Scheduled Events

14. 1. 2009 10:30

Prime Minister M. Topolánek - Address to the plenary session of the European Parliament


I. The Czech question is a European question

I come before you today for the first time as the President of the European Council. The Czech Republic assumed leadership of the EU after France, which I consider to be more than symbolic. France played an important role in the birth of the modern Czech state. The French court is where our greatest king, Charles the Fourth, the Holy Roman Emperor, grew up, and, using the model of the Sorbonne in Paris, he founded a university in Prague, one of the leading institutions of European learning. So we are connected with France both through the fulfilment of our national yearnings and in the promotion of universal European values.

Just as it was not easy to found a university in Bohemia that would be comparable to the Sorbonne, it is not easy to take over the presidency of the Council of the EU after France. I see only one way to rise to the occasion with honour. It was no accident that I chose a Medieval monarch as an example of our connection with France and European values. In his policies, Charles the Fourth could not advocate a narrowly Czech position; on the contrary, he had to integrate and represent the whole diverse empire.

In a certain sense, the European Union follows on from this Medieval universalism. At least because it gives a precedence to a common moral code and common legal basis over local power interests. There is also a talk of a second European Union: Bureaucratic, technocratic and soulless. But I believe in that first Europe, the Europe of freedom, rights, ideas and rules.

In that universe of values, in which the law is promoted above the individual, the size of a country does not matter. What matters is the ability to serve a common idea. The role of the country holding the presidency is neither to promote its interests nor to make decisions. Its role is to moderate and inspire the debate. Today I do not stand before you as the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, but rather as the President of the European Council. The opinions I will represent on this ground for the next six months will be neither my personal ones, nor will they be the positions of the Czech government. They will be the consensus of 27 countries embodied in the Conclusions of the European Council.

I cannot imagine coming before you in any other way. As directly-elected Members of the European Parliament, you obviously have the right to ask me about anything, and, if you are interested, I will always be happy to tell you my opinion or explain the Czech position. But I myself do not consider this to be essential. It is the European Council that is the arena of national interests, and was conceived as such in a necessarily complicated system of checks and balances of European democracy. Its primary mission, however, is to seek a common point of concurrence, a compromise acceptable to all. And I will always thoroughly, decisively and correctly defend that in here.

In the EU, they say the Czechs are always dissatisfied about something. That we belong among the grumblers others should be afraid of, that we are a nation of Hussites and a people that exalt our nation above all. I fundamentally disagree with this type of criticism. The same as our first president, T.G. Masaryk, I am convinced that the "Czech question" is in fact a European one and has always developed within a pan-European context, in accordance with common European values and in connection with developments in other countries.

As Masaryk wrote a hundred years ago, in the second edition of his "Czech Question": "Our national literary and language revival took place at the same time as revivals and new developments in all European nations. This means that our revival was not as isolated and miraculous as is ordinarily said, but as a whole it is not an exception to the pan-European trend."

I think these words hold true today, when the European Union as a whole and as individual states is seeking out a new face for Europe. A face in which traditional European values will be reflected and which will also courageously look to the third millennium. A face that will be in the spirit of the EU's motto, "In varietate concordia," an expression of unity and also diversity. Just as in the 19th century, the Czechs are entering this debate as a young and small member. Just as then, however, we consider ourselves to be a long-standing part of the great family of proud European nations.

It is during the next six months that we will have the opportunity to fully demonstrate our attitude towards European integration. The Czech presidency comes in a year that is important for a number of reasons. This year marks 5 years since the historically largest EU expansion in 2004, which was the symbolic and practical culmination of the successful process of reunifying a previously-divided continent. And this year, Europe celebrates 20 years since the fall of the Iron Curtain, which enabled the countries of the former Soviet bloc to return to freedom and democracy.

In 2009, it will also be 30 years since the first direct elections to the European Parliament, which you represent. Of the triangle of EU institutions, it is the Parliament that we consider to be the source of direct political legitimacy. The European Parliament is the only directly-elected body in the EU, and, with repeated calls for a reduction of the so-called democratic deficit, over the decades its authority has increased.

