Australia lobbies UK to remain EU member
Foreign Minister Bob Carr and former Trade Minister Craig Emerson lobbied their British counterparts earlier this year to urge Britain to remain a member of the European Union, amid a rising tide of Conservative demands for Britain to quit the union.
Conservative leader and UK Prime Minister David Cameron has placated party rebels by promising to hold a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017. He has not said which side he would support.
Documents released by a British review of the powers of the EU include a letter from Dr Emerson to Britain's Business Secretary, Vince Cable, implicitly warning that British withdrawal from the EU would damage Australian businesses that have based their European offices in London.
"The UK attracts strong Australian investment partly due to our long-term links but also because of the UK's position in the EU market," Dr Emerson wrote. "Australian businesses ... use the UK as a platform for trade and investment in the broader EU market."
Dr Emerson said "free movement of goods, persons, services and capital" to the wider EU market attracted investment to EU members. He left unstated the implication: Britain will attract less Australian investment if it loses that free movement.
Senator Carr wrote to Foreign Secretary William Hague, to praise Britain's "important and positive role" in shaping EU policies, adding: "I hope to see this continue long into the future."
"We appreciate the special role the UK has played in helping to shape the EU as an outwardly focused institution, to the benefit of the international community," Senator Carr said. "The UK has championed free trade, the single market, and been a strong advocate on the need for the EU to remain competitive.
"Australia recognises the UK's strength and resilience and looks forward to seeing it continue as a leading economy and effective power. Strong, active membership of the EU contributes to this."
It is quite the opposite message sent to Britain 50 years ago by Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies and Trade Minister Sir John McEwen, who lobbied in vain to stop Britain joining Europe, fearing, correctly, that it would cost Australian farmers their privileged access to the lucrative UK market.
Presumably Senator Carr and Dr Emerson concluded there was little chance of Britain again offering Australia special access for its beef, wheat and dairy products should it leave the EU.
But Australia's lobbying, which has been matched by similar pleas from the United States and Japan, appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Conservative MPs voted unanimously this month for a private member's bill to support a referendum, and Mr Cameron tweeted his delight at its passage. After nearly six years of an economy lurching from a crisis to doldrums, the worst appears to be over for Europe. This month the European Commission, the European Union's executive body, said it expects the 27-nation EU to emerge from recession in the fourth quarter of this year.
It forecast an economic expansion accelerating to a 1.4 per cent growth rate in 2014. The 17-country eurozone, which uses the common currency, is projected to expand by 1.2 per cent.