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5. 7. 2008 14:21

The Croatia Summit 2008

Key-note speech by Alexandr Vondra, Vice PM for European Affairs, July 5th, 2008

Ladies and Gentleman,

Ever since the Irish said „no“ to the Lisbon Treaty, the following questions have been floating in the air: What happens next to the EU? And what happens to the members „to be“? As my country will assume after France and before Sweden the task of leading EU in these difficult times, as well as the responsibility for finding viable solutions, I have chosen to address this issue at this important gathering.

Those, who are expecting a clear answer, might be disappointed: no simple solutions are at hand. But two things are clear enough:

A) It is crucial for EU to find a solution to the new situation,

B) The solution has to be an inclusive one.

1) To achieve that inclusivity, we should avoid bullying or putting pressure on the Irish – or any other Member state for which ratification reveals to be an uneasy task. Frustration is understandable in an EU, in which the vast majority of Member States have already ratified the Treaty and in which the major powers want to bring it into life as soon as possible. All of us are eager to finally close the institutional chapter and move on to addressing global challenges. We, however, may not dismiss votes, that are unwelcome, as democratically meaningless – we may not forget that those are the same votes that elect the national political representations. Every Member State has the right to reach its own decision in its own way, at its own pace. Any pressure would not only undermine the democratic commitment of the EU. It would also fuel dangerous suspicions that there are double standards in EU: let me quote Timothy Garton Ash, who said that: „If the French say „no“, Europe has a problem and if Ireland says „no“, Ireland has a problem.“ I don´t see anything more dangerous for the coherence for the EU. We therefore must grant the Irish enough time to analyze the reasons of the popular vote and let them propose their own solution.

2) Allowing for more time will not mean Europe becoming meaningless. Both Czechs and Croats are good football players and big soccer-fans. A couple of days ago it looked as though the finals of the EURO championship would be played by Russia and Turkey. This is a methaphor of what could easily happen to Europe – not only in football – if it does not gain more self-confidence and doesn´t get more involved on the world stage. An irrelevant Europe is neither in the interest of Europeans, nor in the interest of our US friends and allies, who are with us here in Dubrovnik, too.

But we should also avoid an artificial messianism and over-confidence that is not based on solid grounds. Few days ago there was a proposal in the European Parliament to find medicine for our frustration in establishing an EU-dressed football team. I have doubts here. What kind of message are we going to send to China or U.S., if this team is defeated by Norway, Switzerland or Serbia? As you know, in sports and politics, everything is possible. But we have to be serious, smart and should not lose our nerves.

Lisbon Treaty is a historical project, that will determine the functionning of the EU for next decades. Therefore weeks or months do not play a role. If Lisbon Treaty is to succeed, it is important that it has overall support. This is only possible if our citizens are sure that internal balance is maintained between big and small member states, between West and East, North and South and, last but not least, between the wishes of our elites and of our citizens. The countries with strong reformation tradition (like Netherlands 3 years ago) or countries of the „periphery“ (like Ireland now), are extremely important. They are at the frontline of inovation trends – education investment, removing barriers of trade and investment. Without this involvement EU won´t easily succeed in the global competition. It is true, that it is in their reformation tradition (or their peripherial location) to criticise, call for decentralization of power, for more transparency, which makes the life of EU sometimes difficult. But to keep them on board is a precondition for Lisbon Treaty to generate the outcome we wish for.

If we are afraid that without Lisbon Treaty EU would become weaker and more divided at the world stage, we should avoid a two-speed Europe, in which a hard core surges ahead. While a cooperation of smaller groups of states in particular policy areas is possible (such as eurozone or Schengen), it is a non-starter in case of the EU´s central institutional arrangements and its external relations. Not only would it end up making EU even weaker and more divided than before. It is also contrary to the very foundations of the European integration process – sometimes cumbersome, but uniting us in diversity.

3) We may not sacrifice the enlargement on the altar of our internal institutional controversies. The truth is, that enlargement is the greatest foreign policy success of EU, stabilising its periphery in an unprecedented way and expanding the area of security and prosperity. Enlargement has been lending legitimacy to the EU integration proces since the fall of the iron curtain. Enlargement gives weight to the EU, equally to its old as well as new member states. I therefore want to say out loud that enlargement can continue with as well as without Lisbon Treaty. Our institutions can be easily adapted by a technical amendment to the Nice Treaty. The EU enlargement is only a matter of political will. I would like to promiss you that Czech Republic will do its foremost during its next year´s presidency, to gather enough of this political will - not only for Croatia, which is getting close to completing its accession talks, but for all future candidate countries in the Western Balcans.

To finish with – despite what may appear in the newspapers, the Czech government will fully assume its responsibilities concerning the Lisbon Treaty. We are a constructive partner, who does not veto reasonable things. We intend to fight this cause at home – but this fight will take place in an open, fair and democratic debate. For us that is the only way to stay honest – with ourselves, with our friends here, with our opponents, with EU and – last but not least - with our citizens at home.

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