EUCN Conference Keynote Address


Peter Kennedy, former New Zealand Ambassador to the EU (2007-11)

Professor Margaret Wilson, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be back at Waikato University to deliver this address.  The last time I was here was in 1999, I was Director of our Europe Division and I delivered an address grandly entitled “Europe and New Zealand : the new Millennium Beckons”.

Inevitably, of course, I have re-read it to see whether or not my views have changed over the last decade or so.  In particular I was interested to judge if my four years plus living and working in Brussels has affected my perspective. 

In short, and despite (or maybe because of) the incremental and sometimes messy response to the Euro crisis, I think not.  Incrementalism and messiness are nothing new.  Take the accession of new members.   It is easy to forget that the relative tidiness of the accession of the 10 back in 2004 was preceded by intensive debate beforehand which, amongst other things, had Slovakia, Latvia and Lithuania in a second tier group that included Bulgaria and Romania.  Ultimately only the last two had to wait a few more years before they too could benefit from EU membership.  Sometimes – when Community requirements are not met – accession decisions might be questioned for a while but it is not just amongst newer members that progress is patchy.  A member state like Slovenia has made a better life for its peoples in the relatively short time it has been a member than an “older” member state like Greece.

Despite all this, I still adhere to the view that the Europe project – quenching old nationalisms and rivalries in the greater regional interest – is worthy of support.  What has possibly happened as a result of my living in Brussels is that my view has become, to use a favourite foreign affairs term, “more rounded”. 

It’s an interesting place Brussels.  The television weather maps in Europe often leave it off.  You can see the forecast for London, Paris and Berlin but Brussels does not exist in the minds of the forecasters.  It’s a bit like the early days of space travel when the orbital tracking maps showed shuttles whizzing over Australia and then crossing a vast expanse of Pacific Ocean with no other country – least of all ours – showing up.

 We got on the map eventually thanks to decades of hard work raising our profile in the US – and Peter Jackson.  Middle Earth became deserving of a place on the map. 

With Brussels it is a case of knowing it is there, knowing that its institutions have an undeniable impact on life and work in the EU but – in the case perhaps of one or two member states – trying to pretend, at least in public, that the light switch only needs to be turned on to avoid tripping in the dark during quick visits to the place.

As Tony Blair said during his 2006 visit here:

“I have just left Brussels…..………It is always a pleasure to leave Brussels”

That is not how it was once intended to be.  In 1949 -  a hugely significant year that saw amongst other things the birth of the Peoples’ Republic of China -  Winston Churchill gave one of his many famous speeches, this time in Zurich, in which he argued passionately that there could be no long term peace on the Continent without rapprochement between France and Germany. 

“In this way only”, Churchill insisted “can France recover the moral and cultural leadership of Europe” but adding also that “there can be no revival of Europe without a spiritually great Germany”.  He concluded that “we must re-create the European family in a regional structure called, as it may be, the United States of Europe”.

Unfortunately I missed the discussion on EU integration earlier today but I would be surprised if this concept was not referred to in one form or another.

 As we all know, however, it was a grand vision but the concept of a “USE” sitting alongside the “USA” was never going to be realised.  Yet there was much in the original comments that caught the sentiment of the time.  A delight of working in in Brussels – especially given where the New Zealand Mission is now situated – is the daily opportunity to walk through the district of Schuman, the administrative heart of the European Commission (at least when there is not a EU Council meeting closing off the whole area).  It is completely appropriate that the owner of the name was honoured in this way.  French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed in 1950 – with his counterpart in Germany - the boldest fusing of the resources and interests of two great nations that Europe had ever witnessed.   This was of course the establishment of a European Coal and Steel Community.  Coal and steel , the base materials of industrial economies – and as such an essential asset to any war effort – would cease to be controlled by the respective governments of France and Germany , and would instead be subject to shared decisions.  

What made this development even more remarkable was than man himself.  His father was  a French citizen who became a German after the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871.  Robert himself was born in Luxembourg, studied at German universities, and after the first war – with Alsace-Lorraine returned to France - he became a French citizen like his father had been.  An active opponent of the German occupation he was arrested by the Gestapo in the Second World War, just missed being sent to Dachau and then escaped from prison to re-join the French resistance in 1942.   After the war he had a very distinguished career in French politics.

His life reflected in many ways the complexity of Europe and what it means to be a European. 

I enjoyed my four and a quarter years in Brussels which was interesting as it used to be a post that I said I never wanted to go to.

The reason was that I could not stand the thought of dealing on a daily basis with individuals in the European Commission, or at least some individuals, who had directly and indirectly made life very difficult indeed for New Zealand officials.

Trade policy officers like me have had years – almost decades – dealing with subjects like butter access to the EC and after a while it wears you down.  Someone told me many years ago that a former head of the old Dairy Board swore he never wanted to hear about “bloody butter” again after he retired.

One of the challenges was that the people dealing with dairy in Brussels had been at it even longer than we had.  I was always impressed by the institutional memory of Commission people which gave them a distinct advantage as we dug down into the detail.  But there was also a disadvantage if they did not move with the times.  The market oriented reforms of Agriculture Commissioners like Fischler and my favourite Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, sometimes swept over such individuals who never updated their protectionist brief.  But for every two or three like that there were – and are - smart forward thinking individuals who make a difference.  One in the latter category is the Frenchman Jean Luc Demarty who used to be Director General of Agriculture and is now Director General of Trade.     Another is the Irishman David O’Sullivan - who visited New Zealand recently with Commission President Barroso – and jointly heads up the new European External Action Service with another Frenchman Pierre Vimont.

