EU High Rep optimistic about deal

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The European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security fends off suggestions that last week’s deal to address Europe’s massive debt problems will not be sufficient to solve the EU’s problems.

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MARK COLVIN: The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, is in Canberra for co-operation talks with the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

On the subject of the Eurozone deal stitched up last week I put it to her that some analysts thought it was only really half what was needed.

CATHERINE ASHTON: I haven’t seen those analyst’s writings so I can’t comment on the specifics but certainly the reaction of the markets is probably a good indication of how it’s been seen.

I think importantly now the discussion moves on to the G20 and the opportunity for the G20 to kind of reinforce that, in terms of the global economy.

MARK COLVIN: There’s been an awful lot of focus on Greece but do you think Italy is taking the measures that are needed?

CATHERINE ASHTON: I think Italy’s been playing a full part in all of the discussions; the 27 European leaders meeting together as they did the weekend before this one

MARK COLVIN: That’s not really what I was asking. Has it taken the right measures?

CATHERINE ASHTON: No, no, well I was going to come on to say that the meeting together is the opportunity for countries to debate with each other what needs to happen. And certainly the measures that the prime minister has taken have been well received. Obviously as I say we now move to the G20 to see what more can be done on a global scale.

MARK COLVIN: Is Silvio Berlusconi’s own very precarious position a problem in all of that?

CATHERINE ASHTON: Well, that’s for the people of Italy and for the prime minister of Italy to work out. From my perspective the prime minister of Italy plays a strong role as a global leader on the EU27 council and the measures that have been taken have been taken by those leaders coming together. So you know countries go through different political and economic times but the strength of Europe is that it sticks together.

MARK COLVIN: But isn’t the European Union reaping the whirlwind of its own actions in not making sure that countries like Greece actually were in conformity with all the EU rules before and after they joined?

CATHERINE ASHTON: Well you know I think one of the big lessons and challenges for the future is how to make sure that we have robust systems in place and you’ll see that’s what the European Commission has been busy doing.

The challenges that economies find themselves facing two/three years ago were unknown to all of us; there’s no question but that the changes that occurred and the way in which the banking systems were put in serious difficulty across the world – again this is not just a European problem – were challenges that haven’t been faced before.

So the work we’ve been doing from the European Commission side has been looking at how you make sure you’ve got the right kind of, what I call smart regulations, smart approaches to not just those problems of the past but more importantly the changes that may come in the future.

And that’s what we have to do and that’s why we have to work with Greece and with all the other countries in the European Union to make sure we’ve got those in place.

MARK COLVIN: If you’re wrong about last week’s agreement and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t prove to have been sufficient, and a few months down the track you have to go at it all over again, can the Eurozone survive?

CATHERINE ASHTON: Well I don’t think I’m wrong about that so that question doesn’t apply.

MARK COLVIN: And how much damage has this done to the whole idea of the European Union; there was a long period of expansion that must surely be completely over now?

CATHERINE ASHTON: I think what we’ve seen is that the European Union has worked out its response to these challenges together; you know the European Council has met regularly, it’s come together with a view to try and sort out how best to respond and to move into the future.

I don’t see a Europe that’s in any way diminished as a consequence of this and indeed we still have countries, as you know, wanting to join; Croatia should join in the near future and other countries who are applying for candidate status.

So it’s for me, a demonstration of the strength of Europe and how it will weather through these particular turbulent times into the future.

MARK COLVIN: The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

You can hear a longer version of that interview on our website from this evening.

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