Australia’s relationship with the European Union and key European countries gained considerable momentum during 2015–16.

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.


Promoting a stable and prosperous regional and global environment by cultivating and deepening our engagement with bilateral and regional partners and multilateral institutions

Australia–Germany Advisory Group

Case Study
Then Ambassador to Germany David Ritchie and Australia Germany Advisory Group members with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Matthias Cormann in Canberra. [AUSPIC]
Then Ambassador to Germany David Ritchie AO (3rd left) and AGAG members with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (7th left) and Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann (5th right), Canberra, 22 October 2015. [AUSPIC]

Australia–Germany Advisory Group

Through its support of AGAG, the department helped strengthen our partnership with Germany—Europe’s largest economy and a major power in business, science, arts and culture.

AGAG was announced during Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Australia in November 2014. Co-chaired by the Australian Finance Minister and the German Minister for State in the Federal Foreign Office, the group comprised leaders in business, academia, scientific research and culture. The co-chairs presented AGAG’s 59 recommendations for closer bilateral cooperation to Prime Minister Turnbull and the German Chancellor in November 2015.

The department provided policy and secretariat support for the AGAG advisory group. As a result of these efforts, business is already undertaking measures to lift bilateral trade and investment, and both governments are pursuing initiatives to strengthen dialogue on strategic and geopolitical challenges. Closer engagement on our approaches to migration and integration of refugees helps promote diversity and social cohesion in our respective communities. AGAG’s recommendations on cultural and sporting links will further strengthen Australia’s long-standing people-to-people connections with Germany. Proposals to join Australia and Germany’s complementary strengths in science and research will enhance productivity in both economies.

The department will continue to work with other agencies and the private sector to implement the AGAG’s recommendations, giving Australian government, business, industry, educators, students, researchers and artists the opportunity to capitalise on closer links with Germany.

Promoting a stable and prosperous regional and global environment by cultivating and deepening our engagement with bilateral and regional partners and multilateral institutions

Small posts: smart outcomes

Case Study
Ambassador to Sweden Gerald Thomson welcoming guests to a Eurovision event in Stockholm. [SBS AUSTRALIA/Rolf Klatt]
Ambassador to Sweden Gerald Thomson welcomes Australia’s entry Dami Im and guests at the EuroClub before the Eurovision Song Contest, Stockholm, 9 May 2016. [SBS AUSTRALIA/Rolf Klatt]

Small posts: smart outcomes

Small posts have the same brief as large ones—to influence governments and communities for the benefit of Australia and Australians. But how do you make your presence felt when you are tiny, far from Canberra, and run on a lean budget? Australia’s small posts in Europe use innovative, creative and resourceful hard and soft diplomacy to deliver smart outcomes for Australia.

In Ukraine the connections and friendships forged through the shared experience of the MH17 tragedy underpinned the development of the Australia–Ukraine Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, signed on 31 March 2016. Australia can now export uranium to Ukraine for peaceful purposes, helping Ukraine diversify its energy mix and secure affordable and consistent energy supply.

From Denmark, our ambassador encouraged NOMA, the world’s top rated restaurant, to discover Australia. Chef Redzepi spent months foraging across the country and created a Barangaroo pop-up NOMA where tables sold out instantly to guests enjoying Australia’s marron and magpie goose, dried scallops and lantana blossom, bush condiments and rum lamingtons.

Acting jointly, small posts can deliver administrative efficiencies and provide better services for Australians overseas. We created a new second secretary position to support the priorities of small neighbouring posts. The officer is based for part of the year in Belgrade working on bilateral relations but then moves to Zagreb, helping to meet the high seasonal demand for consular services in Croatia. To cut red tape, our missions in Berlin, Ankara, Lisbon and Stockholm relocated much of their management data to the cloud to reduce paper and provide better access for users.

In Madrid, in partnership with Qatar Airways, the embassy used a promotional competition offering a trip to Australia to attract a large Facebook following. In Malta and Croatia our embassies used AFL football to promote people-to-people links and encourage indigenous and minority group participation in sport.

And then there is Eurovision. The competition this year provided a huge fillip for Australia’s standing in Europe and globally. With support from the Australian business community in Scandinavia, our ambassador in Sweden hosted a gala event for Australia’s entrant Dami Im, building on her success and profile to further promote Australian cultural excellence.

These creative initiatives demonstrate the ingenuity that small posts use to their advantage to deliver real results for Australia’s foreign relationships.

Analysis and outlook

Europe has been marked by unprecedented political turbulence. The European Union was severely shaken by the migration crisis and France and Belgium were the victims of terrorist attacks. The United Kingdom laboured under uncertainty occasioned by the referendum on EU membership, which culminated in the Brexit decision. These events led to instability in European markets, intra-EU tension and the rise of some ultra-right political parties across the continent.

Russia continued on a confrontational path with NATO and the Ukrainian conflict remained unresolved. Crimea is still under Russian occupation. Australia’s sanctions against Russia, imposed by the department following Russian action against Ukraine in 2014, remain in place. The joint investigation team on the downing of MH17 will make recommendations in 2016–17 on prosecution options. Turkey faced a number of difficulties, and has been the target of sustained terrorist assault.

In the face of these challenges, the department pursued Australia’s interests in Europe to good effect. Further progress on the Australia–EU FTA remains a priority. We will also continue to advance our security interests, including by gaining European support for key Australian strategic goals in our own region. The structures that we have embedded into many of our key bilateral relationships in Europe, such as the AGAG recommendations, will help in this context. In response to Brexit, we identified options to preserve and advance Australia’s interests in both the United Kingdom and European Union and we will work to give effect to these. AUKMIN remains central to our engagement with the United Kingdom and we will continue to build a closer strategic partnership with France.

Russia remains an important international actor and we will maintain cooperation where there is mutual interest and benefit.

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