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PM to visit Europe

PM to visit Europe

Prime Minister Helen Clark is visiting Belgium, France and the United Kingdom from 22 April to 2 May.

In Paris, she is to chair the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting. It has been twenty years since New Zealand last chaired the meeting. It will also be the first visit to Belgium by a New Zealand Prime Minister in a decade.

The visit to Europe takes place on the eve of the enlargement of the European Union from fifteen to twenty-five members.

Helen Clark said the enlargement of the EU is historically a very significant development. “An expanded EU will be an even more important force on the international stage. We need to ensure, therefore, that its leaders hear New Zealand’s views on a range of issues.

“It is important that the impact on New Zealand of EU enlargement is positive. That means getting to know a lot better the new EU member states while building on all the links we have with our longstanding friends in Europe.”

The Prime Minister will start her visit in Brussels where she will meet Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, and make a speech at the European Policy Centre.

The Prime Minister will hold discussions with European Commissioners and MEPs, including Commission President Romano Prodi and Vice President Neil Kinnock, Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, and Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Helen Clark will also meet EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten in Auckland on Easter Monday prior to departing for Europe.

The discussions are expected to cover international security and trade agendas, EU expansion, and how New Zealand and the EU might work more closely together.

From Belgium the Prime Minister will travel to London for Anzac Day ceremonies at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey before returning to the Somme region in Belgium and France on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 April. There she will visit World War One battlefields and graveyards, including the town of Le Quesnoy, which was liberated by New Zealand troops in the last days of the war. She will also visit a family war grave in France.

In Paris, the Prime Minister will hold bilateral meetings with French ministers and members of the business community; and chair the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting.

“I am particularly looking forward to my meeting with President Jacques Chirac, and with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

“I will be pressing the case, both in Paris and in Brussels, for protecting the arrangements New Zealand has under bilateral visa agreements to enable New Zealanders to stay in Europe for a reasonable time.”

In Paris, she will chair the OECD ministerial council meeting, and also deliver a keynote address at the OECD forum, the international conference involving business, labour, and civil society representatives, which is held at the time of the Council meeting each year.

“OECD governments are facing the challenges of promoting growth and development in an uncertain international environment. It is an important opportunity for New Zealand to chair the OECD’s highest level annual ministerial meeting at this time with WTO trade talks at a delicate point, and also to build on the momentum generated by last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development,” Helen Clark said.

“On return to London on 1 and 2 May, I will meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair and key ministers of his cabinet, and pay a visit to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.

“The United Kingdom remains one of New Zealand’s most important bilateral partners. We are interested in the British perspective on EU enlargement, and on what it means for longstanding partners of Europe like New Zealand. It will also be timely to hear Mr Blair’s views on international relations following the Iraq conflict. I will also discuss the forthcoming Progressive Governance Summit in London which Mr Blair is hosting later in the year,” Helen Clark said.

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