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5. 6. 2008 14:19

ÚMV International Conference: Visegrad Group and the Czech EU-Presidency

Introductory remarks by A. Vondra, Vice Prime Minister for European Affairs

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Almost two decades ago, still in my capacity of foreign policy advisor to President Havel, I was among those who strongly advocated and assisted the creation of the Visegrad group. In the 90´s, Visegrad played a crucial role in the NATO enlargement process. It also helped to pave the road for opening the EU doors. Today, while the geopolitical context has changed and we do not face the same uncertainties as we did after the fall of the iron curtain, regional cooperation of Central European countries has not lost any of its importance. On the contrary – as we are learning our first lessons of full-fledged members of the EU; as the Czech, Hungarian and Polish EU Presidencies are approaching, it is time for Visegrad renaissance. Let me welcome you at this conference, wishing you a stimulating and enriching debate.

Since Mr. Mora, who is speaking in the first panel, will go further into detail on the Czech Presidency Programme, let me just outline briefly 3 areas in which I think the Visegrad cooperation would be particularly helpful:

Pending the successful ratification in all EU Member States, implementation of the Lisbon Treaty will belong to the main tasks of the Czech Presidency. Where should Visegrad countries pool their efforts?

1) In the new institutional setting, three high executive posts will be crucial – the president of the European Council, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the President of the Commission. I firmly believe that it is important to ensure that a political, geographical and socio-economic balance is reached in the choice of these representatives – a task which will not be easy to achieve, given that results of European elections have to be taken into account. While it would be great to have at least one of these posts filled by a representative of a new member state, it should be a strict minimum for us to reach a common position on a candidate for the President of the European Council or the High Representative.

2) Before we discuss the nominations, we should have a position on the content of the posts. Czech Republic would like to support a President of the European Council, who will be a moderator rather than a political leader. The President will not be presiding over the European Union, but over one of its bodies – his or her activities should not undermine the current institutional balance.

3) The Lisbon Treaty will transform GAERC into the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and a General Affairs Council (GAC). I believe that Visegrad countries should jointly seek answers to three strategic questions: What will be the role and agendas of GAC? How frequently should it meet? How close should its ties with FAC be? In the Czech point of view, GAC should be strengthened and new agendas could be added to its tasks, such as the Lisbon strategy, the integrated energy and climate change policy, cohesion policy, sustainable development, commercial policy and others. GAC could act as coordinator of the different Council formations, and not as a mere preparatory body of the European Council. In our point of view, in order to ensure GAC a fully fledged position, it should be separated from the FAC – both in terms of attendees and in terms of timing.

4) The role of Prime Minister of the presiding country. For Europe to work, the political leaders of the Member states must be taken on board. The current format of Presidency enabled political elites of Member States both to make Europe visible at home and to make themselves visible in Europe. Unless we want to risk rivalries between the 6-month Presidency of the Council and the permanent President of the European Council, we must ensure that the Heads of States and Governments of the 6-month Presidency have some influence on shaping European Councils and are not left only with political responsibility at home and in Europe but no visibility and impact whatsoever on the outcome of European Councils. We must ensure, that efficient communication and coordination channels are set between the permanent President, the 6-month Presidency and the team-presidency so as to ensure the greatest possible unity and coherence of the Presidency system. In order to achieve that, the Prime minister could report to the European Council on the negotiations of the various Councils. He could also convene and host coordination meetings with the Permanent president, the High Representative and the President of the European Commission (“3+1” format)

The second area, in which Visegrad countries share the same interests, is energy policy.
Our countries have followed a similar pattern of industrial development, they have similar energy mixes, they are subject to same dependencies in terms of energy supplies, after the fall of communism they adopted similar measures to lower their carbon emissions. Today we are all members of the EU and we face the same regulatory framework. Currently, there are two major legislative packages that will have important impact on our energy sectors: the climate change package and the third energy package. In both cases, we should work very closely together on defending our interests. Let me state at least one example of where it would be worth creating a coalition of like-minded:

The climate change package will introduce a new instrument of allocating emission permits. Unlike before, pollutors will have to buy the in auctions. The Czech Republic is striving for a phasing-in of these auctions (20% in 2013 and 100% in 2020). Our industry, including the energy-producing sector, is mostly dependent on fossile energy sources. Not only would the immediate allocation of emission permits by auctions mean a severe rise in costs of energy – a price that the consumer would have to pay. Not only the rising costs of permits could lower the competitiveness of our industry and cause it to move into countries with lower ecologic standards. We should realize, that for us replacing fossile energy sources means a choice between gas and nuclear power. For countries of Central Europe, heavily dependent on gas imports from Russia the climate change package will not only have environmental and economic implications, but also serious security aspects. In the legislative process we should therefore defend a position that ensures a due balance between competitiveness, environment and security.

The third area of common interest is the shared sensitivity of Visegrad countries to the importance of our Eastern neighbours. In order to ensure the security of EU, the southern and the eastern dimension of the ENP require the same level of attention and funding. The eastern dimension of EU external policies is all the more important that it deals with countries which, being European, are entitled to aspire for EU membership. Also, with some of the last dictatorships in Europe being situated eastwards from our borders, EU should be looking east far more than it does today. During the Presidency Czech Republic will be very active on this issue and together with Sweden we will dedicate much effort to working out a more comprehensive approach of the EU to the East.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will not retain you any longer. I wish you a good meeting hoping that the topics, that I have just presented, will resonate in your further discussions. I firmly believe that together Visegrad countries can make their voices heard stronger and they can pick up on the former successes of Visegrad cooperation.
Thank you for your attention.

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