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8. 10. 2012 14:52

Speech delivered by Prime Minister Petr Nečas at the international conference USA and European Union Days, Žofín, 8 October 2012

Prime Minister Petr Nečas attended the international conference USA and European Union Days at Žofín Palace on 8 October 2012Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a genuine pleasure for me to make another appearance at these now traditional “USA and European Union Days” here in Žofín, Prague. In my contribution, I would like to make observations on three areas of issues:

  1. first, the character and nature of transatlantic cooperation between Europe and America,
  2. second, the challenges facing America and Europe separately and jointly,
  3. and third, the opportunities to improve further and deepen cooperation between America and Europe.

America and Europe are two parts of one common Western civilization. Although we live on different continents, we share the same civilization, with Jewish, Greek and Roman roots, shaped into a civilizational whole by Christianity, which historically has endowed our civilization with its strongest identity.

Politically our regimes are derived from 18th-century Enlightenment, although here it should be pointed out that there were essentially two, different Enlightenments. First, there was the Anglo-Scottish, which had respect for traditions and traditional values, sought limitations on state power, demanded tolerance, and was sceptical about the unfettered state and about the idea that building glorious tomorrows would be easy. This is the kind of Enlightenment forming the basis for our constitutional, liberal democracy, which we endorse.

Then there is the continental European Enlightenment, which was very intolerant of the Judeo-Christian values of our civilization, demanded a strong and omnipotent absolutist state, was proud of its social engineering and rationalist constructivism, expected Utopia to spring up if only state power was in the “right” hands, and in a way threads its way from the Jacobins to 20th-century totalitarianism. This type of enlightenment was often very inauspicious.

Our common civilization is the strongest factor and argument in favour of the alliance between America and Europe. An alliance based on the same values and politically manifested by a love of liberty and the defence thereof (if necessary, gun in hand), not only in our own territory, but also to the benefit of freedom-loving peoples across the world.

In the past 70 years, this alliance between America and Europe has been a major force for good in a changing and potentially dangerous world. There are many great reasons to maintain, deepen and strengthen this alliance, not only for us, but also in the interests of other peace- and freedom-loving countries.

The challenges facing America and Europe are partly common and partly different.

The most common challenge for both America and Europe is currently our enormous debt, the deficits of our public budgets and the need – and I would stress the political, economic and moral need – to return our countries and society to a trajectory leading to fiscal responsibility and balanced public finances. This is not only a political and economic necessity, but also, as I have mentioned, a moral imperative, because it would be wrong if the debts incurred by our generation ultimately had to be paid in in one form or another by the next generation.

And then there are challenges that are partly different for America and for Europe. America is about to decide whether it wishes to keep its American uniqueness, i.e. the tradition minimum governmental interference in citizens’ lives, individualism and maximum personal responsibility, or whether it wants to make a shift towards a social-democratic model of the European type.

We here will never achieve an American level of individualism, but, on the other hand, we respect and even admire the fact that America is not completely identical to Europe. America has a slightly different model for the relationship between the state and citizens.

Of course, the question of America’s future is a question that only US citizens and no one else is entitled to answer, but we in Central Europe are pleased that Western civilization is pluralistic, not monolithic, and that America is more America and Europe is more Europe, we would like it to stay that way.

The second challenge that America faces is the challenge of whether America will purposefully maintain its European heritage, or whether it will want to be the first truly cosmopolitan world empire.

Abraham Lincoln said that although, biologically, few Americans of the time were descendants of the Founding Fathers, all Americans were their spiritual and political sons, in the sense that whenever a ship lands on American shores, regardless of what part of the world it is from, provided that the incoming immigrants adopt the creed of the Declaration of Independence, which states that “...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, then they are good Americans. American identity is neither racial nor ethnic, but political, and relates to the creed of the Declaration of Independence.

We should bear in mind, however, that the first part of that creed – “all men are created equal” – is Christian, and that the second part – “endowed with certain unalienable rights, among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – is a product of the Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment. In this regard, the challenge faced by America is the question: do we cling to Western, i.e. originally European, civilization, or, for us, are all civilizations and societies, including those outside Europe, equally relevant?

