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14. 1. 2011 10:23

Prime Minister Petr Nečas' Address to the 'Active European Policy' Conference

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First and foremost, please allow me to welcome you to this conference, which I see as a very important step in our domestic expert discussion on our policy; the practical realisation of the Czech Republic's policy within the European Union. It also follows a series of expert meetings as a sort of culmination of the preparatory phase of creating a Strategy for the Czech Republic's Activity in the European Union, which the government should approve this year.

As you know, with its accession to the European Union, the Czech Republic fulfilled one of the fundamental goals of its foreign policy, one which it set out for itself immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Joining this unique integration project was not only beneficial for the economy, but was above all a confirmation of the traditional position of the Czech lands by its return to its natural environment. The Czech lands and their inhabitants belonged there for centuries, and they were torn away from it by the dual artificial totalitarianisms of the 20th century. Today we are no longer newcomers to the European Union; we are full-fledged members, and the extent of our influence on the European Union's direction and policy will depend on our active European policy.

Of course, the principle of every state's European policy is the common interest of its inhabitants. But the term 'national interest' must be seen in a slightly different light. An impression is often created that national interests are somehow the opposite of European or the European Union interests. As if it is a pure expression of the Member State's egoism. But is this really so? Let us imagine that someone were to denounce, for example, regional councils in the Czech Republic by saying that they promote the interests of their specific region. Imagine that someone would denounce the leadership or the council at the municipal level of some village or city, saying that they promote the interests of that village or city and promote it in the interests of their inhabitants. All of us would probably consider it a very strange step. With this, I want to demonstrate that promoting the national interest does not always have to mean it is in conflict with the idea of European integration; on the contrary, I consider it something that is very natural and very correct.

The existence of interests is connected with the very presence of certain closed units which, through certain procedures, are capable of articulating a common will. This is true for any group, village, region, state or international organisation. Interests and will go hand in hand.
Regardless of this simple fact, it is true that the global political system is divided into units whose interests are always valid as the final source of legitimacy in the given territory. The state is nothing more than a name for one such unit, one whose interests justify all acts of power in its territory. The question - of whether people living in its territory are defined ethnically, culturally, linguistically or by a common tradition and will - is secondary from this standpoint. Here there are people or a public are constituting themselves around common themes, and therefore around common interests.
This is of course true for the Czech Republic as well, where according to the Constitution of the Czech Republic, the people are the source of all power. This is true for any country; we can find similar formulations in the Federal Republic of Germany, France, or any other state in the European Union. But this is not a finding that in any way would be in conflict with efforts for trans-national cooperation and integration. In this context, the European idea must be understood as a process, one whose goal must be to contribute to the interests of all of the states and nations which participate in it. For this reason, the national interest cannot stand in opposition to European interests; on the contrary, it is its foundation. The European Union and European integration is not an end in itself. It is a means to achieve a more satisfactory, higher quality life for the citizens of the Member States of the European Union.

But this is not a reason for some scepticism; quite the opposite. If the European Union is a community functioning for the satisfaction of its citizens, national interests will not be in conflict with its nature. They are not even in conflict with the European interest, but are on the contrary its foundation. What is important is whether their bearers are willing to reach a compromise in their fulfilment, whether they can take the interests of others into account, to form coalitions and to a predictable conduct of their promotion.

Today several underlying phenomena can be identified for the articulation of our key priority areas: The impacts of global finance and the economic crisis and the subsequent destabilisation of state budgets in several Member States of the European Union; a changing configuration of relations in a multi-polar world; the continuing threat of international terrorism; demographic changes, especially the declining growth in inhabitants and the aging of the European population.

The Czech Republic is a small, open, export-oriented economy, in which 80 % of its exports find their way to the EU's internal market. But we have a lower level of economic development than the eurozone or EU average. For this reason, our interest is in the continuation of the convergence process at a level that our economic situation allows. Of course we must be aware of our commitments to joining the euro, but these can be counted on only at a moment when we ourselves will be able to fulfil the Maastricht criteria and at the same time when there will be a stabilisation of the eurozone, and when it will also be true that the costs for joining the euro will be lower than the costs for maintaining an independent currency.

