Speeches

19. 11. 2020 11:03

Speech by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš at the Aspen Annual Conference The Shape of (Central) Europe

Dear colleagues,

distinguished guests,

First of all, let me thank the Aspen Institute for organizing this annual event even under the current unusual and complicated circumstances. It is of great importance to discuss today the steps which we have to undertake to get back on track and restart our economy.

The global coronavirus pandemic has hit the Czech Republic and the world hard. What is crucial now is to avoid mistakes and take action to restore the normal functioning of all economic structures as soon as possible.

We must admit that our knowledge of the virus is still very limited. The expert opinions vary and do not give a united view.

Therefore, the only reliable solution is a vaccine. We must ensure that it is a safe and credible one that our citizens will trust and accept.

In my view, we will have to learn to live with the virus for some time and most importantly, take the responsibility for our health into our own hands.

During the spring wave, we introduced a total lockdown but had never closed the car industry which was, however, struck by low sales on the export markets. The anti-covid restrictions negatively impacted our state budget and debt but thanks to our healthy finances, we were able to afford it and today, we still have one of the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the EU.

Swift restart of the economy means an increase in consumption, strengthening of investments as well as the full use of innovation potential of the Czech Republic.

Currently, we see that international trade is recovering and this development is a significant plus for an open economy such as the Czech Republic, provided that we keep domestic export companies running and support private investment.

On the EU level, a well-functioning EU internal market is essential for the Czech economy. We will also make full use of the “Next Generation EU” tool which was set up by the European Commission to help the EU countries recover and support investment in the green and digital transformation.

As for the Czech Republic, the estimated total allocation for the years 2020-2026 exceeds 6.7 billion EUR. Overall, we expect around 20% increase in EU funding and we are prepared to invest all of it. Government investments are expected to increase by 5.1% in 2021.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the translation of many innovations into practice. It showed, however, that there are large gaps and shortcomings in the use of technologies and new working practices, such as the distance education, working from home, dependence on a quality Internet connection or the need to use various communication tools or the cloud storage.

Digitalization affects education as well as the labour market and we must respond to the challenges it brings. Digital skills will soon be an integral part of professional skills of all workers. Therefore, the education system needs to be adapted to enhance the digital literacy and to fulfil the principles of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Digitalization is also crucial for improving the effectiveness of the state administration. By 2024, we want to offer all services for citizens and businesses in digital form. The central tool will be the Citizen Portal which will integrate all of them.

We will run a massive media campaign to promote the Citizen Portal in order to explain our citizens the benefits of digital communication with the state. Our goal is to reduce the administrative burden.

At the same time, we realize it is necessary to cooperate with the private sector. Some of our joint projects are bank ID, e-government cloud or digital technical maps.

Last but not least, the pandemic emphasized the need of digitalization of healthcare. In practice, it has actually contributed to its acceleration and greater use of e-health tools, especially telemedicine.

However, along with the progress of digitalization comes the urgent need to ensure high level of cyber security. As you know, several Czech hospitals faced cyber-attacks during the pandemic, which is unacceptable.

Long term solution of the current crisis can be only achieved through development and implementation of safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19.

As the vaccination would hopefully be available next year, we have been preparing a vaccination strategy, which defines priority groups for the vaccination, its phases and the estimated number of doses that will be needed, setting chronically ill patients, citizens above 65 years and healthcare professionals as the top priority groups.

In the meantime, we focus on fast and detailed tracing, testing and cooperation and coordination on the EU level, where we clearly support instruments such as the common EU entry form or the linking of the mobile apps.

Individually, each of us must put effort into prevention, take responsibility for his or her own health, work on strong immunity and keep in good physical as well as mental condition. It will be our personal contribution to the common well-being.

Ladies and gentleman, I wish you all good health, much positive energy in these difficult times and a quick end of this crisis for all of us.

Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister

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