Europe faces challenges of its own. Besides the extremely serious budgetary challenge, there is also the challenge to our cultural identity. Europe today is no longer Christian, but post-Christian, and there is no reason to think that this will be any different in the foreseeable future. However, the question is whether post-Christian Europe will show respect towards its Christian heritage and to Judeo-Christian values. I am convinced that it should.

Our most fundamental Western values, arising from the Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment, include freedom of speech and expression and freedom of religion. We will, and in my view must, firmly continue to adhere to these freedoms.

And now to the most relevant point: how can we strengthen and deepen cooperation between America and Europe even further?

We Europeans have one task before us. We are aware that we channel a lot less funding into our defence than the Americans. This is our debt to our transatlantic political, defence and security alliance. We acknowledge, just as we realize that, in Europe’s current financial and economic situation, an increase in defence budgeting is unrealistic.

Nevertheless, every crisis comes to an end and, after every crisis, there is eventually recovery, and when this day is upon us Europe will obviously be faced with the task of assigning increased resources to our common defence.

However, this must take place on the basis of the North Atlantic Alliance, which is a pillar of our common transatlantic security. We neither want nor need a European alternative to NATO, as that would simply drain resources from NATO without matching NATO’s efficiency. What we do need, however, is an effective and efficient North Atlantic Alliance.

The second task is common to both America and Europe: to remove the remaining barriers and obstacles to trade and movement between us. Our common heritage and goal is freedom, including economic freedom, and freedom of trade and business. It is shameful that between America and Europe, even after 70 years of alliance, there are still economic and trade barriers. These should finally be removed.

We are advocates of pulling down barriers, not erecting them. We support a policy of budgetary responsibility and austerity, not massive state intervention in the economy. We do not believe the apologists expounding the view that current economic problems will be saved less by the market and more by the government. We need to ask these questions together with full responsibility and discretion on both sides of the Atlantic.

I am convinced that, in terms of trade cooperation, the US and the European Union must be the drivers of world trade liberalization. Investment in the future is the most important requirement. Investment in education, science, innovation and new technologies. The Czech Republic is keen to adapt to this trend and places great store in projects that will increase competitiveness. Compared to the rest of the world, our mineral and human resources are limited. The only way we can compete is with faster technological progress. Accordingly, we consider cooperation in education, science and technology to be an absolute strategic priority on which to foster future prosperity.

It would be good for our freedom, it would be good for the revival and recovery of our economies, and good for our prosperity. Removing the remaining economic and trade barriers would serve our ideals and our interests well.

Let’s do it.

In North America, there is a North American free trade zone, known as NAFTA. In Europe, we have the European Union, which includes, among other things, a free trade zone. In my view, the two zones should be interconnected in pursuit of a Transatlantic Free Trade Area. This area was meant to be created a long time ago, ten to fifteen years ago.

But when it comes to doing the right thing, if we cannot do it “sooner rather than later”, there is always “better late than never”. It is not too late to establish TAFTA, and I think that it is entirely realistic to aspire to its creation by the end of this decade. Provided that political will is manifested on both sides of the Atlantic.

We have the will.

In the 21st century, we can expect to see the rise of new powers, both political and military, but also – and primarily – economic. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a strong reason for maintaining cooperation between America and Europe, and, indeed, not only for maintaining and preserving it, but also for deepening and strengthening it.

At this stage last year I said: “All countries and societies have their own ideals and interests. Prudent foreign policy must pursue both. Promoting ideals without paying due attention to interests would be naive and could lead to exhaustion and the overestimation of our strength. Promoting interests without taking ideals into consideration could, however, lead to cynicism, loss of our sense of priorities, loss of support and, paradoxically, paralysis and weakness. The correct policy must take into account both the interests and the ideals in the right proportions.”

This holds just as true this year, and will continue to apply next year and always. It is an eternally valid principle of a prudent and fair foreign policy. Let’s keep to it, and if we have deviated from it in some way or another, let’s return to it. In the interests of those who are alive now and of those who are to come after us, and to whom we will want to pass on a prosperous, free, cooperative and unencumbered society.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention.

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