Finally, this year marks 60 years since the founding of NATO, which is the most important Transatlantic defence alliance. The Alliance is the manifestation of Euro-Atlantic ties at the security level and they confirm the validity of our European civilisation values on both sides of the ocean.

2009 will not be a year only of important anniversaries, but also of important and difficult challenges. We must continue to resolve institutional issues. The EU's international role is being tested not only by the still-unresolved conflict in Georgia, but also by the new escalation of tensions in the Middle East. Finally, energy security is a burning issue again. Just as with the French presidency, we must face new events in addition to planned tasks. And more surprises can never be ruled out.

II. Priorities of the Czech Presidency

The country holding the presidency cannot influence the EU's long-term agenda or the emergence of current problems. What it can and must influence is the selection of presidential priorities. Which, as is the custom, I intend to introduce to you here.

Our primary effort has been to ensure these priorities represent not only the Czech opinion, but that they reflect continuity of developments in the EU, both in the positions and notions of individual Member States and political currents. This has been a wide and consensual task, not a confrontational or unilateral one. And even though, of course, it is impossible for everyone to be one hundred percent satisfied with these priorities, I believe that all of you can find something in our programme that you can identify with.

At the same time, in no way am I hiding the fact that, just as for every Member State, for the Czech Republic the presidency is an opportunity to draw attention to areas in which we can give Europe something thanks to our specific know-how. What are they?

As a country dependent on imports of natural gas and oil and as a former Eastern Bloc country, we understand very well the importance of energy security as a requirement not only for economic wellbeing, but also for a free and independent foreign policy.

As a new Member State with experience of totalitarianism, we appreciate our membership in the community and consider it our moral duty to strengthen cooperation with those who have remained outside its doors. Just as France put its know-how to use regarding the Mediterranean, we want to convince the EU of the importance of the Eastern Partnership.

The third contribution that I want to mention is our experience with the crisis in the banking sector, which we went through at the end of the 1990s. We can contribute to the current debate through our prescriptions and experts. Because of the stabilization of financial institutions, we are one of the few countries today that did not have to pump taxpayers’ money into rescuing banks affected by the financial crisis.

Our priorities for the presidency reflect Czech know-how, respect the continuity of EU development and, finally, even correspond well to current problems.

As you probably know, the motto of our presidency is EUROPE WITHOUT BARRIERS. I would add to that the subtitle A EUROPE OF RULES. This vision acquires new importance in today's troubled political and economic situation. We believe that only a Europe that makes full use of its economic, human and cultural potential can manage to hold its own politically and economically in global competition, which is doubly true in a time of crisis.

The full development of Europe's potential is being prevented by a number of internal barriers, which we should try to remove. I'm thinking here, for example, of the last obstacles to the full exercise of the four basic freedoms of the EU for all Member States. The unnecessary administrative burden for entrepreneurs. Or the lack of connections among energy networks, which prevents increased energy security and a deepening of the internal energy market.

On the other hand, a Europe without barriers cannot be a Europe without RULES and borders. The removal of internal barriers must go hand in hand with protection against illegal activities that threaten the safety and interests of Europeans. Especially in the areas of protection of intellectual property and illegal migration. Only a clear definition of barriers will enable us to play a more active role in breaking down external barriers, for example in international trade, and to make better use of the potential and comparative advantages of European countries.

The Czech Republic will head toward these overarching goals during the six months of its presidency while implementing three main programme areas, the "Three Czech Es:" 1. Economy, 2. Energy and 3. The European Union in the world. With a slight exaggeration, it could be said that these 3 Es have, at the beginning of the year, been transformed into the 2 Gs—Gas and Gaza. In physics, E is used to denote energy, and G is the symbol of gravitational acceleration. And 2 Gs is a pretty heavy load for an untrained organism.

