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6. 1. 2023 9:48

New Year’s speech by Prime Minister Petr Fiala

New Year’s speech by Prime Minister Petr Fiala.
New Year’s speech by Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

Dear fellow citizens,

On this day, our country is celebrating its 30th birthday. The Czech Republic became an independent state on 1 January 1993.  It was born in the difficult circumstances of the early 1990s. The choice was not an obvious one for the Czech society, a part of the citizens did not see a reason why the joint state of Czechs and Slovaks must come to an end, the state in which most of them were born and which withstood nearly three quarters of a century of severe trials and challenges.

The Czech Republic became independent because the two nations decided thirty years ago that they would go their separate ways. And they agreed on it at the negotiating table. They managed to do it with mutual respect, fast and, above all, peacefully.

Today, it seems to be a very distant and natural event to us. Both countries cooperate closely in practically all areas. But mainly: the Slovaks are our close friends. So if, by chance, at a world ice hockey championship, the other team advances, the fans of both states will support it spontaneously. It is an exceptional relationship - and we should remind ourselves of it especially at this time, as a brutal war conflict is taking place close behind the Slovak borders only because one eastern power cannot accept the fact that another nation does not want to be in one state with it, does not want to be under its influence but wants to determine its own path and its future.

When we look back at what we have achieved as a nation over the thirty years, I believe we can be proud of ourselves. We started off as a poor country that had only recently broken free from the communist block. Our main goal was to turn into a democratic and economically advanced country. Our desire was to become part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. That was an immensely attractive target but it also seemed extremely distant.

Today, at the beginning of 2023, we take it for granted. We are part of democratic Europe and our security is protected by our NATO membership. Thanks to that, both we and our children have the opportunity to live a far better life than the majority of people on this planet.

But we did not get to where we are by chance. It took efforts and responsible work of all of you. And I am not talking only about the economy. We have proven that we stick together, that our heart is in the right place, that we lend a helping hand when someone is in distress. Remember, for example, the extensive floods more than twenty years ago or the devastating tornado in Moravia the year before last.

The huge solidarity and willingness to help at one’s own expense is something that substantially forms the character of our state and is its great value.

In the past years, we rejoiced together at the success of our scientists, entrepreneurs, artists or sportspeople. Many of them became a significant part of our modern history. And they are also what co-creates our national pride. That we, all of us, are part of a self-confident Czech Republic.

This concerns also two very important events of the just ended year. The first is the unbelievable solidarity with war refugees and the suffering of Ukrainian people. Hundreds of thousands of Czech families offered a place to stay, material and non-material aid for them. Such solidarity has an immense value also for ourselves, it is something that shows the quality and strength of our society.

The second is the responsibility you take for the necessity to save electricity and gas. Not only because it saves your own money. But also because you directly help our economy and the whole of our country to overcome this energy crisis with the least possible damage.

I would like to thank you with all my heart for your responsible, human and moral approach. It is these things that make the Czech Republic a good, self-confident and respected country.

Believe me that it is not a courtesy phrase. Over the last six months, as the prime minister of a European Union presidency, I spent hundreds of hours at negotiations, meetings and conferences with representatives of all European countries and many other states. We discussed our joint security, we had to figure out where to quickly obtain gas and oil, we looked for ways to jointly support firms and households. They all knew what the Czech Republic represents, they appreciated our competence and our negotiations and thanks to that they were willing to accept our proposals and attitudes. It is also why we managed to push through many specific measures that help us now to overcome the current complicated situation.

In this connection, I would like to recall one very important thing. The Czech Republic is no small, weak and unimportant state somewhere at the edge of Europe, whose opinion is not taken into account, as I sometimes hear even in public debates. No, we must reject and abandon such defeatism together. With our population, we are the 9th most populated state out of the 27 Member States of the European Union. Even with our economy, prosperity and living standard we rank nowhere at the bottom. We are an important, middle-sized European country. We only need to realize it and learn to think, speak and act based on it. With humbleness, friendliness but adequate self-confidence. I see the Czech Presidency of the EU Council, for which we are now being praised, as a good example of such approach.

This should be remembered especially at this time of a long unseen economic and social uncertainty for all of us. A time of understandable concerns about the near future. What we have achieved, who we are as a nation, gives us the needed inner certainty that we stand a great chance of coping with everything well and successfully. Even though it will take some time and it will cost us a lot of money and efforts.

