Having just returned from Europe, I was interested to read Paul Kelly’s op-ed piece in this morning’s Australian, “Europe is closer than you think”.
Kelly
says that many things we think we know about Europe “are not truths,
but myths”, and that the European Union “should be Australia’s natural
partner in the [Pacific] region.”

Kelly is a little coy about
just who has been responsible for the myth-making about Europe. As he
says, “as recently as several years ago it was still possible to attend
seminars in Australia and have otherwise intelligent people seriously
predicting the unravelling of the European Union.” Not just any
seminars, though; the myths came from the Howard government’s
right-wing cheer squad, with whom Kelly has at times been associated.

But
Kelly is right to say that the EU is an important force for global
integration and economic liberalisation. He points to the success of
the 2004 expansion of the EU into eastern Europe: “The union, in
effect, is an expanding instrument for unity, stability, economic
development and national progress.”

Kelly also thinks that
differences between the United States and the EU are much less than
they were. “Europe is the study that highlights the differences between
the first and second Bush administrations, differences underrated in
Australia.” The joint approach to negotiations on Iran’s nuclear
program illustrates the rapprochement – driven especially by secretary
of state Condoleezza Rice, “who is building US foreign policy on
political diplomacy and a restored relationship with Europe.”

That
might be an exaggeration. But if even the Bush administration is on
side with the EU now, why is Euroscepticism still so powerful in
Australia? Surely it’s not the Australian population in general that,
in Kelly’s phrase, “cherishes its European prejudices”. The obvious
culprit is the Howard government.

In his last paragraph, Kelly has words of praise for Alexander Downer. But Downer’s paean to neoconservatism, published in yesterday’s Australian,
tells a different story. The reality is that, to use Kelly’s template,
Howard and Downer have been stuck in the first Bush administration and
have failed to move on to the second.

Peter Fray

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