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4. 3. 2008 14:16

Remarks by Alexandr Vondra in the Stockholm Institute for Transition Economy

Dear Cecilia, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure for me to address this gathering. It is symbolic to speak in the Institute for Transition Economy about the priorities of the historically first Czech EU Presidency - since this Presidency is another milestone of the Czech transition. You understand better than anyone else how long was the way Czech Republic has undergone since the fall of the iron curtain.

- In 1989, we had one of the smallest private sectors – 1,5% of the state´s GDP, economic structures were over-centralized, our production specialized on heavy industry. Civil society and local government had to be built from scratch, political system, judiciary, police and army had to go through a revolutionary transformation. We had to get rid of the totalitarian legacy and live up to the standards of a modern democracy.
- 18 years later, the private sector share of Czech GDP is of more than 80%, services account for more than 57% of our GDP, Czech Republic has a trade surplus of 2,2 billion Euros and with our 8% annual growth we belong to one of the quickest growing economies of the EU. We are a functionning democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights are selfunderstood, less and less differences can be seen between my country and its Western neighbors.

It is unnecessary to say, how important the European perspective was and later the EU membership in this transition process. Czech Republic is now getting ready to take over the EU Presidency in the first half of 2009 and we are closing another chapter of our past. In 2009 we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron curtain, that has enabled Western and Eastern Europe to reunite. We will also celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Big Bang enlargement that has been a great success both for the new and old member states. We would like to use the opportunity of our Presidency to commemorate that on the European level.

What can our Presidency offer to the EU?

Our reform drive. EU, the same way as Czechoslovakia in 1989, is now facing the challenge of adapting to a profoundly changing environment – the globalising world. Our main value-added is our transition experience, which says that only opening and dynamization is a recipee for success. We would like Europe to see globalisation as a challenge, not as a threat. To see enlargement as an opportunity, not as a burden. The motto of the Czech Presidency will therefore be: Europe without barriers.

Five main priority areas fall under this slogan:

1) Competitive and open Europe

Only a competitive Europe will be able to ensure to its citizens the economic and social standard they are used to.

Competitiveness can only be increased by elimination of remaining barriers of four fundamental freedoms of the internal market, which will unleish the potential of European economic growth. I.E:
- implementation of services directive
- better regulation and elimination of red tap
- innovation and education
- transeuropean networks

2) Sustainable and safe energy and environment

The energy dependency of EU is likely to increase to 70% by 2030. With most energy resources in countries with unstable and authoritarian regimes this has not only economic and environmental but also geopolitical and strategic implications. At the same time we have to deal with the question of climate change, which is closely interlinked with energy policy. We believe, that a right balance needs to be found between environment, competitiveness and security. I.E:
- Diversification and safety of energy supplies
- Effective EU external energy policy
- Functionning internal market with energy
- Climate change
- Energy efficiency

3) Budget for the Future of Europe

Without reforming the EU budget to support growth policies, EU will not be able to maintain its competitiveness in global economy
- Healthcheck of the CAP
- Reform of the cohesion policy
- White paper on EU budget

4) Safe and free Europe

While we are eliminating internal frontiers, our citizens ask to be protected from externalities that absence of borders trigger: criminality, illegal immigration etc.
- Enhancing police and justice cooperation in criminal and civil matters
- Asylum and migration policy

5) Europe as a global partner

In a globalizing world, the value added of the EU for its members will shift more and more on international level

At the same time EU will have to assume its part of responsibility for the world
- Transatlantic relations, EU-NATO (the new American administration will be in place and we are keen on maintaining the Euroatlantic bond strong)
- Enlargement - Western Balkans
- Eastern Dimension of ENP (we believe that our eastern neighbors deserve at least as much attention as those at our southern borders)

We are aware that there will be limits to our ambitions, 2009 will be a difficult year:
- Elections to the European Parliament will limit our room for legislative activities
- The approaching end of term of the Commission will decrease the reform drive of Commissioners
- We will not know the format of our Presidency until the very last moment, since it is depends on the outcome of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. I am, however, firmly persuaded that with the Swedish capacity to plan and Czech ability to improvise, we are a great team and we will succeed
- We will face most probably the challenging task of implementing the Lisbon Treaty
= We will need to focus on agenda setting, identification of priorities, white papers, political debate and conceptual work.

We are however very enthousiastic – within the presidency trio, CZ, SE and FR, three reform governments are cooperating, eager to move EU forward. We converge in most of our priorities. We believe that we will be able to use this rare synergy to work to the benefit not only of our respective countries, but of EU as a whole.

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