The military attack on Ukraine by Russia has shown us that our security cannot be taken for granted. It can be threatened, for example, if Russia wins in Ukraine and if we do not pay adequate attention to our defence and security. That was unfortunately the case in the past years. We neglected our army, we did not fulfil sufficiently our promises to our NATO allies. Now, we seek to change it quickly. We are increasing and will continue to increase our defence expenditure. We do it, above all, for our own security. We must have a strong, modern army that will ensure our protection. We also help those who show determination and strength to defend themselves.

Sometimes I hear that we should rather seek peace instead of arms. But the building of a strong collective defence is the only way to maintain peace in the long term. Defence expenditure must be understood the same way as any long-term investment in the economy, in people. We systematically support the engagement of domestic industry in defence contracts. By that we create jobs, mostly with a high added value, i.e. well paid, and so we promote the competitiveness of the Czech economy. Many Czech defence-industry firms have also expanded their production in recent months and are recruiting thousands of new employees.

With the same intensity, we are now working on a comprehensive transformation of our energy sector. We can no longer afford to be unilaterally dependent on eastern supplies and be economically blackmailed through them. Our goal must be a full energy security and sovereignty of the Czech Republic. This means that we must have multiple suppliers that can be mutually replaced in the case of a problem.

It is a long and challenging journey because the energy sector cannot be changed in a month. To find new suppliers, new ways of transport, to build oil and gas pipelines, new electricity sources, or to increase the capacity of distribution networks will take several years. But we have started and the first results are on the table. We have enough gas for this winter, we step up the capacity of oil pipelines from democratic countries, we develop nuclear energy and remove administrative barriers for building new power plants using renewable sources. And this year, we will continue.

Some politicians want you to believe that the high prices of energy can be tamed by a simple measure. Unfortunately, it is not true. You surely remember how, in the spring, the same politicians called for capping the prices of petrol and diesel, which were going up sharply then. And they pointed out countries that did it at that time. It looked attractive and simple.

We knew why we chose the more demanding way with many smaller and seemingly more complicated measures. And thanks to that, our filling stations have a permanent supply of fuel and the fuel price is at the level before the war in Ukraine. While we read in the media that countries which decided for a hard regulation of prices now face shortages and are adopting rationing. That is something we averted in the Czech Republic and I want to avert it in the future too. Whether this concerns energy, food or fuel.

I believe that the predictions of experts will be fulfilled and that the measures of our government - and the Czech National Bank in combating inflation - will have a positive effect already this year. I trust that we will pull inflation out of double-digit values, that the dearness and high prices will diminish to an acceptable level.

I want to promise you that the government will do its best to contribute to it. Therefore, we are fulfilling our policy statement, we respond to the suggestions of the National Economic Council of the Government, and the Minister of Finance is preparing a proposal for reducing the state expenditure by CZK 70 billion. However, the savings should not affect our army, construction of new roads and railways, and the education of our children. These are areas our government considers its priority for this year.

Moreover, we intend to maintain the broadly set support of our households and firms against the high prices of energy. You may know that in order to obtain the needed funding, we decided to introduce special war tax for companies from the energy and financial sector. It is not a popular measure but it is necessary. The funding will go towards the general capping of gas and electricity prices and towards targeted support for those who, despite that, do not cope.

In this connection, I would like to emphasise one thing. The government’s price cap is not a tool for ensuring low electricity and gas prices for all. The price cap is to prevent the prices from going out of control, as they did in August last year. Personally, I wish the energy prices were much lower but the price cap was selected very carefully so that our state can afford to finance it.

I realize very well how challenging this situation is for many households. Therefore, I again use this opportunity to ask everyone concerned not to be ashamed to use the targeted government support through our Umbrella Against Dearness. The state is prepared to help you.

Dear fellow citizens, we are not living in easy times but in complicated ones, full of uncertainty and new challenges. For all of us.

We have gone through two years of concerns and limitations due to COVID-19. When it looked like it was all over, we were fully hit by the impacts of a war in Europe, energy crisis and inflation.

Still, there is no reason to lose hope and not to look to the future with positive expectations. There is a solution to every problem. Our government is working intensively on the solutions with experts.

Things neglected in the past, new threats and current crises cannot be dissolved overnight by any magic, we will not be helped by impatience or attractive populist slogans that never work in practice. Our path is a systematic, well thought out policy with clear goals, day-to-day work that will lead our country through today’s crises and will make it stronger, more resilient, safer and more prospering.

I have outlined the most important topics of this year at least briefly. To give you the necessary information. And to give you courage and hope for 2023. It will not be an easy year but we will manage. Just as we successfully got through the previous thirty years together. I am entirely sure of that.

I wish you a happy new year, all the best, and thank you for your attention. Have a pleasant evening.

Petr Fiala
Prime Minister

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