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Press conference with Mr Downer and EU Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten at Australia-EU Ministerial consultations in Brussels.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: May 18 2004

TITLE: Press conference with Mr Downer and EU Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten at Australia-EU Ministerial Consultations in Brussels

PATTEN: What a personal pleasure it is and what a pleasure for the Commission to welcome Alexander Downer and his colleagues to Brussels this week. I’ve been a Commissioner for five years and one of my ambitions - and I think it’s been shared by the Foreign Minister - has been to improve, strengthen what were very good working relationships with Australia already, but I think we saw the potential for deepening and extending our relationship. We’ve reviewed and we’re reviewing today the progress we’ve made, not least over the last year, and I think we can say with some confidence that we have managed to achieve that cooperation in fields like education, transport, environment, science and technology, development cooperation. I was delighted that Commissioner Nielson was able to spend lunch with us talking about the way we’re trying to help and work with Australia in the Pacific. Also there is, of course, a big and important trade agenda and we know that our relationship with Australia - we don’t always see things in the same way in the multilateral context, but we both know that we have to work together if we’re to ensure that 2004 isn’t a wasted year in the multilateral trade negotiations.

So it’s been a great pleasure. The last meeting we had was in Melbourne last year, when I was recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, so I’m pleased that today I’m not in a wheelchair. I’m also pleased that we were able to have this meeting just after the successful enlargement of the Union and I was pleased that Commissioner Hubner was able to join us in the meeting today and we’ll be dealing with some of the trade issues on the trade agenda later on.

So once again, a pleasure to have a cordial, frank - but that’s not meant in a diplomatic sense, it’s meant to say what it means - exchange with Alexander and I hope that this relationship will go on to be as strong as it is today.

DOWNER: We’re very happy with the way the relationship with the Commission and overall with the European Union is progressing. As Chris Patten has said, the last five years have been very good years in building up our relationship. Today we’ve been able to look at how Australia and the European Union are able to work in the Asia Pacific region in countering terrorism. The work that the European Union is doing in South East Asia to help the South East Asians counter terrorism complements the work Australia’s doing and we appreciate it very much. The work of the European Union in the South Pacific in helping countries such as the Solomon Islands which, with our regional partners, we’re in the process of helping to reconstruct, that’s very much appreciated as well. The Commission has released a sizeable

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amount, or is in the process of releasing a sizeable amount of money to help the Solomon Islands and other countries in our part of the world. These are very important components of our cooperation and we obviously have overall, the same global perspectives and share very much the same values and a fair bit of common history, so it’s not surprising that cooperation between us should come fairly naturally.

I just want to say in conclusion too, that we hope that 2004 won’t be a wasted year in terms of the WTO, the Doha Round. We’ve been very pleased with recent proposals that have come from the Commission to get rid of agricultural export subsidies. If this could be embraced by other countries and ….. to be frank, if it can be embraced by the United States, that is something that we’d very much welcome. But I think that the Commission has taken an important step forward in helping to break the deadlock in the WTO negotiations and we very much welcome and, indeed, encourage that because historically, we haven’t always seen eye to eye with the European Union on international agricultural trade; we’ve always been in favour of the free market. But it’s good to see the way the European Union policy is evolving and the Commission in particular, should be congratulated on these latest initiatives that it’s pursued. We don’t want just to come to Brussels and criticise the Commission on agriculture, it’s good to be able to come here and say something really positive about what they’re doing.

JOURNALIST: I have two questions. The first one is for you, Foreign Minister. Yesterday the European Union expressed its abhorrence about the prisoner abuse in Iraq and condemned any abuse taking place. Do you share this abhorrence, the feeling? And do you see the fact that we’ve seen these images from Iraq as a reason why your Government is falling back in the polls?

DOWNER: I don’t know that you’ve been reading all the polls; I don’t think that’s right. I think we’re running very nicely in the polls, thank you very much - I’ll be the expert here on Australian politics. I share precisely the sentiments that were expressed by European Union Foreign Ministers yesterday at their meeting. As I read the press release that was put out, that

reflects precisely our view. We are obviously appalled at the abuses that have taken place in the Abu Ghraib prison.

