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Transcript of Ministerial Consultations press conference, Brussels: Alexander\nDowner, Minister for Foreign Affairs Australia; Philip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Australia; Chris Patten, Commissioner for External Affairs European Commission.



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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade E and OE

Brussels, 18 April 2002

Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer

Transcript of Ministerial Consultations press conference: Alexander Downer - Minister for Foreign Affairs - Australia; Philip Ruddock - Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs - Australia; Chris Patten - Commissioner for External Affairs, European Commission

(Patten) Thank you, we have just concluded very broad and, I think, deep discussions.  I was joined during the course of the morning by three of my colleagues, by Commissioners Fischler, Lamy and Vitorino.  We discussed, of course, international political issues; the present agenda covering subjects like Afghanistan, the Middle East and so on.  We discussed issues on the international agenda - the CAP, Monterez and Johannesburg and briefly we managed to have a discussion, we mentioned the Kyoto Protocol as well.  We had a very good discussion on problems that we share in relation to illegal migration, trafficking in human beings and all the issues revolving around those matters . And, of course, we talked a good deal when Pascal Lamy and Franz Fischler were with us, on agriculture, on trade, on the Doha Round and that our shared commitments, whatever our modest disagreements about one or two issues, our shared commitment to making a huge success of the Doha Round.

So they were very good discussions.  Alexander will, I am sure, want to talk about a proposal of his that we warmly welcomed to review before our meeting next year: the 1997 Joint Political Declaration that we made, so that we can look at, for more areas where we can cooperate very explicitly, in concrete terms, together, as we are doing today with development cooperation, as we are starting to do with Mr Ruddock's area of responsibilities.  So there's a lot more we can do together, both bilaterally and in international fora.  This was as good a outcome as we have with any of our partners and I was very grateful, as were my colleagues, for three very senior Australian Ministers coming for today's discussions.

Minister Downer: Let me just say from Australia's perspective, we were delighted with the progress of the meeting today.  We brought three Ministers to this meeting this year because we want to make a very strong statement about our commitment to continue to take forward our relationship with the European Union.  A constant of our foreign policy has been first and foremost, and inevitably, a focus on our own region of the world but, secondly, we have wanted substantially to upgrade our relationships with, amongst parts of the world, the European Union.  We've been very impressed with the evolution of the European Union, the success of the European integration process and that success emphasises to us, the importance of making sure we continue to build a relationship.  There are now more and more areas where Australia and the European Union need to cooperate and we're doing that in areas like education and science and technology.  Today, as Commissioner Patten pointed out, we had a very good discussion about the issue of illegal immigration and we're going to have a regular dialogue with each other now at

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the officials level about these issues, because we do, should share many common problems.  We are, I think, very successfully now talking to each other about a whole range of broader international issues, not just the trade issues that are important to us.  So the work that we can do together in making sure that our aid programmes are heading in similar types of directions, that we can reinforce the work that each other is doing now in the case of the Pacific or, we talked extensively about Afghanistan and the challenges of Afghanistan, the commitments we're both making to Afghanistan.

These are all areas which are really growing in our relationship, not just with Europe but importantly, with the European Commission itself, whose competencies are continuing to expand.  I said to the Commissioners, in particular to Chris Patten, that we're happy with the 1997 Joint Declaration that I signed in Luxembourg with Leon Brittan, but we wanted to keep taking the relationship forward, so what we'd like to do is have a review by our respective officials, of that Joint Declaration, look to see not only the successes we've had over the last five years, but at what other areas we can build cooperation in, in order to make sure that our relationship has real momentum into the years ahead.

I must say, overall I've been very happy with the way the discussions have gone today, with the nature of the relationship.  John Anderson wants me to say - because unfortunately he can't be here as he's gone off to meet the Commissioner responsible for Health during this time - that he particularly made the points about the importance of agricultural reform within the European Union for Australia.  We certainly had a very successful discussion with Commissioner Lamy about a range of different trade issues where we have common concerns.  There's the steel issue, for example, with the United States and obviously the Doha process, the new WTO negotiations.

Minister Ruddock : Well I won't add a great deal more to what Alexander has had to say.  The issue of people movement of course, is one that occurs lawfully in many respects and Europe and Australia have both been very conscious of the need in humanitarian terms, to focus on protection obligations and addressing those factors conscientiously and effectively.  There is nevertheless, a very significant movement of people that occurs outside of the legal frameworks that exist and in many cases, outside the proper protection requirements that certainly can give some people an entitlement to seek to remain in places where they may be.  We honour those obligations; Europe does the same.  But we have to be able to contain the unlawful movement of people otherwise our humanitarian obligations will fail and our lawful arrangements will be crippled so that they will be subjected to a lack of confidence from our respective populations.