I'm stating beforehand that I could speak for hours about our individual priorities and tasks here. But more important than all the words are the results of the Czech presidency thus far. Today is 14 January, which means we have led the EU for two weeks. In that time we have managed to resolve the complicated problem with Russian gas and have negotiated an agreement between both parties to the dispute. We have also led a European delegation to the area of the Middle East conflict, which has gone through a number of difficult talks with all the parties involved.

This has all come at a time when at home we have had a difficult situation around the reconstruction of the government and when we have been subjected to brutal attacks by the opposition, which has been irresponsibly torpedoing the Czech presidency of the EU and has taken the country’s foreign commitments hostage in a domestic political fight. I think that the results we have achieved have been more than a vigorous response to the doubting voices that said the Czech Republic, for objective and subjective reasons, was not up to the task of leading the EU.

And now to the individual areas in greater detail.

The First E: The Economy

The Czech presidency will especially press for the full implementation of the conclusions of the Declaration of the G20 Summit in November 2008 and the conclusions of the European Council from December 2008. The key condition for success is, in accordance with these conclusions, to prevent excessive regulation and to avoid protectionism – or in other words to abide by primary EU law, to abide by established RULES. The EU must not close itself off from the world; on the contrary, it must strive for the greatest possible openness of world trade and extract the maximum from it.

At this point, the words of my friend Joseph Daul of the EPP-ED can assist me: "The current economic crisis is not a defeat for capitalism, but rather a result of political mistakes and a lack of rules for oversight of financial markets."

The priority tasks will be a review of directives on capital adequacy for investment companies and lending institutions, the completion of talks on the directive regulating insurance, a regulation on the activities of rating agencies and a directive on electronic money institutions. The presidency will also press for a review of the regulation on payments in Euros, and, last but not least, for the timely and thorough implementation of the road map of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council which was passed in response to the crisis on the financial markets. At the same time, it is essential to thoroughly analyse the options that are offered by currently-valid legislation and to use these 100 %.

Only an economically strong and influential EU can manage to resolve the important questions of global policy, security, trade and the environment. The presidency must therefore devote itself to the realization of the European Economic Recovery Plan. Here we will place emphasis on its insertion in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy: After short-term tools for strengthening economies, it will be time for tools of medium- and long-term structural reform.

An example of these important structural reforms is the Common Agricultural Policy. The setting of equal terms for all EU Member States in the making of direct payments is key – and this is both for the amount of payments as well as the system of their payment (removing historic disparities, taking into account the diversity of individual Member States' agriculture). The Czech Republic wants to take this dimension into consideration in the debate on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013.

In the long term, the best protection against the devastating impacts of further crises will be to strengthen the EU's competitiveness. As I have already mentioned, this is about the full assertion and exercise of the four basic freedoms on which the EU is founded. To these I would add a "fifth freedom" – the free movement of knowledge, which is something of a return to the aforementioned medieval universalism.

An important factor for improving competitiveness is to improve the quality of regulation, including a decrease in the regulatory burden, to make doing business easier, especially for small and medium enterprises. The Czech Republic is taking a very high profile in this area (the Prague declaration of 8 May 2008).

In the area of foreign trade, the presidency is focusing on a revival of discussions at the WTO. Here we are placing great importance on the successful completion of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). The DDA represents an effort to achieve a transparent liberalisation of trade on a multi-party level, which will bring long-term benefits. If the talks on the DDA are suspended, the presidency will attempt to begin a reflection on multi-party trade tools and to support increased intensity of talks within the framework of the other WTO agendas.

And we cannot forget investments in education, research, development and innovation, to improve the regulatory environment and decrease the administrative burden. Here I will quote the chairman of the Social Democratic group, Martin Schulz: "Europe cannot successfully compete with other regions of the world on low wages and social standards, but on technological innovations, higher quality of work and the competency and knowledge of its people." I agree with this thought fully.

