PM’s trip to Europe a suc­cess for now

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - STACEY KIRK

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.

PHOTO: AP

New Zealand’s Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern is wel­comed by French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron at the El­y­see Palace in Paris.

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