Australia prides itself for ‘punching above its weight’ and ‘leading the way’ - just look at the claims for the carbon tax. Hence also the conceit of the temporary seat on the UN Security Council.
Well it is time that Australia takes the lead in Europe.
At a time where there is an urgent need for fiscal discipline around the world, why do we have so many Embassies in Europe? The Europeans have been claiming for many years that they are united and have peacefully created the European Union to give voice to their international ambitions. The EU has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yet we have the bizarre duplication of the European Union sitting on various international organisations in addition to its member states.
So, for example, the EU sits in the G20, in addition to Germany, France, the UK and Italy.
The EU sits in OECD meetings, in addition to Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
The EU sits in the General Assembly of the United Nations, and since May 2011 a status that allows it to speak, interject and participate fully in UN activities except to cast a vote.
The EU fully participates in the World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The EU is represented at G7 and G8 meetings. As is the European Central Bank.
In short, there is considerable duplication in the representation from EU member countries at every major international organisation.
This duplication is compounded in reverse: most countries have various Embassies (High Commissions) in European Union member states as well as an Embassy to the European Union in Brussels.
Australia, although criticised for a supposedly small diplomatic presence, has missions in Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. All of which are EU countries. (And if Scotland breaks away from the UK will we then open an Embassy there too?)
Let’s take the lead.
Australia should shut down all of its missions in EU countries, and have a large Embassy in Brussels, with some appropriate consular presence in certain European countries.
We would benefit from the economies of scale, and generate significant savings from the massive duplication that presently affects our European representation. Indeed, we should get more diplomatic benefits for less money. The post would be an attractive place to work, and its staff would have the opportunity to travel around Europe just as our staff in the United States travel around the US.
Our efforts in this respect might spur other countries to follow (after all, we supposedly lead the world in many ways). If the other countries followed Australia and cut their representation to just the EU, that would not only save large amounts of taxpayers’ money around the world, but further promote European integration. While at it, we could disinvite EU member states from the various international organisations, although there would be some tension in removing the UK and France from the Security Council. But once the ball is rolling, it would be difficult for the member states to continue a direct involvement in international affairs. This would be the culmination of the European adventure; Australia can do its part to promote this dream.
We can manage with one Embassy covering the United States; so too we could manage with one Embassy to cover the European Union.
The world already listens too much to Europe. Let’s have one European voice rather than 28.