Sydney, 8 August 2018
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Thank you very much, first of all, for inviting me. I really appreciate this opportunity. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your presence here.
I will start with "so distant, so close", because this is really the spirit with which we have come here. I believe that this is the basis on which we can build the deepening of our friendship and of our relations across the world, because we are literally the furthest away possible partners, but also the closest possible partners in the world of today.
First a little bit of history. I imagine that many of you have family roots in Europe and I imagine some of you might have lost family either in the First or the Second World War to defend Europeans, to defend our values. And, by the way, this year we commemorate an important anniversary in that respect [2018 marks 100 years since the end of the First World War].
Today we can celebrate a common victory that we had sixty plus years ago, when Europe was finally finding its way to peace. When it decided after the Second World War that making business together was much more convenient than fighting each other after thousands of years of European wars that were involving the rest of the world, because we know very well - you know very well - that whenever Europe was at war, there was trouble for the rest of the world as well. So it is a common victory; it is a common result; it is a common achievement.
It is also a historic one that we have managed to build - I would say together. Sixty and more years of peace and prosperity in Europe. And we have done that thanks to our partners, including the ones that are geographically far away from us. I believe that the partners that are geographically even further away from us have now to benefit from this. It is somehow our way to pay back. I know that we do not always look back to history, but I think it is something worth doing.
This year we mark a step-change in relations between Australia and the European Union. This is why I see my visit here this year as particularly important. It is my first visit to Australia, but it is not the last, that is sure. I think it is not by chance that my visit happens in a moment when, first, we finally launched our negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement
. Thank you for having sponsored it so much in the last years.
I believe we have all to gain from an economic partnership like ours and a Free Trade Agreement to be concluded - I hope sooner rather than later. There will be difficulties along the way. But we know each other well and we know that both our economies can benefit a lot from a Free Trade Agreement between us.
I also believe that beyond the economic value there is a deeper political meaning in our negotiations that have been launched in June, and started in July with the first round, which we both see as a very successful first round. So I am positive, I am optimistic. We do not have so many things to be optimistic about in these times, so it is good.
We in the European Union - and I know you in Australia as well – have decided to intensify, accelerate, deepen our trade negotiations all over the world, because we believe in free and fair trade; we believe in a global system that, including on trade, is based on rules. I know that some in the world believe that rules are a limit.
We in Europe believe that rules are a guarantee that everybody can play fairly, no matter how big or small, no matter how powerful, no matter how strong. We believe that it is rules that offer equal opportunities for all to compete equally and to build win-win solutions, not zero sum games. This is the European way of doing business, also of doing foreign policy and security policy. And I know that Australia is on the same line.
In a moment when protectionism seems to be attractive to some, we feel not only an economic interest, but also a political responsibility to uphold the global agenda for free and fair trade, working together with our partners around the world, to establish a network of points of reference for those that believe like us in free and fair trade and in a rules-based global order. We believe in democracy; we believe in the rule of law; we believe in multilateralism; we believe in a certain way of security that mixes hard and soft power.
I was particularly pleased today in my meetings with [Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia] Julie Bishop that Australia offered to join our most recent civilian mission in Iraq
[EU Advisory Mission to Iraq] to contribute to the security sector reform in the country. I think this is just one of the examples of how we can concretely work together, not only for the benefit of our people, but also for the security, peace and prosperity of the world. Because we know well that security and prosperity in one of the regions of the world have a direct influence on security and prosperity of our own region.
This is why, a couple of months ago, I have proposed to the Foreign Ministers of our 28 Member States and we decided together to intensify and deepen our security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. I believe this is a good investment for our common security and prosperity, because if maritime routes are at risk, our economies are at risk; if the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] goes nuclear without a process of irreversible, verifiable denuclearisation, we are both at security risk; if the Iran deal is dismantled, we are both at risk of having a nuclear arms race in a dangerous region; and I could continue.
We have decided today with Julie
[Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia] to intensify work on security issues in the Pacific from the European Union side - be it on maritime security, be it on cyber security, on counter-terrorism and I could go on – and obviously, to work very closely not only on political consultations, not only on security, not only in multilateral fora that are very important for us - from human rights issues, to gender empowerment, to the role of the United Nations, the WTO [World Trade Organisation] and I could continue - but also to make sure that our Free Trade Agreement negotiations proceed smoothly and hopefully fast.
I know that some of you might have question marks about what will come next, after Brexit. In this respect, I cannot speak for the UK, but I can say clearly to you that the European Union is and will remain a reliable, predictable partner and I would expect that relations between the European Union and Australia will only increase.
I only wish that, in the future, the United Kingdom will define by itself its trade, economic and political relations with its partners, including the European Union at one stage. I only wish that we will be able to continue to work together very closely.
But the European Union will continue to be the largest market in the world; I believe it will continue to be the first investor in Australia; and I believe that it will continue to be the second trading partner for Australia, probably even more so as our trade negotiations continue.
I remember very well – let me say this frankly - a couple of years ago, just after the UK referendum, many were predicting that this would have been the beginning of the end for the European Union. Two years later, I can tell you the effect has been the contrary. The other 27 and the ambassadors of the Member States present here can tell you this very clearly: we found even deeper reasons to stay together, united. I think that was probably the strongest deterrent for all those that were imagining a way out of the Union.
At the celebrations of the 60 years of the Rome Treaties last year I saw for the first time ever Heads of State or Government of the 27 remaining Member States as determined as ever to strengthen cooperation in the European Union, to strengthen common work in all different fields - even those that were unthinkable before like defence, where we have advanced enormously inside the European Union and in cooperation with NATO.
The Union is there to stay as a reliable, cooperative, predictable partner for Australia, for the others. And with Australia, I believe, we have a responsibility to be that backbone of predictability in the world of today that is so much exposed to turbulences.
One last word on you, because I know you have been the sponsors of our beginning of negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement. I want to thank you for that, but I also want to call you to your responsibilities from now on. I know you are going to be happy to do it, but we need you. We need you to accompany these negotiations actively - because governments and institutions play a vital role in this, but the business community has a very important role to play - to make your voice heard, to make the case and the arguments for what we are negotiating and what you have been asking for, for so long and also to accompany negotiations in a constructive manner.
And then, once we hopefully get there, to implement it at best and to make the best out of it, because agreements on paper need to become a reality and this is going to be very much in your hands. So, count on us - as we count on you.
Thank you very much for this opportunity. I wish I will see you soon in Europe or here in Australia or around the world, in the Indo-Pacific region and I indeed believe that this year will mark a very important moment in deepening and strengthening European Union-Australia relations in all fields.