French, Irish?   Did I go tropo during my time in Europe?  We all think we know about France but isn’t Ireland the place that recently discovered they had double counted their debt and had a few billion more in credit than they thought they had?   I will go further - some of the most effective European Commission people in the development area – working closely with us in the South Pacific, advising on the best way to develop economies – come from ……. Italy.

 I guess there are two points to be made here: the first is that bright capable individuals working for a broader ideal can come from countries where their particular governments might have made a bit of a mess of things (and I should emphasize here – to avoid a French demarche – that this latter comment relates to earlier governments in Italy and Ireland).  The second point is that impressions of Europe from this side of the world are often – most often – influenced by the English press.  That is why it is excellent that a Conference like this draws much more deeply from a range of continental and other sources.  It is why when we contemplate the dilemmas facing Europe – and dilemmas abound in a society in which much loved freedom of expression is cocooned in a civil law system that encourages regulation – analysing and debating such phenomena is a healthy characteristic of an open society.

I had the great privilege of being taught comparative law by Sir Ken Keith the first and only New Zealander to sit on the international Court of Justice.  I am not sure he would be too pleased to have me take a swipe at the civil law system although more likely he would be able to muster a much more informed and learned analysis of its pros and cons.  But from my perspective our biggest problems in Europe over the years have more often than not been due to regulation.   Regulations our exports could not get through or regulations that made everything difficult and expensive.  Regulation can bring certainty and in some cases safeguards but often it also brings inflexibility and protectionism. 

Perhaps one of the great ironies of this regulated society is that there is almost as much resistance in the current financial crisis to more regulation, to tighter controls, as there is in that great unregulated society the United States.  Or at least that great society that perceives itself as being unregulated.

I notice in the sessions scheduled for tomorrow Dr Maria Garcia has the catchy title “Asia in the EU’s trade policy: from the bottom of the preferential pyramid to key priority area”.  It is true that the EU as an entity has been slow to recognize the importance of Asia but it has picked up its act in recent years.  The growing impact of China on the global economy has been a major factor.  And it must be remembered that one or two member states have long had major interests in this part of the world.  But policy makers can be influenced by public perceptions and part of the challenge is getting European media to focus beyond Europe and North Africa, important as the events in the latter (and indeed the former) currently are. 

This does make it difficult for countries like New Zealand to register on the radar screen.  Earthquakes and “Happy Feet” do achieve it – but all of us would rather that the first one did not get repeated.   When we have taken on the EU in a butter battle that has gained profile too but again we would rather avoid that in the future.

What we do instead is try to get alongside policy makers in the EU system as well as using events like the Rugby World Cup to raise our profile. 

And we have sought to set up frameworks within which we can deepen and strengthen the relationship.  For example, our sanitary agreement with the EU – popularly referred to as the Vet agreement – saves everyone a lot of time based as it is on trust in each other’s animal product clearance systems.  If a problem arises in either jurisdiction the relevant people can talk it through and fix it before it becomes serious.  That agreement, and the science and technology agreement that I signed in 2008, are the two most valuable instruments in our armoury.  One is focussed on the integrity of our systems, the other is all about increasing the range and depth of joint research and cooperation so that both the EU and New Zealand can benefit from it.  In this context I congratulate engineering students here at Waikato for their collaboration with Bochum University of Applied Science in Germany in each developing solar powered cars.   It is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing more of.

Quite of lot of what we do is based on less formal or looser arrangements than our science and technology treaty.  For example it has been the policy of successive New Zealand governments to extend visa free treatment to any new member of the EU.  The most recent examples were of course Bulgaria and Romania.  The understanding is that this will be on a reciprocal basis which allows for New Zealanders to visit each member state for a period up to three months.  We also have a series of agreements with individual member states that provide for working holiday schemes for young people - particularly popular with member states like Sweden and Germany.

Eventually we should like to bring together all the strands of the EU/NZ relationship – including the trade and economic elements – into one comprehensive agreement.  On one hand this would allow the EU to catch up with every other major trading partner with which New Zealand has, or is negotiating, a FTA.  But, more particularly, by combining trade and economic elements with political and non-economic issues it would result in a unique agreement worthy of both the history, and the future, of the relationship.  In the meantime, however, Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Cathie Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, have agreed to seek a negotiating mandate for a framework agreement that would strengthen our relationship in areas such as human rights and counter-terrorism, environmental issues and development cooperation and education, science and innovation.   If I may quote Churchill once more:

 “This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, possibly, the end of the beginning.”

Let me conclude by highlighting another element to the relationship that stretches back nearly 100 years and – because it is nearly 100 years – will be the focus of increased attention by New Zealand, and Australia.  That is the commemoration of World War One.  No war in the past century has had a bigger impact on New Zealand society than WWI.  There are many horrifying statistics about this war but one that has stuck in my mind is that one quarter of New Zealand’s adult male population of that time either lost their lives or were wounded, in many cases never to fully recover.   

In coming years, especially from 2015 to 17 there will be major commemorations here and overseas that will focus on this.  They will be occurring just after the 70th Anniversary of major World War II battles such as Alamein (next year) and Monte Casino in Italy.  In fact we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli in the same year as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. 

I mention this because the next few years will serve to remind people that the shaping of modern Europe was influenced not only by Europeans but also through the sacrifices of a little country on the other side of the world.   The social impact included a whole generation of women who either never married or who lived the reminder of their lives without sons or husbands.  European history is thus inescapably intertwined with our history – dilemmas notwithstanding.

It has been a great pleasure talking to you this evening.