Speech on the Occasion of European Union Enlargement to 25

Speech by DFAT Secretary, Dr Ashton Calvert AC

Irish Embassy, Canberra, 3 May 2004 

I am pleased to be here this evening to join the celebration of EU enlargement which officially took place last Saturday 1 May.

Australia welcomes this historic and ambitious step in Europe's further integration. Foreign Minister Downer has asked me to extend his personal congratulations and his regret that he cannot be here this evening.

Allow me to pay tribute to the extraordinary achievement of political and economic transformation which is represented by enlargement to 25 member states. The drivers behind European Union have always been a mix of visionary political ambition and incremental practical endeavour. Its achievements have been such that neighbours have been eager to join. We have seen it grow from an initial six members to nine, to 10, 12, 15 and now to 25. This latest wave of enlargement is especially significant in moving beyond the cold war rifts and divisions that affected Europe so profoundly for so long.

The 10 accession states have been enthusiastic in embracing democratic ideals as many of the historic movements for instance in Poland, Hungary and the then Czechoslovakia, demonstrated. Citizens of accession states have for some time been reaping the rewards of their accelerated transformation and reform. In Central Europe, economic growth has expanded steadily over the last few years. Average growth across accession states was estimated at up to 6.4 per cent in 2003. (Economist Intelligence Unit).

While celebrating these successes, Australia also shares with EU members a sense of disappointment that Cyprus will not be joining the EU as a reunited country.We are nonetheless encouraged by the EU's actions to promote further economic development in northern Cyprus. The promise of political stability and economic prosperity provided by EU membership means that further expansion of the EUs borders can be expected. Bulgaria and Romania are already candidate countries, with Turkey and Croatia in the wings.

The weight and ambition of a European Union of 25 members will be of significance for Australias interests - in many spheres. An EU of 25 will have significant impact in the international arena. The enlarged EU now has over 450 million citizens. Its GDP is now worth over US$ 8 trillion, or around onequarter of the world's total production. The EU now accounts for about 19 per cent of world trade. It has increased its potential to be a major strategic weight in international diplomacy. The EU now represents 25 votes in multilateral fora. All this brings with it the imperative that the EU demonstrates leadership and responsibility for its actions - across all fronts of the international agenda.

We hope that the EUs pursuit of a European Constitution will help it achieve the structural flexibility it needs to address contemporary challenges. As President of the European Commission Romano Prodi said of enlargement only some weeks ago: With this historic event, the European Union is at a crossroads. The choice is simple: to sit back, consolidate our position and become consumed with our own internal issues or to move forward and look to play a greater part in global affairs.

The gravity of recent events, including the tragic bombings in Madrid, brings sharply into relief the need for decisive and coordinated international responses to global security issues. Australia welcomes the creation of an EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator which will hopefully serve to drive forward EU-wide action. The EU has - of course - been a significant force for stability in its own region and its near neighbourhood. EU member states have played a key role in the Balkans and more recently in Afghanistan, under the NATO banner and in sending a peacekeeping force to the Congo. We have certainly appreciated the EUs interest and involvement in our region to date and we hope that the EUs practical engagement in the Asia Pacific will continue and grow.

In the trade and economic arena, Australia and the world will also look to an expanded EU to make truly comprehensive and global commitments on agricultural trade liberalisation.

Australia is committed to continued development of our bilateral relationships with the EU and all its member states. The EU, taken as a single entity, remains our biggest trade and second largest investment partner. We have substantial bilateral partnerships with European countries. And we share the same fundamental values that underpin the EU: liberal democratic principles, respect for the rule of law, and the importance of free enterprise in economic growth and increasing prosperity and welfare of our citizens.

We also have close people-to-people links; the vast majority of Australians have European ethnic origins. Indeed, Australia is home to many who have family and historical links in the new member states. There are here in Australia active communities from each of the accession states. Australia has gained significantly as each of these communities has made a distinctive and valuable contribution to Australian culture and economic development and enriched our multicultural society.

Our engagement with the EU across a broadening range of common interests provides an excellent framework for a dynamic and forward-looking relationship as the EU settles into its new configuration. The 2003 Australia-European Union Agenda for Cooperation identifies the work we will continue to undertake including in security matters, trade, environment, transport, development cooperation, migration and asylum, and in education, science and technology. We have seen considerable achievements in our cooperation in these areas over the past 12 months. We look forward in the period ahead to further cooperation working with the added perspectives of the new members.

Australia has a considerable interest in seeing the EU achieve its historic enterprise: its successful expansion. We will make sure that our own partnership with the European Union of 25 remains practical, results-oriented and forward-looking. Once again, congratulations on this momentous and historic event.