The Czech Republic's interest in a modern form of the future EU budget must be mentioned. One one hand, the goal is to construct it with a view to increasing the EU's competitiveness and innovation potential; on the other hand, to maintain a strong cohesion policy, one whose primary task is to level out the differences between individual EU areas. When drawing down European funds, there should be a shift of interest away from the amount of resources drawn down from these funds toward the real benefits these co-financed projects bring.

The European Union has more than an economic dimension; it is also about sharing common values and democratic traditions; building a common space for freedom, security and law is so important for citizens of the Czech Republic, so that they may bring to bear the freedoms stemming from our membership in the European Union. In this area, it is of course necessary to carefully ensure that the measures passed on an EU level bring real benefits to the Czech Republic and its citizens.

The assertion of our interests based on our specific historical experiences is also fundamental, as well as our country's standing in the EU's common foreign policy. The promotion of cooperation with certain key partners, such as Israel, belongs here, as well as the states of the Eastern Partnership. In general, an emphasis on the promotion of the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law in the EU's external actions. In this context, the issue of energy security can also be mentioned; we must continue to devote priority attention to it.

Ladies and gentlemen, 

 do not want to go into the particulars of all of our priorities in the upcoming period. The main common interest is that the Czech Republic actively approach its role in the European Union. At the same time, a pragmatism in setting goals is necessary. One cannot proudly bear the flag of state sovereignty only on the verbal level; one must especially make an effort to effectively promote specific goals. A general rule is that we must always find allies for our interests. For this reason, however, we must be just as prepared to become allies with others. It is therefore necessary to search for strategic partners and to create coalitions of interest. There is nothing wrong, illegitimate or surprising about this. At the same time, these could be varied in different policy areas.

We must get rid of ideologising opinions. One cannot look upon European bodies as the source of all evil, but neither can we look upon them as holy institutions which are always right. The European Commission and the Parliament are in fact politically decisive bodies: Their decisions can be legitimately praised or criticised without us having to necessarily doubt their existence. After all, when we criticise certain decisions of the parliament or government, we do not doubt their existence, not to mention the existence of the Czech Republic in this case. For this reason, a pragmatic approach is just what Czech European policy needs.

Its predictability depends on this as well. It is necessary to tell our partners - continually and in the long term - what we will promote in various areas. It is impossible for us to share some radically new, unexpected opinion with our shocked colleagues in the Council or the European Council without informing them in working groups and other fora. Mandates must be written in such a way as to be clear what we want to say with them. It is no diplomatic success if a speaker intentionally speaks so that it is impossible to reveal what his intentions were. There is simply no need for the cabinet diplomacy of the 19th century in today's Europe. On the contrary, it is necessary to speak openly and clearly. Under such conditions, no one will reproach us if we are even very single-minded in promoting our national interests.

Of course, coordinated and unified conduct is a necessary condition for the successful assertion of Czech European policy in the European Union. Czech interests and ambitions must be thoroughly coordinated in the domestic level. They must be formulated on the basis of political consensus so that they can be most effectively promoted. It is also necessary to adapt to the post-Lisbon institutional architecture, including the dominant role of the European Council.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a high level of expertise, practical experience and knowledge of EU mechanisms play an important role in influencing events in the EU and in promoting national interests. The main burden of representing the Czech Republic's interests in the EU lie in state administration. In this regard, the period when the Czech Republic led the European Union in carrying out the presidency of the Council of the EU was a valuable experience. It pointed out the strong and weak points of European policy, and it is necessary to use this in times to come.

At the same time, it is necessary to cooperate closely with the business environment, with social partners and other organisations. The Office of the Government holds and has held expert discussions in various fora on the future of our European policy as well as its component sector policies. Our government's ministers do the same within the framework of their European agendas. However, we must continue to keep in mind the main goal of the period to come, which is an active and predictable policy open to seeking out strategic partners with similar key interests in the framework of promoting our interests.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that this conference contributes to the specification of such a policy, and I wish you a fertile discussion.

Thank you for your attention.

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