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21 November 2018
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Thank you all for being here. Thank you for the work that you are doing - I hope that it is not only work, but that it is also fun and that good personal relations are being built. A special thanks to our Australian friends, who travelled literally to the other side of the world to be with us today.
I took the same trip, in the opposite direction last August, which for us is summer, but for you is winter. And on a very cold Brussels day like this I have to say that I envy your winter and miss it quite a lot.
Weather aside - I found a country in amazingly good shape, with an economy that continues to grow, with great schools and universities, great young generations, and a more confident player in regional and global affairs. Once again I realised how much Europe and Australia have in common when it comes to our way of life, our societies, and our values. It was clear to me that we are at the same time so distant geographically - on the opposite sides of the world - and so close.
We believe in democracy based on liberal values and social justice; we have the same approach to global peace and security; we believe in international cooperation and multilateralism as the best way to address all sorts of disputes – and we have quite a number of disputes ongoing nowadays.
All this is based on a long history of friendship. Just a few days ago we commemorated thousands of Australian soldiers who fought and died here in Belgium during World War One, fighting for our freedom on the other side of the world. It happened exactly 100 years ago and after over a century of friendship, today Europe and Australia are closer than ever in terms of our direct cooperation, but also on regional and global issues.
We both believe that our chaotic, conflictual world needs cooperation, while confrontation only leads to greater chaos and suffering. We believe that the United Nations may not be perfect - I guess nothing is perfect in life – but the United Nations is the only viable framework for us to deal with the great issues of our times.
We believe that climate change is real - we see this having an impact on our lives and our communities - and we see that it is man-made. The Paris Agreement on climate is the right way forward for both of us.
We believe that international trade should be free and fair at the same time, and that globalisation can only be governed through modern trade agreements and through multilateral systems, such as the WTO [World Trade Organisation].
The European Union and Australia today are close partners to build a more cooperative and just global order. Beyond our cooperation at the UN - which is strong -, beyond our cooperation in the G20 - which is strong -, beyond our cooperation in WTO - which is strong -, let me also mention the work that we are doing to stop the death penalty worldwide, because this is the kind of progress we both believe in and we are both building.
In recent years, I have seen this cooperation grow much wider than it was just a few years ago.
We are now working closely also in the in the Indo-Pacific region and in Asia for our shared interests and values, because as Australians were fighting for our freedom 100 years ago – it cannot be a comparison, but - we now see as Europeans that our security is also linked to security in your part of the world.
In recent years this corporation has grown. We Europeans now know that our world is smaller and more connected than it has ever been and security in the in the Indo-Pacific region is today also crucial to our own European security. From the Gulf of Aden, to the South China Sea, from Afghanistan to North Korea: we share the same security agenda there .
Our Australian friends today, I believe, see us Europeans as a global security provider with a strong role to play also on the other side of the world. We have started to cooperate on maritime security. We took part in military exercises with ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] - this is new. And we work together to prevent radicalisation and to fight terrorism. We take part in the same military missions to preserve peace and security around the world
We are increasingly working together to ensure countries and regions from the Pacific are better connected to Europe, and we work to make sure that this is done in a way that is sustainable, transparent and respects common rules. Above all, we both want that regional relations in the Indo-Pacific are based on cooperation and mutual respect.
We both believe that international politics should not be about "friends and foes", but a patient, stubborn search for mediation. Where others might see disagreements and confrontations, we try to work to build win-win solutions. I think this is what binds us together: this vision not only of life, not only of societies, but also of foreign policy.
We stand on the same side of world politics and I am confident that this will continue to be the case in the years ahead. We have, I think, found a good basis for this to be solid enough in the years to come.
So, it is no surprise that our bilateral relations today are also closer than ever. Last year, we signed a new [EU-Australia] Framework Agreement that allows our bilateral relations to grow even further. And this is already happening, because we are implementing it - even if I hope that ratification will come soon from all sides, but we have started to implement it already.
Last summer, we launched the talks for an EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement with formal negotiations already underway and encouraging. From what I hear both from our team and from the Australian team, things are going well and when trade talks start and both teams say it is proceeding and is proceeding well, that is really encouraging.
The European Union is already Australia's largest trade partner in services; we are already the largest investor in Australia; we are also the second largest destination for Australian investment.
So it is no surprise that we see that European Commissioners are travelling to Australia more than ever before, and the same is true for Australian Ministers [to Europe]. We both realise that we need each other and that our people can benefit from our cooperation enormously. This is true in all fields, from foreign policy to trade, to all other sectoral policies that we are working on.
So, I come to the reason why we are here today, why you are here today, and why we have decided to set up this EU-Australia Leadership Forum.
In a new era of our partnership, personal relationships between European and Australian leaders are and will be an even more important asset than before. The Leadership Forum has already opened new channels to bring together young and senior leaders alike, from politics, business, academia and the media. And even in the world of social media, let me tell you that there is no substitute for personal relations and face-to-face conversations, particularly in the field of diplomacy, but also in all other fields. I see it for myself: there is nothing like having met and having spent time together – a coffee or a beer - it is what binds you together and builds the foundation for a telephone call, maybe a few months from now, saying: "Oh you remember that? I followed up. Why don't we…". Then, even having hundreds of kilometres of distance is not a problem anymore, because you have something that has bound you together.
So, friendship between countries is built first and foremost, I believe, on friendship between people. And this is why investing in a new generation of Australian and European leaders that are friends is today our choice. We invest in a new generation of leaders that are friends and in a renewed friendship between Europe and Australia. 100 years after World War One I believe we are entering a new century of our friendship and with this forum we can really make our contribution - our personal contribution - to a stronger friendship and also - through this stronger friendship between us - to the cooperative global order that we all want to build.
So, I welcome you, once again, to cold Brussels and wish you all a very successful and very fruitful exchange and a very long lasting friendship among all of you and between Europe and Australia. Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I163708