongly.
While ensuring we have secure borders, we must also remain open to the world.
Economically, we must resist the new wave of protectionism we are seeing throughout the world.
It is concerning that there is rising scepticism about the benefits of free and open trade and investment.
Australia’s economy has been built on open trade and foreign investment.
All economies benefit from an open liberal trading and investment regime.
We need to work hard at building understanding on this point. We need to work very hard.
Third, we all need to get our fiscal houses in order.
Some countries in the European Union, just like Australia, need to get their debt burdens under control.
This is critical not only for long-term economic stability, but also to build confidence that democratically elected governments can find solutions and can lead with discipline for the benefit of future generations.
Fourth, we have to re-emphasise the importance of structural reform.
Lifting productivity and stimulating innovation will build confidence in the liberal democratic model.
Australia is facing this challenge as much as many others, with productivity rates over the last decade or so well below where we need them to be.
If we can unlock the private sector engine of our economies, we will see economic gains that reinvigorate our societies.
Global growth is sluggish – a fact that makes it harder to create jobs, to innovate and move into new emerging sectors, and drive a strong economy.
Last but not least, politically, we have to do one of the hardest things – we have to reform our political engagement to ensure we have the support of our populations.
Europe struggles from this perhaps more than other parts of the world because the European Union is a super-structure that has been built on top of national bodies and institutions, each with their own political history and democratic legitimacy.
If there are any early lessons from Brexit – lessons relevant, not only in Europe, but also in Australia, in the United States and around the world – surely it has to be that in our efforts to develop our democracies, we have to bring the people with us.
Technocratic decision-making and thought can only take us so far, and on its own, without advocacy, rational argument, persuasion and leadership, it struggles to build true political legitimacy.
Ladies and gentlemen, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is famous – in Australia, at least! – for saying that it has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian.
And he’s right – our country is riding the wave of an economically positive quarter-century – enormously positive, with a record run of 25 consecutive years of economic growth, a high standard of living, and incomes and assets the envy of many around the world.
And we believe that we’re a superpower – a lifestyle superpower!
More broadly, the 21st Century is also an exciting time to be living in a liberal democracy.
The system of liberal democracy that the countries of Europe and Australia share is the best, most successful long-term model for social and economic development – the political solution that offers the most to its citizens, in terms of wealth, freedom and choice.
We must accept the reality that right now, on many fronts, it is under pressure.
It is in our interests and in the interest of billions of people in developing countries for us to ensure it is successful – because, as they say, nothing breeds success like success.
For all its challenges, I would urge Europeans to reject talk of decline.
This is the world’s largest single economic unit, a continuous source of ideas and creativity, and is the home of unique model of sovereignty.
Europe must evolve in order to endure.
Ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to working with you on the continuing project of strengthening Europe, Australia and the West more broadly and committing anew to nurturing successful, prosperous liberal democracies for our collective future.
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