There are areas in which we can work together.  We've identified a number of those areas, particularly in terms of capacity building for countries that are either source countries or transit countries for unlawfuls, in terms of them sharing intelligence in relation to cooperation with law enforcement authorities.  We've also identified areas in which we can address some of the problems in source countries in particular.  Officials will be meeting together to further those issues in a positive direction.  It will be an area in which, in this meeting in the future, it will be quite concrete proposals which can be implemented to advantage Europe and Australia.

(ABC): Europe generally has been fairly critical of Australia's position on this whole immigration thing, particularly the whole Tampa issue was dealt with.  Was this brought up - was this expressed to you and did you take on those questions? .....

(Minister Downer): Let me just take the premise of your question.  I think it's fair to say that there have been different views from different Member States in the European Union.  Those who wish to criticise

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the Australian Government's policies within Australia often look to try and find anybody around the world who may not agree.  Obviously, the Norwegian Government as a member of the European Union, was critical of Australia over the Tampa issue.  But the thing that's really struck me in Europe, not just during this visit but generally and including during this visit, is that Europe and Australia have a common interest on this issue of illegal immigration and people smuggling.  What we need to do is learn to work together successfully to try to address those issues and today, we have made real progress in ensuring that the Commission and the Australian Government are able to start looking at ways of cooperation.

We don’t come here to Europe to criticize the policies of one country in Europe or another country in Europe in relation to how they handle these questions.  What we come to Europe to do is try to find areas of cooperation, to make sure the problem’s addressed.  We’re not running a debating society in diplomacy, we’re trying to find solutions to serious problems and I think we’ve had real success today in moving towards finding solutions to a serious problem.

(Patten)  It’s a problem that I encountered at first hand in a previous incarnation as a colonial Governor, both in relation to Chinese ‘snake heads’ and in relation to illegal migrants from Vietnam.  We now see it in Europe face to face.  What we’re trying to do in Europe today is to work with those who face similar problems, very often involving similar countries and to incorporate into our external relations, specific programmes and policies to try to address this issue.  And on that sort of subject, we want to work very closely with Australia, to share the problem and we want to deal with it in an effective way.

(Question): Australia has a unique policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers.  It hasn’t signed any of the agreements on the European convention on human rights.  Does this have no effect in Europe.  Does Europe just ignore it - is this OK with European governments and with the European Union?

(Patten): Well, as I said earlier - or as Alexander said - different member states have taken slightly different positions.  But I think there is a recognition right across the board that we share similar problems and we’re not likely to advance solutions to those problems by hectoring one another or by lecturing one another.  Even if it provides good footage for the man with the smallest camera I’ve ever seen in my life.

(Australian Financial Review) ….. In 1997 it wasn’t possible for the EU and Australia to negotiate a formal bilateral agreement because of disagreements over the human rights.  Is it now supposed to go back to the negotiations for that kind of formal agreement?  Or is that not what you’re proposing?  And can I ask Commissioner Patten if the relationship has been in any way harmed or disadvantaged by not having that form of bilateral agreement?

(Minister Downer) : Well, let me say that we’re not re-visiting debates past.  I think Chris and I, without having discussed it before this press conference, have come to a terrific formula here, at the press conference, which is that we’re not trying to get a debating society here, we’re trying to make progress.  We had a discussion with the Europeans back in the mid-90s about this question of whether we’d have a Framework Agreement or not and the obstacle there was the human rights clause which, for the European Union, is really a mandatory clause in all of these types of agreements.  So we instead put in place a Joint Declaration, which has frankly been very successful from our point of view.  It was a good compromise negotiated at that time with then-Commissioner Brittan and I think the member states were happy with it as well.  So we’ve been able to take the relationship forward on the basis of that.  We’re not looking at revisiting old debates, what we’re looking at is making sure that Joint Declaration is continually relevant, updated and reflects the ever-growing strength of the relationship between Australia

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and the European Union.

(Patten):  Can I just add, as Alexander said earlier, we’re making extraordinary progress in areas like education cooperation, cooperation in other areas like science and technology, We’ve got agreements.on consumer protection and we’re working well together on the issues affecting the information society.  We talk a great deal with our Australian colleagues about the particular aspect of development cooperation where frankly, they’re more knowledgeable than we are.  For example, how we can best use our resources in the Pacific region.  So there are a huge number of areas where we work together and I think the fact, for perfectly understandable reasons, we have acquired a slightly different institutional framework for our bilateral relationship with Australia, doesn’t affect that at all.

(ABCTV): Commissioner Patten, it’s obviously been a very successful day all round.  What are the minor disagreements?

(Patten):  I have observed - which will show you what a sensitive, politically sophisticated chap I am, that there isn’t absolutely one hundred and ten per cent of Australia for the Common Agricultural Policy.  We do recognize that there are some legitimate differences of view about some matters which are very important to both of us economically and politically.  But I think that there is a shared understanding, even when it comes to issues as sensitive as agricultural trade, that we need to make progress and that we need to have a successful outcome to the Doha Round.  Because if we don’t have a successful outcome to the Doha Round, the people who will suffer most are the poor countries of the world.  I think we both recognize that.

