On the 8th of September this year, Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative, and I launched the EU-Australia Leadership Forum in Brussels and this evening we are holding the corresponding event here in Canberra.
I’m delighted to see the momentum that this initiative has already achieved.
Australia places great significance on the role that Europe has played as a global force for peace, a shining example of a commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and ensuring peace and prosperity for its citizens - indeed a continent wracked by conflict and wars for centuries.
European development and European integration has supported the elevation of these values into many areas of international law and norms that underpin the international rules-based order.
We are facing times of great uncertainty - the ongoing conflicts throughout the Middle East, the emergence of non-state actors with extremist ideologies, a more assertive Russia, a level of disillusionment with trade liberalisation, we have to face it - the international rules-based order is under stress.
The fact that the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the Union (Brexit) has added to that sense of unease.
It’s at times like this that we need to stand up, defend, even fight for, the values that we share – our commitment to the rule of law, our liberal democratic heritage, our belief in the power of markets.
In the midst of all this uncertainty the Australia-EU relationship has in fact strengthened, broadened, deepened.
The EU’s new Global Strategy for Foreign and Security policy sets out the way the EU will engage with the world. It’s clear from that strategy that this momentum behind the EU-Australia relationship will in fact continue. The strategy focuses, a great deal, on the Asia-Pacific where both the EU and Australia have many shared and foreign interests and common challenges.
It’s against this background that I’m delighted to be part of a launch of the EU-Australia Leadership Forum, for this will broaden, deepen and diversify our already strong relationship. It will strengthen our ties, it will bring new energy and passion and vision to this wonderful relationship involving government, business, private sector, civil society, academia, our creative industries – a range of people who will come together to discuss our common challenges and common opportunities.
After this event I understand that some of the sharpest minds in these fields will come together as part of the steering committee to forge the principles that will underpin this initiative.
The European Union is an important part of Australia’s national foreign policy and our relationships.
We are looking forward to the inaugural Senior Leaders Dialogue under this EU-Australia Leadership Forum, which will take place in Australia in the first half of 2017. At the same time there will be an Emerging Leaders Dialogue, bringing together young people from the EU and from Australia who will discuss issues of concern and interest to them but also, importantly, connect young people who are likely to be the future leaders of our respective regions.
Of course this EU-Australia Leadership Forum comes within the architecture of the EU-Australia Framework Agreement which I hope will be signed in the very near future. Federica and I hope to be in the same place at the same time in order to do that very shortly.
With our commitment to trade liberalisation, with our commitment to the power of markets, our belief that trading between nations leads to great benefits – not only for those particular nations, but globally – we look forward to negotiating an EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is an important milestone in what is one of our most important relationships and I look forward to being part of the EU-Australia Leadership Forum.
I thank Ambassador Fabrizi, on behalf of the members of the EU who decided to offer Australia this extraordinary opportunity to hold these forums over the next three years.
Unless it has already been done formally, I will now take this opportunity to formally acknowledge, in Australia, in our national Parliament, the EU-Australia Leadership Forum.
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