by Vladimir Kljajić

The EU and Oceania antipodes have found common ground on some issues, from security and trade to education and the environment, illustrating that distance plays no role in the European Union’s ability to cooperate with others to achieve mutual benefits. This has been a natural progression stemming from the long-standing relations between the two regions.

The European Union and the Oceanic Region have developed strong political, economic and cultural ties, which have matured over the years. Although they are antipodes in a geographic sense, their viewpoints and interests are often aligned. Australia and New Zealand are the largest and most economically advanced countries in the Oceanic region. Their colonial past and heritage are interlinked with European history, while their outlook on pressing global challenges, industrial development and trade have been formalised with the EU through various partnership agreements.

With a population of just over 25 million people, vast resources and its geopolitical importance, the EU has recognised Australia as a key partner. Relations between the two were initiated in 1952, and Australia has since established personal diplomatic ties with all 28 current member states of the bloc. The EU Delegation in Australia was opened in 1981. Since then, the two have signed a number of agreements, including the 1982 agreement concerning transfers of nuclear material from Australia to the European Atomic Energy Community, the 1994 agreement relating to scientific and technical cooperation, the 2009 agreement between the European Community and Australia on trade in wine, as well as the 2008 EU-Australia partnership framework, which places an emphasis on security and counter terrorism cooperation, cooperation in the Asian and Pacific regions, education, science and technology, as well as cooperation in the field of environment, climate change and energy.

The next phase in EU-Australia relations will be formalised with the conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The EU is Australia’s third-largest trading partner, while Australia is the bloc’s eighteenth largest. Total trade in commercial services between the two in 2015 amounted to 29.3 billion euros. Notably, despite the ongoing Brexit talks, Australia has reaffirmed its commitment to the EU and is seeking to conclude an FTA before entering talks with the United Kingdom. This is a significant gesture and further illustrates the strong ties, interests and understanding between the two, keeping in mind Australia’s special relationship with the UK and the common bond they share through the Commonwealth of Nations.

Australia’s position as the dominant power in Oceania and Asia-Pacific gives the EU greater access to the entire region, which is one of the reasons it is fostering and evolving its strong relations with the country. The bloc is better able to exude its influence in the region if it stands on common ground with the Australian government. “Australia is a key player in the Asia-Pacific region and a key partner for the European Union on issues like the world economic system, climate change and energy security as well as international and regional security. We have seen an intensification of our relations over the last couple of years”, the EU has noted.

Although much smaller in size, the EU has also recognised New Zealand as an essential partner in the Oceania region. In many cases, New Zealand represents the interests of some smaller nations in the Pacific, such as Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Nauru. Harbouring relations with New Zealand has given the EU greater access to these distant markets in the broader Oceania region. For example, the two have joint energy projects in Samoa, Kiribati, Cook Islands and Tuvalu. However, it is trade that plays a central role in EU and New Zealand relations, particularly the exchange of live animals and animal products.

The EU-New Zealand Joint Declaration on Relations and Cooperation, adopted in 2007, has shaped their relationship. This is a political agreement which governs and directs the activity between the two partners. It is an action program in areas such as global and regional security, counter-terrorism and human rights, visas, development and economic cooperation, trade, climate change as well as science and technology. The Joint Declaration also highlights the importance of close cooperation to cater for people-to-people exchange and encourage interaction in education. Negotiations to replace the Joint Declaration with a new agreement, entitled the Partnership Agreement on Relations and Cooperation (PARC), began in 2012 and were concluded in 2014. PARC is currently being verified by both sides and will enter into force once signed and ratified.

In addition to being important regional powers, Australia and New Zealand, together with the EU, have advanced their relations due to the significant cultural links between their people. Some 70% of Australians have European ancestry. As a result, progress has been made on visa reciprocity for all EU citizens, and the imminent start of negotiations on a comprehensive air services agreement, which should result in more direct services from the EU to Australia. Similarly, New Zealand has particularly strong relations with the UK, Germany and France due to immigration.

As the old saying goes, “opposites attract”. The EU and Oceania antipodes have found common ground on a number of issues which has been fuelled by trade and historical ties. The EU and Oceania’s two leading nations – Australia and New Zealand – have time and again illustrated how like-minded they are on issues such as the world economic system, climate change and energy security, as well as international and regional security.

26 February 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 71