Speeches

9. 6. 2017 22:11

Prime Minister: We need to strengthen the resilience of EU member states to traditional and new threats

Premiér Bohuslav Sobotka vystoupil s projevem na Pražské konferenci k obraně a bezpečnosti (DESCOP), 9. června 2017.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka delivered a speech at the Defence and Security Conference Prague (DESCOP), June 9 2017.
Czech Prime Minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, delivered the opening address at the Defence and Security Conference Prague (DESCOP) on Friday June 9 2017. The conference, which focuses on the issue of strengthening European defence cooperation, is held under his auspices and in cooperation with the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. It is also attended by the Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Rose Gottemoeller and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The speakers also include the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the EU Member States and representatives of the arms industry.

Opening speech by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka at the DESCOP conference

President, High Representative, Deputy Secretary General, Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honoured to be able to welcome you to the Conference on Defence and Security here in Prague.

I am extremely happy that we can meet on this very spot. Next year in the Czech Republic we will remind ourselves of one hundred years of existence as an independent country. During the past hundred years history has passed through Prague on several occasions and has shown us that it is always important to concern ourselves with our own defence and security.

Primarily due to our membership of the European Union and NATO we are currently enjoying a level of stability and security our predecessors could only have dreamt of. I therefore appreciate all the more that it is in Prague today that we will be discussing the future of a common European security and defence policy.

Over recent years, the European Union has been faced with and is facing a number of crisis situations. The security environment surrounding the European Union has worsened. There is war in Syria, Libya has fallen apart. We have the Islamic State. Russia has annexed part of the territory of Ukraine. Cyber-attacks are growing in number and, finally, there are increasing numbers of terrorist attacks in the European Union itself. I am very glad that, within the framework of the European Union, we have undertaken a major process of reflection into our future area of focus. Its aim is to reapply the experience we have gained from crises already overcome, to create a stronger Union, and one more able to act. This is an opportunity we must not let slip.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the basis of the European project is trust. Citizens’ trust in democracy is a fundamental and irreplaceable asset. This is also true for the creation of a united Europe, where this process is clearly dependent on trust.

In order for the EU to succeed, we need to reinforce citizens’ trust in European integration. The Union must therefore do exactly what its citizens expect of it.

In the overwhelming majority of EU Member States, security is one of the issues that are most important for the citizens. At the same time, people are well aware that the threats we face require a coordinated response, require a common response. Evidence for this can be found in the fact that three-quarters of Europeans support deeper cooperation between the Member States in the area of defence and security.

Action at a national level

Ladies and gentlemen,

the basis for a successful European security policy must be the strengthening of the capabilities of the individual Member States.

I am not just talking about the functioning of individual armies, but of a complex of diverse capabilities that will increase the resilience of the Member States to the different traditional and new threats and will strengthen their ability to face them successfully.

Our country is therefore responsibly modernising its army. We are gradually increasing our defence expenditure in line with our commitments. We are also trying to invest this money sensibly and effectively and this is also why we adopted a new armaments strategy last year.

The Czech Republic is actively involved in joint EU and NATO missions. Our soldiers are currently serving in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, as well as in Mali and at the headquarters of EU naval missions. Our country is actively participating in the fight against the Islamic State.

However, at the same time we are also trying to address new challenges. We have set up a Centre against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats. We support the activities of the StratCom East team under the EEAS. We want to continue these activities.

Present situation – shortcomings

Ladies and gentlemen,

we do, however, face common threats that individual Member States cannot successfully defend against alone. This is why we need an effective common defence and security policy.

The idea of close cooperation in defence policies has, after all, accompanied the process of European integration from the very beginning. However, for various reasons, this idea has never been fully realised. While the Union has become an economic and trading superpower, our common defence capabilities have remained very limited.

In particular, during a period of relative calm, we have grown accustomed to not perceiving security risks as a fundamental problem, as the number one priority. Because of this, as Europe we are lagging behind many of our partners and opponents.

Relative to GDP we invest only half of what the US puts into defence and less than a third of what Russia invests.

In addition, this expenditure is also partly ineffective because, for example, in Europe we currently have 178 different types of weapons systems. As a result our units are largely incompatible.