(ABC): What about steel? Was the Australian reaction today a little less anxious than it might have been a few weeks ago?

(Patten): I think the Australian reaction was pretty much as we would have reckoned on.  I think there was - Alexander again, can say if he thinks I’m wrong - I think there was a shared criticism of the unilateral action taken by the US Administration.  We both think it’s frankly bad for the U.S., but it’s bad for the multilateral system and bad for advocates of free trade.  But there are slightly different angles on it, depending whether you’re a European or Australian. There’s a shared agreement with this sort of thing and its not helpful to the Doha process and won’t help multilateral trade.

(AFR) : Will Australia be affected by the safeguards?

(Minister Downer) :    Australian exports to the European Union

(Patten) : I very much doubt it because what we’re trying to do is not to prevent Australian exports to the European Union, we’re trying to prevent a diversion and distortion from other markets to the European Union.  There’s a certain amount of Australian steel to be found sold into Italy.  We’re not anticipating a huge rush from Australian steel manufacturers.  I think the measures we’ve taken as safeguards against our industry are perfectly (inaudible)….

(Peter Fray): There have been a lot of press reports in the last few days about the EU’s approach for the next trade round and in particular the EU’s calls for.privatization of utilities as the price for reforming the CAP.  I wonder if you’d like to comment on that?

(Minister Downer): We did have a discussion about that, the fact that a draft document - I think I’m right in saying - has been produced within the European Commission, looking at opportunities for the

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liberalization of services.  This is a draft document looking at a negotiating position - and you’ll correct me if I’m wrong here - for the European Commission and European Union in terms of the WTO negotiations.  We’ve said, in any case, in relation to those questions that are relevant to Australia, in particular the privatization of Australian Post and I think one of them must be the abolition of the Foreign Investment Review Board , that we haven’t given any attention to either of those proposals.  They haven’t formally been raised with us by the European Union and we have no intention of abolishing the Foreign Investment Review Board or privatizing Australia Post and any other liberalization of services in Australia that may come through the negotiations, are hypothetical at the moment but obviously there’ll be extensive consultations in Australia with relevant organizations and groups in the community before that happens.

All I can say from our perspective is that this is just the beginning of the negotiating process.  As I said to the Commissioners at our meeting, I will abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board tomorrow, if the Commission gives us free access for our agricultural exports to the European market tomorrow.  But this opportunity for a fantastic new deal was politely declined.

(Patten): It was a low-level working document which doesn’t reflect the subtle policy divisions of the European Union and if you could please leak some of your low-level working documents. I think this is just an example of the fact that if you have a policy and you publish it, no-one reports it.  If you’re working on a policy and documents leak out, then they make everybody very excited.

(Spanish Television): Mr Patten, I have a question.  I would like to know how the European Union (inaudible) Is it going to be a Joint Committee (inaudible) Israel ?

(Patten): Well we’ve sometimes had meetings in the past which have been called Troika meetings but have been rather more broadly defined than that and so sometimes three has turned into fifteen and I don’t think the precise format has been decided yet.  But what we do want is to demonstrate at Valencia that whatever the appalling problems in the Middle East at the moment, that the Euro-med partnership is crucial to all our future, well-being, prosperity and stability.  We want to demonstrate that whatever the difficulties, people can sit down and talk about matters which are frankly of common concern.  And we will of course, in the margins of the formal Barcelona process, the Euromed partnership meeting, want to have side meetings with our Arab friends, including the Palestinian authorities’ representatives and the representatives of the Government of Israel.

( The Australian)  Just on steel, in relation to the WTO process.  Is there any suggestion of a joint EU-Australia application on steel?

(Patten): We are working with others, whoever’s interested in the WTO, to try to resolve the issue and I hope to get a cooperative response from the United States administration.  As you’ll know, this issue in the United States has become extremely controversial; some users of steel are extremely dissatisfied with the decision taken by the Administration.

(Question - inaudible)

(Patten): Well I think everybody recognizes that it’s extremely important for Mary Robinson and the team representing the Human Rights Commission in Geneva to be able to visit the Palestinian territories as soon as possible.  I think most people recognize that if Israel wants to avoid every claim about what’s happening, then I think it’s in Israel’s own interest to ensure that there is access for those who can make an objective and balanced judgement of what’s happened.  A lot of claims are being made and I’m not in

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a position to say whether they’re accurate or exaggerated, but it’s in all our interests that the truth should come out and if you believe in a democracy, believing in the rule of law with a tradition of pluralism, then you should want that to happen.

Thank you very much.

[ends

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