The second E: Energy

The same as the first, the second priority falls into the context of current developments. Even more urgently and strongly, I would add. The global crisis may weaken Europe in the short term. But the danger of energy shortages could immediately and for the long term destroy not only the European economy, but also our freedom and security. The Czech presidency will definitely continue with efforts to provide secure, competitive and sustainable energy for Europe.

In the area of Energy Security, we would like to focus on three dimensions of the problem: Firstly, to complete the Second Strategic Energy Review, part of which is an analysis of medium-term demand and supply of energy in the EU, and, based on it, to identify appropriate infrastructure projects. Secondly, to complete the directive on the maintenance of minimum stocks of crude oil and/or petroleum products, where we support an increase in the mandatory minimum stocks from 90 to 120 days, and thirdly, to review the trans-European energy network (TENs-E), which is part of the package of legislation on energy security the European Commission approved in November 2008, as well as the Green Book on European Energy Networks. No less important is the strengthening of infrastructure on EU Member States' territory, including existing cross-border connections and the realisation of new connections between energy networks. In all related legislative acts, we hope for the European Parliament's support.

Naturally, we are also interested in diversifying supply and transport routes. It is apparent that building the Nabucco natural gas pipeline, for example, is an issue of the highest priority, just as support for the construction of new oil pipelines is. Further, we must make efforts to diversify the energy mix, including the rehabilitation of the atom and investments in new technologies.

An example of the ability to achieve energy security in practice is the agreement we brokered on the creation of a monitoring mechanism for the transport of Russian natural gas. The goal was to renew basic trust between the Russian Federation and Ukraine and to introduce elementary transparency to the issue. We managed to get Russia and Ukraine to sign one text, which enables the renewal of supplies to the European Union.

Now the EU must take decisions and measures so that it avoids repeating this crisis in the future with impacts on Member States. It is necessary to increase transparency in the natural gas business; it is necessary to diversify supplier routes and suppliers. It is necessary to diversify EU countries' energy mixes. It is necessary to seriously consider the development of safe nuclear energy. It is necessary to rapidly realize the building of infrastructure within the EU so that Member States are connected effectively, which is a requirement for the building of an effective natural gas market.

In the area of the Internal Market and infrastructure, it is necessary to make efforts toward the effective coordination of transmission system operators, to complete the building of a unified internal market for electricity and natural gas and to ensure the completion of construction of missing parts of the transmission and transport infrastructure.

As far as legislative priorities go in this area, we want to conclude the 3rd package for the internal energy market, to complete the review of two directives and two regulations for electricity and natural gas whose goal is to complete the liberalisation of the market in electricity and natural gas. Another goal we have is to bring to life the Regulation establishing an Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators.

Another area is the increase in energy efficiency, which the Swedish presidency wants to take on in greater detail, which will mean that the FR-CZ-SWE trio of presidency countries has tackled the energy issue truly comprehensively and from all sides.

While this priority is called Energy, it is inseparably tied to climate protection policy. In this area, the presidency will try to achieve a globally acceptable agreement on the setting of reduction commitments after 2012, which especially means getting the USA, India and China on board, and will prepare the way to reach wide international consensus at the end of 2009 in Copenhagen. It should also reflect current trends in the global economy. In the context of the impending economic recession and the crisis of supply, it will be especially important to harmonise the requirements of the environment, competitiveness and security.


The beginning of the year reminded us that as part of these priorities we must also count on unforeseen urgent tasks. The new escalation of tension between Israel and Hamas requires not only an active approach from the EU itself, but also coordination with important global and regional players. Again it is confirmed that achieving peace is impossible without Palestine starting to function as a fully-fledged state that is able to guarantee law and order and safety to its neighbours on its territory.

Therefore, aside from the current diplomatic activities, the European Union must continue in its efforts to build Palestinian infrastructure, to train security forces and to strengthen the authority of the Palestinian Authority. In resolving the conflict, the Czech presidency will want to use its good relations with both the Palestinians and Israel. But it is clear that without mutual trust, long-term peace in the Middle East is not possible.

