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16. 5. 2019 18:50

Prime Minister’s speech at the conference 15 Years of Czech Republic’s membership in the European Union

Prime Minister’s speech at the conference 15 Years of Czech Republic’s membership in the European Union
Prime Minister’s speech at the conference 15 Years of Czech Republic’s membership in the European Union

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to be able to speak here today at the 15th anniversary conference of our country's membership in the European Union.

I consider the Czech Republic’s membership in the European Union essential. Thanks to it, we have achieved long-term economic and social growth, which was not possible in the past. In this respect, I would first like to mention the benefits of our membership of the Union, which I consider to be key.  

It is good that membership gives us access to the European Union’s internal market, which I personally consider to be one of Europe’s most successful policies. I will be even more happy to remove the last obstacles to the free movement of services, which should be our priority for the next European Commission. We want to reduce the bureaucracy faced by our companies and we want to push it in Europe. If it is unobstructed, the internal market will undoubtedly bring economic benefits to all the citizens of Europe and make them even richer. We should fight protectionism.

I also see the European Union’s cohesion and structural funds as an essential tool. They help to develop our economy and infrastructure. As a result, we catch up with Western Europe in the standard of living. We want each country to distribute these funds according to domestic priorities and without administration and unnecessary controls. I want to fight for it. I do not want a system where the European Commission proposes a budget and some Member States, including us, do not know why they are proposing such a budget. Why they raise the cost of European authorities by 23% when Britain is leaving. Why they impose their ideas on how our economy should invest, and then when we use European funds, we do not get the money for what we need, especially for investment, and then try to turn the unused programs into our priorities. And I think it’s the most important thing. The Czech Republic is getting richer and in the next programming period it will get CZK 100 billion less, but it is essential that we convince others about our priorities. Because of this, we are preparing the National Investment Plan because we have a huge investment deficit. In this way, I will do my best to make the European Commission listen to our needs, because I think it has not been the case so far. And if we are doing the budget for seven years and the current period was set in 2012, when unemployment was 9.5%, today we have the lowest unemployment and we have completely different problems and priorities.  

Our people are most aware of EU membership when traveling abroad. This is allowed by the Schengen area. We have to make sure it is protected from the outside and we decide who we let in. But inside Schengen, we do business and travel without obstacles. I also believe that all the states that want to join Schengen and meet the required legal criteria belong to Schengen. For me, Schengen is an area of peace and security and we must keep this peace and security. I therefore consider it important to re-establish the proper functioning of the Schengen system on the basis of legal obligations. This is the only way to preserve one of the most important achievements of European integration, which is a common value.

We must discuss Schengen. We had an informal summit in Sibiu. And the people there on the square were excited. Thousands of people chanted that they were happy to be in Europe. Then I asked why you are not in Schengen, I also asked at the informal council. But Sibiu ended and the European Commission sent a letter to Romania. Not quite favourable. We should end up with that hypocrisy and I do not understand why, when some Member States are defending the Schengen area against illegal migration, such as Bulgaria, even better than some Schengen members who allow illegal migration, they are not there. There is no plan, no vision. Chancellor Merkel said in Sibiu that we should meet more often with the European Council, not only three times a year or just for Brexit, but we should talk about it, that there should be some vision for Schengen. We always talk about climate change, about the euro area. Let's talk about Schengen. Let's talk about some strategy. Why are Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria still outside Schengen? Why don’t we have a plan for the Western Balkans?

The tendency of some member states that say that those countries that do not want to accept illegal migrants do not even belong to Schengen are absolutely unacceptable. I don’t understand why some of them even say it.

We are the seventh safest country in the world. We have long been striving to strengthen the continent’s external and internal security. Our government is helping to deal with illegal migration at European level, and in cooperation with our V4 partners, for example, it has been able to reject redistribution quotas, a nonsensical idea since the very beginning. It only divided Europe. This is a problem that we should fundamentally address. Let’s have a strategy and defend Europe on the continent, at that external border. This is the purpose of Frontex, and this is the purpose of operation Sofia, and here we should finally reach a united conclusion.

I do not think that these two of our demands, namely economic prosperity and security, necessarily require more Union, but they require a better and more effective Union. Its current form is not sustainable. The EU needs to adapt immediately to new challenges and requirements. We are part of the Union and we can change it. We need to be able to speak loudly where something bothers us and where the Union goes beyond its powers. We are talking about it. For example, in terms of energy. The Czech Republic has excellent conditions for the development of nuclear energy and the nuclear energy will contribute to energy security. And having a single energy mix within Europe is absolutely nonsensical because every country has different climatic conditions. We are neither Norway nor Germany. Nuclear is a low emission source. Nobody can convince me otherwise. So I think we should talk about it and that nuclear energy should be counted towards renewable sources. Because the world is going in a different direction.