Although together we could build the second strongest army in the world in terms of manpower and equipment, our fragmented capabilities do not reflect the numerical total of our units and our actual strength.

At the same time, only 3% of European armed forces are able to deploy abroad. But this is where we have to deal with threats – before the consequences of foreign conflicts reach our door.

As a Union we are able to send civilian and military missions to remote countries, but our decision-making processes are too slow.

In addition, we have not yet been able to respond adequately even to risks arising from hybrid threats or hotbeds of violence in our own neighbourhood. In certain cases we have been left behind. Many of today’s threats are not purely military in nature and impinge on areas that demand far more intensive cooperation at a European level. 

Objectives and tools

Ladies and gentlemen,

two months ago, in Rome, all 27 Member States jointly declared their determination to strengthen our common security and defence. According to the Rome Declaration, the Union should be “promoting stability and prosperity in its immediate neighbourhood to the east and south, but also in the Middle East and across Africa and globally”. It is time for us to introduce concrete steps to achieve this goal.

As the European Council has repeatedly agreed over recent months, we must invest more in our defence and security policy, both at a national and at a European level. Both in terms of capabilities, arms, technology, the defence industry and also in terms of softer instruments, such as cooperation with third countries and international organisations, or in the area of strategic communications and hybrid threats.

At the same time, we must be able to quickly and efficiently organise military and civilian missions abroad.

We must make full use of the concept of EU Battlegroups in order to strengthen our rapid response capability.

We must develop the capabilities of European armies in a coordinated manner and cooperate in arming them.

We must also support the European defence industry, including small and medium-sized enterprises, and promote European defence research together. We should also combine our strengths in technologically-intensive projects.

Cooperation with NATO

Ladies and gentlemen,

our advantage is that, in many respects, we can rely on the North Atlantic Alliance.

I think that it must be made quite clear that the deepening of EU cooperation in defence policies does not conflict with NATO’s work, quite the contrary. In future, the Alliance will continue to play the role of guarantor of the current order on the European continent. However, Europe should play a more important role within the Alliance and, if necessary, a more independent role.

Increasing the capabilities of European armies and building a European pillar for NATO will only strengthen the North Atlantic Alliance.

Cooperation between NATO and the EU is beneficial for both parties. In accordance with the Warsaw Declaration we must continue to deepen it in many areas – primarily in the fight against hybrid threats, in the area of cyber security, research and expanding our capacities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Less than a year ago I began to speak publicly of the need to establish a “European army”. However I did not mean by that a federal armed corps that would replace the armies of individual Member States. I believe that individual countries will continue to have the decisive word over defence issues in the near future.

However, I did want to point out that the EU must be far more active in the area of security and defence and make full use of the potential offered to us by the current European treaties. This is the first step we must take.

The EU must be able to ensure security in our continent and to prevent threats arising in its neighbourhood. I am convinced that the Member States must work together closely and find effective ways of deciding at a European level, to allow us effectively to defend our common interests.

Over the sixty years of its existence the EU has been a key instrument for securing peace in Europe, peace and agreement between the individual European nations. But unfortunately our world has changed. Today the EU also needs to provide a joint European response to threats coming from without.

In the Rome Declaration from March this year, the Member States clearly stated that they wish to deepen their cooperation in defence and security. On Wednesday this week the European Commission also contributed to the debate with a paper on the future of the European defence policy. This has also had a significant influence on the focus of today’s discussions.

By creating a European Defence Fund, the Commission has also put forward a concrete and practical tool, which can be used to supplement the investment made by Member States and reduce duplication of defence expenditure.

If the EU wants to reaffirm its role as a major global player, it must be able, quickly and effectively, to help resolve conflicts, to reinforce stability, to prevent threats, especially in its neighbourhood, and to contribute responsibly to international security.

This is the only way the European Union can act as a true guarantee of security in the eyes of its citizens.

The Czech Republic and I personally regard security and defence as a key European priority and are committed to its fulfilment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I firmly hope that today’s conference will bring us closer to the common goal of a safe and secure Europe in a stable world.

Thank you for your attention and I look forward to today’s debate.

Bohuslav Sobotka, Prime Minister, CR

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