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2. 12. 2008 17:44

Priorities of the Czech EU Presidency

Remarks by Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of the Czech Republic Alexandr Vondra, DGAP, Czech-German Discussion Forum on the Czech EU Presidency, Berlin, 2 December 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me and for the opportunity to introduce here today the Czech plans for the EU for the upcoming 6 months.

Czech Presidency will have a strong symbolic setting, enabling us to look back and retrospect:

- 5th anniversary of EU Eastern enlargement

- 20th anniversary of the fall of Iron curtain, which has enabled Europe to reunite

Czech Presidency will also have a strong mission, forcing us to look forward and act:

In the beginning of the 21st century, the new multipolar world is taking shape. Globalisation is accelerating, casting doubt upon the former political and economic distribution of power in the world. EU is confronted with brand new challenges – new because they are contradictory. Cooperation is needed as much as competition in a world characterised by increased security risks on one hand and increased economic interdependency on the other hand. We are facing climate change, as well as a higher demand for energy. The pressure to increase economic performance to succeed in global competition is growing, while most EU economies are not making full use of their potential and are not sufficiently resistant to external shocks. We face growing immigration flows on one hand and negative demographic trends on the other hand. To find right answers to these confusing trends is not easy.

Apart from long term developments we need also to react to unexpected and more short-term challenges: impacts of a strong destabilisation of the world financial system, question marks in the relationship with Russia after the Georgian crisis, etc.

Czechs believe strongly, that be it long or short term challenges, the precondition for Europe´s success in the 21st century is flexibility, ability to react quickly and rationally. Our capacity to do so is limited most due to internal barriers. The Czech EU Presidency therefore comes with a vision of Europe without barriers – Europe making full use of its economic, human as well as cultural potential.

Three main priorities fall under our motto (3E´s):

1) Economy

The stress we put on economy is logical. Only an economically strong and influential EU can solve international political, environmental, security, social or commercial challenges. How do we intend to achieve that? By increasing competitiveness:


o It is crucial to continue to fulfill the Lisbon competitiveness agenda and structural reforms, albeit under new circumstances. We believe that it is important to continue developing human capital via education, research and innovation. To continue decreasing administrative burden, and to support SME´s, who account for more than 2/3 of EU´s growth, while being most vulnerable to the crisis.

o We are also keen on dismantling remaining barriers of the four basic freedoms of the EU internal market in order to unleish additional economic potential in these hard times

o Stabilisation of financial markets is important for our future prosperity and we will continue the work that has already started. Dealing with the looming economic recession that comes as a side-effect of the financial crisis will belong to our important tasks – the Czech Presidency will implement the European recovery plan that has been recently outlined by the European Commission.

2) Energy

Energy is the fuel of economy. EU has an ambition to lead the world in the efforts to tackle climate change. If this is to succeed in times when scarcity of energy sources and increased demand for energy lend suppliers unprecedented political clout, energy MUST belong to EU´s priorities.

In the domain of energy, on one hand the Czech Presidency will work on finalizing the legislation already in the pipeline:

o Climate change package. We follow closely the work of the French Presidency and believe that we will have a political decision on the package after the up-coming European Council. We are then ready to take it through. We believe that striking a right balance between environment, competitiveness and security is a precondition for a united European stance for Copenhagen.

o 3rd energy package (internal energy market)

On the other hand, we would like to come up with some new contributions and tools for increasing the European energy security:

o Energy infrastructure will stand high among our priorities. The 2nd Strategic Energy Review is an opportunity to adress more carefully the question of interconnections of grids, which are the Achilles´ heel of the European energy market. It also is an opportunity to provide for a so fare non-existant analysis of the future EU27 demand and supplies.

o Diversification. The Czech Presidency would like to organize a Southern Corridor summit in Brussels with number of transit or supplying countries from the Caspian region and try to reach progress in the Nabucco project.

3) Europe in the world

Europe has no choice – the recent Georgian crisis has shown that she already is a global player, with global responsibilities which go hand in hand with it. Foreign policy priorities of the Czech Presidency will have both and Eastern dimension (directed towards our neighbors and towards Russia) and a Western one (addressing the United States and the new administration).

Eastern partnership, Russia and external dimension of energy security will be our key priority. In the context of the events in Georgia, it has become clear that East is the direction EU foreign policy should be looking in the up-coming years. Our relationship to Russia will be pivotal in the determination of EU´s geopolitical weight for the next decades.

- We have made a difficult but unavoidable decision – to renew negotiations on PCA with Russia. Reengagement with Russia is necessary. Unless EU is to loose further leverage, dismantled by mushrooming bilateral deals with Russia or Gazprom, it is necessary to deal with Russia at a 27 + 1 format.

- Engaging with Russia does not mean returning to „business as usual“: 3 implications are clear:

a) Our requirement for Russians to fulfil the August conditions must continue to stand. By renewing negotiations on PCA we are not allowing the „de facto“ to be come a „de iure“.

b) We should not negotiate the Medvedev proposal for a Security Pact, unless it is with USA at our sides and on a neutral ground. We with no doubt need a common EU position on the pact, which must be agreed among the 27, but the proposal as such should be negotiated with Russia on the ground of OSCE.

c) we must strive for a common EU policy on Russia

The third point might be the most difficult one:

- European perceptions of Russia differ fundamentally depending on what country you are looking from. From the perspective of Warsaw the keyword is THREAT. From the perspective of Berlin it is OPPORTUNITY. From London or Rome it is BALANCE.