This is what I’d say about that though: you can’t undo the past, but you can make sure that those who were responsible for these appalling abuses are brought to justice. And I’m pleased that the American Administration is moving now to bring those people to justice. The more they are seen to be bringing people to justice who commit abuses, the better it will be for America’s standing not just in the Middle East but, more broadly, around the world. We’re obviously appalled and we condemn the abuses that have taken place; we want to see those responsible brought to justice and that’s happening.

JOURNALIST: And for Commissioner Patten: when Pascal Lamy unveiled his proposals on the agriculture export subsidies, he made it clear that he was not just targetting direct export subsidies, but also things like trading boards. Now Australia has one on grain, does it not consider that being covered by the EU proposal. If Australia insists on keeping its grain trading board, will that be a threat to the EU’s offer? Will it mean that the EU will withdraw its offer?

PATTEN: It’s very attractive to be offered the chance of negotiating on multilateral objectives in public with you, but I think we’ll leave it to Geneva.

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JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, if I may ask, just in advance of your visit to Libya. Is it a concern at all for you to be going there so soon after a Libyan court sentenced a number of Bulgarian medics to death by firing squad on what are widely disputed charges of spreading AIDS among children?

DOWNER: Well, I’m not really familiar with the details of the case and I’ll look into it. More broadly, I would have to say first of all that we in Australia are opposed to capital punishment, so wherever capital punishment occurs or is about to occur, we oppose that. We don’t have capital punishment in our own country, not so far as I know. But I’m going to Libya to talk about the decision the Libyan Government has made to abandon weapons of mass destruction programmes. I think that’s a tremendous step forward. That doesn’t get as much publicity as a lot of other international issues. But in terms of the future of humanity, seeing a country which was a problem in terms of WMD walk away from those terrible weapon systems: a great win for humanity. It’s a good thing for Libya and I’m going bearing that in mind. Also we have some commercial interests there that we’re prepared to promote

and exploit now, which when we had other grave concerns about Libya, we weren’t prepared to promote.

So this has opened up opportunities for us to build our relationship with Libya and that’s a sensible thing to do after Libya has taken that decisive step to abandon its WMD programmes.

JOURNALIST: Commissioner, you talked about dealing with terrorism in the Asia Pacific and the Minister talked about the Solomon Islands and the EU. Could you tell us about the package you’re planning for the Solomon Islands, exactly what are you preparing for with the EU, to do in that area of the world?

PATTEN: Well first of all, some of our EDF funding under our agreements with the ACP countries were unblocked by political developments in the Solomon Islands. Secondly, we are supporting the objectives which Australia has been pioneering in the Solomon Islands for re-establishing civil authority with decent policing and better institutions of government. If you want a detailed breakdown of exactly what we’re doing you might like to see if you can catch Commissioner Nielson’s eye over there. I’m sure he’d be very happy to tell you.

JOURNALIST: Sir, what do you say about Australia … relations (inaudible - re. visas)

DOWNER: Well we have a non-discriminatory approach to visas. That is, that while we appreciate very much some of the new Member States abandoning their visas for Australians - it’s particularly been drawn to my attention that the Czech Republic has abandoned its visa policy and I thank the Czech Government very warmly for doing that, I know a lot of Australians will appreciate it - I have to say we have a non-discriminatory approach. That is, people from all countries, actually with the exception of New Zealand, are required to get a visa when they come to Australia. Though in some cases, including in a number of European Union countries, that can be done through an Electronic Travel Authority, so it doesn’t necessarily require a visit to an Australian Embassy, or sending a passport to an Australian Embassy. It can be just done electronically. So we hope that this electronic system can be extended throughout the European Union as resources are increasingly made available by us to do that. Also that will depend a little bit on demand from other countries in terms of coming to Australia.

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If you take the new members of the European Union, there are a lot of people who’ve migrated from those countries to Australia over the years; they have a lot of relations back home and there’s a lot of travel between the two. So hopefully through the electronic system, we can facilitate these.

PATTEN, DOWNER: Thank you very much indeed. ENDS