We certainly support the Paris Climate Agreement and every state wants to meet its climate commitments. So do we. But every state should find its own way to meet them. We should stop the forced imposition of unity, because it must be acknowledged that, in some areas, there are specificities in addition to common features. Our way must respect our natural and economic conditions. It would be a mistake to undermine our economic prosperity to meet the climate goals. Europe should remember what we have done. Here in the Czech Republic we have a popular topic – rape. Who invented rape, who invented biofuels in 2009? Who told us oil would be USD 200 a barrel? It’s some kind of a renewable source. Then came the solar panels. We subsidized solar panels, and then we were not able to produce, so all European producers went bankrupt and today China is doing it. It would be a good idea to think about electric cars. Whether we’re not going somewhere again, when we don't know the situation in batteries, what emissions we have, whether we can extinguish a battery, whether, and some member states say we won’t have diesel and petrol cars by 2040 just electric cars, we have thought it through. Or we may again find electric cars mainly produced in China.

The world around us is developing fast and Europe has to respond to this. We must promote our interests. Trade policy, which must be ambitious and open up new opportunities for European companies, is an important part. We also have to negotiate properly on behalf of Europe. It is a pity that TTIP did not materialise. I was discussing car tariffs with President Trump, and when I returned, I found out that Commissioner Malmström did not even have a mandate. Finally, we invited her and told the European Council that we could finally approve the mandate and so we approved it. We must strengthen the EU’s global role, increase competitiveness and continue to defend the existing rules-based international order. This is in our interest. We must fight protectionism in world trade. This is the way to hell.

The Czech Republic is a strong economy, has healthy finances and almost zero unemployment. We are one of the most stable economies in Europe. We have a significant impact on the future direction of the EU, which we actively use and will continue to use. Others could learn from us how to manage public finances. According to Bloomberg, we are the most stable economy in Europe. We have reduced our debt again, we are already 4th, with only tiny states ahead of us. I think that our country’s budgetary responsibility can be an example in this respect.

We have no alternative to EU membership, but I think we should say critically what needs to be changed. Citizens expect it from us. We will not stand in the corner and we will not go with the crowd or the flow.

I believe that the Union must reform itself to better reflect citizens’ demands. In today’s world order, we need a strong Europe.  If we are talking about climate change, then we must promote that our global competitors also accept and fulfil climate change commitments. Europe has only 9% of world emissions. We need a strong Europe. But it must be a Europe of strong Member States. I therefore consider it necessary to restore the institutional order in the EU. The Commission must be depoliticized and the position of European leaders in the European Council strengthened. We should return to the original roles of these institutions, according to which political leadership is ensured by the European Council and the European Commission acts as guardian of the Treaties to ensure that EU law is applied consistently and that no double standard is used. In Sibiu this was very well said off-record by Chancellor Merkel. She said the European Council should be a kind of coalition government of Europe. There the Member States have to agree and the European Commission is to oversee the treaties and to implement what the Member States agree on, which I really like. The coalition government of Europe, that should be essential. I consider it important that European Union law is applied uniformly and there is no double standard. I consider it absolutely essential to avoid the emerging danger of fragmentation and the east-west and north-south division. Different approaches and characteristics need to be taken into account, such as migration, economic policy structure, taxation and competitiveness. If some Member States say we should have the same minimum wage everywhere in Europe, I would like our people to have the same minimum wage as elsewhere. The question is how many of our businesses would go bankrupt. Unfortunately, we had 41 years of communism and that is a huge handicap for our economy. The Czech Republic was at the forefront of Europe and the world during the First Republic, 1918–1938.

I reiterate that Member States must have a say in decision-making in the Union. Only then will we be able to effectively defend and promote our interests. Citizens want decisions in Europe to be made mainly by those who were elected. And these are members of the European Council, presidents and prime ministers.

I also consider it essential to make EU enlargement policy more effective. This policy is the most effective mechanism we have to ensure the long-term stability, security and prosperity of the Western Balkans region. Europe’s final shape will not be complete and its potential to strengthen its political and economic weight will not be exploited without enlargement to the Western Balkans. In order not to miss this opportunity, the necessary steps must be taken by both the candidate countries of the Western Balkans and the EU. We should strictly apply our own principle that each candidate must be judged by his own merits and achievements.

It is clear that we will face challenges in the future that we will have to address together. This means above all drought issues, which is a big problem, preserving nature to ensure the functioning of our society, and cyber threats. And also 5G. We are talking about common security, I said so at the European Commission. Minister Petříček organized a conference on security, because cyber security is extremely important. The Union must be reformed to be ready to respond effectively to these challenges. Only then will citizens support it.

I can only promise that we stand before the election and we need to know that the fundamental influence of the Czech Republic on the European Union is of course on the EU Council and at the European Council. It is not that we are there right now and others will come after us. It is important for the cooperation with the European Parliament to work. We are actually speaking very specifically at the Council and are actively speaking and giving concrete proposals on how to fight for a strong Europe.

The future form of our EU membership must meet citizens’ demands. We must see what they are telling us. They want us to provide security and protection and economic growth. And then of course the challenges such as Brexit or foreign policy. We have given up our influence in Syria, Libya. We are still talking about Africa, but when will we finally say how we will do it? These are the things that need to be changed and the Czech Republic is ready. We are not a small country. In terms of population we are 11th. In various things, we can set an example for other Member States, for example in terms of the health of our public finances. We have ideas, we have proposals, we want to fight for a strong Europe and I believe that the current government is doing it and we are certainly ready to continue to build a strong Europe.

Thank you for your attention.

Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister

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