PM’s trip to Europe a success for now
Opinion: She got what she came for. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern really only needed one thing from a week-long trip to Europe: French support for negotiations on a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union.
That doesn’t mean the rest of her itinerary is icing – it isn’t.
There’s still a heavy schedule of high-level meetings with some of the world’s most powerful leaders – including the prospect of an FTA with the United Kingdom’s Theresa May.
But this was the most immediate issue New Zealand needed resolved and representing $15 billion in two-way trade. it would grow New Zealand’s economy significantly.
The 23 member states that make up the EU are set to vote on whether to issue a mandate to begin negotiating a free-trade deal next month. With France’s agreement, along with Germany’s already declared support, it’s likely the deal has enough influential backing to gain a majority.
In reality, the contents of these meetings between leaders is worked out long before they sit down to dot the Is and cross the Ts.
Foreign Affairs officials on both sides will have spent months furiously doing the legwork to smooth out sticking points before Ardern and Macron got in a room together.
But their joint announcement to work towards the FTA and a raft of other goals would have meant a big weight lifted off Ardern’s shoulders.
New Zealand’s stance on United States-led missile strikes on Syria, which were supported by France and the UK, might have been a prickly issue.
Ardern has stopped short of saying that New Zealand supported the strike in the face of inaction by the United Nations Security Council, following the alleged gas attack of innocent civilians by the Assad regime.
But she did ‘‘accept’’ it as a necessary measure, while calling for a return to the council’s table for a diplomatic solution. In practical terms, accepting there were valid grounds to go ahead with the strikes is support enough for those nations.
And while her Government did cop international flak for dragging the chain when it came to denouncing the actions of Russia in the chemical attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil, it’s likely to be little more than a media distraction now.
Western European partners know where New Zealand stands, and more pressing issues of Syria and New Zealand’s role as a Five Eyes partner are likely to take precedence in talks over the next week.
But capping off day one in Paris, with a keynote speech to packed auditorium of adoring political science students and a quick catchup with Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau – who must be becoming something resembling a friend by now, can be considered a success.
Ardern will be heading into tonight’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a reasonable amount of confidence that the hardest part is over, and she’s just passed a major test.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris.