On 15 November 2015, the Prime Minister and the presidents of the European Council and European Commission agreed to deepen the European Union – Australia relationship, including through a free trade agreement (FTA). The department began joint scoping work with the European Commission to set the parameters for negotiations towards an FTA. We coordinated Australia’s approach across a range of government agencies and worked closely with Australian and European stakeholders to prepare the ground for an agreement that has the potential to deliver significant new economic opportunities for Australia. As a bloc, the European Union is Australia’s largest source of total investment and second-largest trading partner worth nearly $1 trillion and $89 billion respectively in 2015. Our interests in expanding trade and investment and promoting the digital economy remain unchanged by the United Kingdom’s decision to exit from the European Union.
The department supported visits by the Trade and Investment Minister to meet with counterparts and industry representatives in Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Australia participated in the first EU-led operation in the Seychelles under the purview of the Australia–EU Crisis Management Agreement, which entered into force on 1 October 2015. We progressed the Australia–EU Framework Agreement through domestic processes.
The department supported attendance by Senator Cash, on behalf of the Foreign Minister, at an Asia–Europe Ministerial Meeting in November 2015 to discuss international and regional matters.
We advanced our relationship with Germany and both leaders endorsed the recommendations of the Australia–Germany Advisory Group (AGAG) in Berlin on 13 November 2015. We welcomed the German Minister of State in the Federal Foreign Office as Guest of Government to discuss AGAG and visit the Great Barrier Reef as Chair of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
Cooperation with France on security, intelligence, counter-terrorism and in the trade and economic sphere are at their highest levels. The awarding of the future submarines program to French industrial group DCNS added further momentum.
We facilitated separate visits to France by the Governor-General and Prime Minister. The Prime Minister laid a wreath at the Bataclan Concert Hall in memory of those killed in the Paris attacks. We supported a senior French business delegation visit to Australia to explore new investment opportunities, enhance business ties and strengthen science and innovation cooperation.
In September 2015, the department participated in the Australia–UK strategic and economic dialogues in London to discuss foreign and economic policy challenges and consider the focus of the next Australia–UK ministerial consultations. Officials agreed to maintain cooperation in the G20 and strengthen engagement on science and innovation, economic diplomacy and private sector involvement in aid. We also supported two visits to the United Kingdom by the Foreign Minister, including for the Syria Donors Conference in February.
The 2015 Year of Australia in Turkey promoted our contemporary relationship, fostered stronger people-to-people ties and reinforced awareness of Australia as an innovative and creative nation. Efforts complemented the commemoration of our shared history during the ANZAC centenary year. High-level visits by the Prime Minister, Governor-General and ministers supported trade and investment, including by creating business links in resources and energy, education, infrastructure and agri-business.
We reviewed our policy on Russia and received ministerial approval to engage on matters of mutual interest and benefit. We held consultations with Russia on Syria and the Middle East and recommenced negotiation of the stalled counter-terrorism MOU.
We supported the joint guest of government visit to Australia by the Foreign Ministers of Finland and Estonia, for the opening of the Estonian embassy and to promote closer bilateral relations on innovation, cyber security, trade and investment. The year also marked Australia’s first head of state visit to Finland by the Governor-General.