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17. 12. 2008 15:42

CLUB GRANDE EUROPE, Foreign policy priorities of the CZ PRES, remarks by Alexandr Vondra

Paris, 17 December 2008

In the aftermath of the Georgian crisis it has become clear that Europe has no choice – she already is a global player, with global responsibilities which go hand in hand with it. It is for this very reason that the future Czech presidency has decided to dedicate one of its three priorities to external relations of the EU.
The six months of our Presidency will gravitate around three topics: Economy, Energy and Europe in the world. I was asked to outline the third of them today and give you an insight of how new member states contribute to the creation of a European foreign policy.
Before I do so, please allow me a couple of general remarks:
I. Political action is most of all a matter of political will. Personalities count at least as much as institutions in generating one. President Sarkozy and his implication in the Georgian crisis is an excellent example of how genuine leadership is important in shaping and realizing a common EU foreign policy response. The Lisbon Treaty will facitilitate leadership and we have to do our best to bring it into being. But let´s be aware that it is not a cure-all and even less an excuse not to act before the Treaty is in place. I am therefore glad to say, that the Czech Prime Minister, very much like the French President, is a very dynamic man with a sense of responsibility for international community – one of the kind that Europe can rely on in case of trouble.

II. For any EU foreign policy to work, it must be one of EU-27. I believe that in the nascent EU Foreign Policy it is crucial to preserve the principle that is at core of EU´s historical success in reconciliating European states. It is the care that EU has always dedicated to striking a careful balance between different political views, interests and perspectives, balance between the smaller and the bigger member states, new and old, the North and the South, the East and the West.

III. The world of today is an extremely dynamic one. If we want make a difference on the international stage, flexibility and ability to react quickly but rationally must be the defining characteristic of our foreign policy.

Foreign policy priorities of the Czech Presidency will have an Eastern dimension (directed towards our neighbors and towards Russia) and a Western one (aimed at the United States and the new administration).

Russia
Our relationship to Russia will be pivotal in the determination of EU´s geopolitical weight for the next decades. The disproportionate reaction of Russia during the Georgian conflict has underlined the need for EU to understand better Russia and its interestes. A shared analysis of Russia can serve as a basis for once achieving a more coherent EU policy on this country. The Czech Presidency will therefore support the cooperation of EU experts on Russia which could be a good starting point to the rapprochement of our views.

Eastern partnership
In line with our historical ties and face to face current international challenges, Eastern partnership will be the main foreign policy priority of the Czech Presidency. In the era of enlargement fatigue, we must find new concepts for granting our Eastern neighbors more political attention and more financial resources. Georgia is a common transatlantic task. But Ukraine – divided as it is on its NATO membership perspective – remains an EU homework. Offering a project-based institutionally anchored cooperation might be the way to solve the quadrature of the circle.

The idea of a Eastern Partnership was outlined by a joint work of our Swedish and Polish friends, with a Czech contribution. The partnership should include very concrete measures – bilateral as well as multilateral, but in any case attractive enough not only for us, but especially for our partners. Bilaterally we should go ahead with measures that are mutually beneficial: facilitation of mobility and people to people contacts, accompanied by better border management. In the area of economy, deep free trade agreements should be negotiated. In the domain of energy, we should extend EU energy acquis to our partner countries. A good example of how the partnership could work to the benefit of both sides on an ad hoc basis, is the Southern Corridor High Level Meeting. This meeting, which we are trying to organize, should lay a basis for energy cooperation with supplying and transit countries from the Caspian region and, of course, increase our energy security.

The Commission has elaborated a very good proposal of the Eastern partnership, which the European Council supported last week in its conclusions. It is expected to be adopted at the spring European Council 2009. Following that the Czech Presidency would like to formally launch the partnership by an „Eastern summit“, organized in Prague, probably in spring 2009 with participation of EU27 + 6 Caucasian countries and countries directly neighboring with the EU. This summit should commit EU on the structure of the partnership. We firmly believe that this way the much needed balance in EU´s approach towards its neighbors could be reached: in 2008 we´ve had a „Meditarreanean spring“, spring of 2009 could be dedicated to the East.

Transatlantic bond
The new administration will take office during our Presidency and we need to start setting the future agenda of our collaboration. The importance of the transatlantic cooperation has been highlighted by a number of global challenges – security, humanitarian, economic, energy or environmental. EU and US should strengthen their cooperation vis ? vis third countries. The Czech Presidency will follow-up the November 2008 informal meeting of foreign ministers, which has outlined 4 basic areas of transatlantic dialogue: efficient multilateralism, Middle East, Pakistan/Afghanistan and Russia. There are numerous issues that we should tackle together. We would like to organize an informal summit EU-USA in Prague which would be a further occasion for debate, especially on the Copenhagen conference, as well as on the Middle East. Another area we would like to support is regulatory cooperation – we would like to give a boost to the Transatlantic economic Council during the Czech Presidency. Our task will be to avoid protectionism and isolationism, as well as to manage EU expectations on the new administration.

Enlargement
In the context of the financial crisis and events in Georgia, Western Balkans seems to be somehow forgotten. We however have the duty to finish our homework there as soon as possible. The Czech Presidency will be organizing a Gymnich dedicated to the Balkans in March 2009 and this is a brief description of what we would like to do:
- We will encourage Croatia to speed up its preparations in order to finish the accession process by the end of 2009.
- We will also have to manage the situation in other Western Balkans countries and we should do our best to defreeze the interim agreement in Serbia.
- We will probably have to decide on the future status of the OHR in Bosnia
- We also want to act strongly in the area of the implementation of the visa liberalisation roadmaps so as to facilitate contact with the EU for the citizens of the countries of the Western Balkans.

The Georgian crisis has highlighted the strategic importance of Turkey. Now, more than ever before, we need to engage in an intensive dialogue with Turkey to help us stabilise our neighborhood and increase our energy security.

Conclusion
To conclude my speech, let me say a few words on my vision of what the Czech Presidency will be like.

First, we are a middle-sized country, not a superpower. Our contribution to the EU will be shaped accordingly to that and will be based on a realistic estimation of our capacities. Our main added value will be moderation, search for balance and inclusive solutions – which will be particularly important in relation to Ireland.

Second, „Europe without barriers“ is not to be confounded with Europe without rules – this goes for economy, as well as for politics. Rules governing our mutual relations are at the very core of the success of the European integration. They have brought order into our encounters, without which the decades of European prosperity would never have been feasible. Respect for the rules of the game will therefore be the guiding principle of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council. Thank you for your attention.
 

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