- The Czech Presidency will have one advantage and one disadvantage in this respect. The disadvantage is that we are not a superpower. The advantage consists in not subscribing entirely to any of the 3 above mentioned views, while having a first hand experience and knowledge of Russia. We are in a softer geopolitical position than EU members directly neighboring with Russia. We understand the motivations of the remaining EU countries. We may be able to reconcile the views on Russia.

- The EU divide on Russia has 2 main strategic implications:

1) we need to develop a concept of an Eastern partnership – a method how to deal with countries „in between“

2) we need a strong transatlantic relationship

Eastern partnership

In the era of enlargement fatigue, we must find new concepts for granting our Eastern neighbors more political attention and more financial resources. Georgia is a common transatlantic task. But Ukraine – divided as it is on its NATO membership perspective – remains an EU homework. Offering a project-based institutionally anchored cooperation might be the way to solve the quadrature of the circle.

Czech Republic has come up with a paper outlining this idea, our Swedish and Polish friends have then presented a very well elaborated and detailed paper on Eastern Partnership and based on that the Commission will publish on 3 December a document, which should become a basis for this important initiative.

The partnership should include very concrete measures – bilateral as well as multilateral. Bilaterally we should go ahead with visa liberalisation accompanied by better border management. In the area of economy, deep free trade agreements should be negotiated. In the domain of energy, we should extend EU energy acquis to our partner countries. As we have already witnessed in the Balkans, the benefits of such measures are mutual. The Southern Corridor summit on energy security, that I have mentioned above, is a perfect example of how this initiative could work in practice.

The Czech Presidency would like to formally launch the Eastern partnership by an „Eastern summit“, organized in Prague, probably in spring 2009 with participation of EU27 + 5 to 6 Caucasian countries and countries directly neighboring with the EU. This summit should commit EU on the structure of the partnership. We firmly believe that balance is needed in EU´s relationship to its neighbors: in 2008 we´ve had a „Meditarreanean spring“, spring of 2009 could be dedicated to the East.

Transatlantic bond

The EU divide on Russia is one of the many reasons why we need a strong transatlantic relationship. We need a strong partner to lean on, when we occasionally flop. The new administration will take office during our Presidency and we need to start setting the future agenda of our collaboration. The French Presidency has been very active and has drafted a paper identifying areas of necessary transatlantic cooperation: efficient multilateralism, Middle East, Pakistan/Afghanistan and Russia. We very much subscribe to these areas and would like to add even more of them: regulatory cooperation is needed and we would like to give another boost to the Transatlantic economic Council during the Czech Presidency. Our task will be to avoid protectionism and isolationism, as well as to manage EU expectations from the new administration. We are of course all very keen on welcoming President Obama in Europe and the Czech Presidency would like to organize a meeting of the US President with EU27 representatives. We would be honoured it this meeting could take place in Prague.

A remark on the margin: the transatlantic pillar can only be strong enough, if both partners enjoy the same level of security. A marriage cannot last, if one of the couple has an umbrella and the other is standing in the rain. In such case we can expect a divorce. All this to say, that the transatlantic couple will go through some really difficult times, if Europe is left out of the missile defence shield. We should be aware of that when discussing this issue - be it in Europe or with our partners on the other side of the Atlantic ocean.


In the context of the financial crisis and events in Georgia, Western Balkans seems to be somehow forgotten. We have to finish our homework there as soon as possible. The Czech Presidency will be organizing a Gymnich dedicated to the Balkans in March 2009 and this is a brief description of what we would like to do:

- We will encourage Croatia to speed up its preparations in order to finish the accession process by the end of 2009.

- We will also have to manage the situation in other Western Balkans countries so as to ensure that they are on the right track on their way to EU. We should do our best to defreeze the interim agreement in Serbia.

- Bosnia and the future of the OHR will probably also be a big topic

- We also want to act strongly in the area of the implementation of the visa liberalisation roadmaps so as to facilitate contact with the EU for the citizens of the countries of the Western Balkans.

The Georgian crisis has highlighted one more thing – the strategic importance of Turkey. Now, more than ever before, we need Turkey to help us stabilise our neighborhood. Turkey is also our key partner in the area of energy security. I therefore believe that we should urge the progress in the accession negotiations.

Up-grade EU-Israel

Last but not least, speaking about important allies, I must mention Israel. For EU to become a genuine global player, it is indispensable to have leverage in another pressing conflict area: the Middle East. Engaging into a strengthened cooperation with Israel and bringing positions of the EU and Israel closer in different sectoral areas of mutual interest is one of the ways to achieve that. Next year we will be negotiating a new Action Plan with Israel, we should consider this as a window of opportunity to explore carefully, what paths will open for the future of the EU-Israeli relationship.


To conclude my speech, let me say a few words on what the Czech Presidency will be like. We are a middle-sized country, not a superpower. Our main added value will be moderation, search for balance and inclusive solutions – which will be particularly important in relation to Ireland. Europe without barriers is not to be confounded with Europe without rules – this goes for economy as well as for politics. Rules – of relations between states are at the very core of the European integration. They have brought order into our relationships, without which the decades of prosperity and success of the European project would never be possible. Sticking to the rules will therefore be the guiding principle of the Czech Presidency. Thank you for your attention.

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