I have already mentioned the Eastern Partnership here. The Georgian crisis showed how important it is for the EU to have a strategy for this region. The deepening eastern dimension to European neighbourhood policy in the form of strengthened cooperation with the countries of the region (primarily with Ukraine), as well as the countries of the Caucasus and Caspian regions, has not only great moral, but also practical importance. This cooperation will enable us to diversify foreign trade and supplies of energy raw materials.

As far as Trans-Atlantic relations go, it is evident that without strengthening and developing them, the EU cannot effectively carry out its role as a strong global player, just as it cannot be carried out by the United States itself. In the long term, we can only succeed jointly. For this reason, the Czech presidency will place emphasis on intensive dialogue with representatives of the new US administration in key areas – the economy, climate and energy, as well as cooperation with third countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, the Middle East).

For the EU's position in the world, the position Member States take in talks on a new agreement on partnership with Russia will also be of fundamental importance. The events of recent years and especially months have raised a number of questions and have emphasized the necessity of a common approach by the entire EU. It requires an understanding of Russia and a common analysis, which is why we support cooperation of experts on Russia across the European Union.

Under the Czech presidency, talks will also continue on enlargement covering the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey. The Western Balkans must not be forgotten due to our economic problems and current international crises. In the case of Croatia, the presidency will do all it can to have the EU enlarge to include this country as soon as possible. The positive example of Croatia is a necessary condition to maintain a European future for the other countries of the Western Balkans. We will certainly do the maximum for their progress within the Stabilisation and Association Process.

The Czech presidency is further prepared to continue to develop a southern dimension of the European neighbourhood policy and to improve relations with partner countries as part of this project. This includes strengthening EU-Israel relations and the Middle East peace process in general – the current dramatic events in this region must not deter us. On the contrary, they emphasise the necessity of finding a peaceful solution.

Last but not least, the priority of Europe in the World contains the area of internal security. This is because the character of current security threats overlaps with this more and more. The building of a space of freedom, security and law is a common interest of the EU that touches the lives of all citizens. In it, the presidency will make efforts toward further progress in Schengen cooperation, in police and customs cooperation, and in cooperation between member states in civil and criminal matters.

We are aware that the end of our presidency will be marked by elections to the European Parliament, a more tense political atmosphere and the necessity of completing the legislative process for selected legislative acts, so that they do not fall by the wayside. In addition, the start of discussions about the new form of the European Commission awaits us.

It is also up to the Czech presidency to continue the debate with Ireland on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty. I am convinced that it is necessary to carry out these talks sensitively and with respect to the sovereignty of Irish citizens. Besides, if a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty were to take place in the Czech Republic, according to all indications, it would also not pass. It is necessary to find a solution that a majority of the Irish will be able to accept. Which will undoubtedly help us in our internal political debate as well.

At the beginning I said that the Czech question is also a European question. Probably no other nation has devoted so much space, effort and time to a debate on its own identity as the Czechs have. What the European Union is going through now, a search for its face and the purpose of its existence, is something we know well from our own history. In the role of the country holding the presidency, we therefore offer the community our two hundred years of experience in seeking our own historical role, our own place in the family of European nations.

The Czech relationship towards Europe was described well more than seventy years ago by critic and philosopher František Václav Krejčí: "We do not mean the Czech lands as the heart of Europe in a geographical sense, but culturally and spiritually. We are in the deepest part of the continent, where influences from all its parts converge, we feel surrounded by all European nations, if not directly, at least imaginatively due to the strength of their cultural works. We say this because we are at the crossroads of spiritual currents, and it follows that it is our mission to mediate, and mainly to mediate between the east and west."

I think these words are also inspirational at the beginning of 2009, when the task standing before the Czech Republic is to moderate the debate in the European Union for half a year.

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Audio attachment

Prime Minister M. Topolánek - Address to the plenary session of the European Parliament