Speeches

26. 9. 2019 9:50

Speech by Prime Minister of the Czech Republic at the general debate of the 74th Session of the General Assembly of the UN

General debate of the 74th Session of the General Assembly of the UN in New York, 25 September 2019.
General debate of the 74th Session of the General Assembly of the UN in New York, 25 September 2019.

 

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

30 years ago, my country, the Czech Republic, and the entire region of Central Europe regained freedom. This year, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Velvet revolution. Václav Havel, whose name has become known to the whole world, grew into the symbol of the revolution. In 1989 we were under the rule of a foreign empire. Our country, once known for its strong industry, was struggling, its landscape and nature destroyed, the political system was unresponsive to its citizens.

Yet 10 years later, our country joined NATO and 5 years after that, in 2004, the Czech Republic became a member of the European Union.

The communist regime was replaced by democracy with a thriving civil society and a booming economy. For 30 years now, we have had enjoyed the freedom to elect our representatives, express our opinions and exchange our ideas, have access to free and independent media.

Czechs are a great nation. We are talented, hardworking and do not give up easily. We are very proud of the heritage of the Czechoslovak First Republic established in 1918. In fact, between the two world wars, Czechoslovakia was among the most advanced and prosperous countries in the world. Our automotive, engineering, food, textile, footwear and military industries ranked amongst the best in the world. Companies and brands such as Bata, Skoda, JAWA or Czechoslovak arms factory Zbrojovka CZ have remained famous even to these days.

After the collapse of communism, we unfortunately wasted a lot of time and resources due to mistakes done by our unexperienced elites, instead of learning from other countries. But we got back on track thanks to the efforts and goodwill of our citizens, small and large companies, entrepreneurs and employees.

Currently, the Czech Republic is the 7th safest country in the world. Our economy is growing fast. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU, our economic growth is well above the EU average, and our public debt to GDP ratio is the fourth lowest in European Union. Our public finances are in very good shape and in many respect we can serve as an example. The Czech Republic has ranked 7th among the countries listed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Index. In the latest assessment of the international Index of Social Development, the Czech Republic has ranked 24th in the quality of life, from a list of 140 countries, which in comparison to the last year, is an improvement by two places. And this year's Allianz Euro Monitor ranks the Czech economy as the 4th most stable in the EU. All of these are great successes confirming both our ambitions and our skills.

We have a clear vision of and for 2030. It is based on exceptional support for research, development, and innovation. In this light, as a government, we approved the Innovation Strategy under the main motto - “Czech Republic: The Country for the Future”.

Under the same motto, we will present the National Economic Strategy, which will link science, industry, energy, and education, and will include the application of the most advanced technologies, from the full digitization of the economy to the implementation of artificial intelligence I many sectors.

And by the way, did you know that the very word ROBOT is a Czech invention, by a Czech writer, Karel Čapek, from as early as in 1921?

Our goal is to become a European leader in innovations and artificial intelligence and a country which will serve as an example for the rest of the world.

30 years after the liberation from the Communism, countries of Central Europe have become great neighbors. Our regional group, the Visegrad Four, of which Czech Republic currently has the presidency, represents 65 million citizens from Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. We share common values and understand each other’s problems.  We therefore successfully promote our interests and positions in the EU. I strongly believe that our region can make a major contribution to making Europe stronger. We want to be more active in addressing Europe's major challenges.
 
We want a strong and united Europe.

The European Union is the second largest economy in the world, and it has essentially become the most successful peace project in the world. I am very fond of the idea of “making war unthinkable and materially impossible”, although it is more than 60 years old. Unfortunately, the current European Union is not very efficient, and I would like to change this. In my view, we should be more active in addressing foreign policy, international trade, and migration from Middle East and Africa. More precisely, all Member States, not only the largest ones, should engage actively, with President of the European Commission, as it was the case in the last 5 years. In the future, the EU highest political body - the European Council, where all European presidents and Prime Ministers meet, should act as a European coalition government.
 
It must seek solutions and give very clear guidance to the EU’s major challenges.
 
These major challenges currently are:

  • Brexit, where a fair and functional deal between the UK and the EU must be found,
  • trade relations, namely those with United States – and here I consider it regrettable that the past trade talks between the EU and the US, who are natural allies, have led to nothing. I think we need a very special trade deal between the EU and the US as soon as possible – such as the one promised by President Trump to the United Kingdom in his speech;
  • completion of the internal market, where the potential for European GDP growth is 1.7% worth 235 billion euro;
  • external security, more concretely regaining control over migration flows, relations with Turkey, the situation in Syria, migration from the African continent, and the situation in Libya;
  • relationship with Russia;
  • a strategy for further integration of a broader European Schengen region and enlargement of the EU.

The EU has been a key global player throughout the last years, and as such must work more efficiently and strive to be more functional.

Ladies and gentlemen, we all realize that in the nearest future the consequences of climate change may affect our countries more than ever before. The impacts will be not only environmental but also economic, social and, in the end, political. A huge task lies ahead of us. As all EU countries, the Czech Republic fully supports the Paris Agreement and we will fulfil our commitments.

We are significantly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and, for example, this year we hosted the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Prague for the first time and adopted the Prague Declaration. It emphasizes scientific cooperation to better understand how climate change works and how we can deal with it.

The Czech Republic is also fully committed to research for a long-term strategy towards achieving carbon neutrality.

The European Union as a whole is ready to substantially change its economy to achieve carbon neutrality. But it cannot solve this burning issue without the rest of the world Europe cannot remain abandoned as the most ambitious actor in its struggle to adapt its economies to the oncoming climate change. There is only one planet for all of us, and its protection must be a common endeavour shared by all.

All those who contribute most to the pollution leading to climate change must find the political courage to participate in the solution. At the same time, we cannot and will not harm the very best of our economies.

Although the EU has half a billion inhabitants, this it alone cannot be a solution in a world where over seven and a half billion people live and soon there will be many more. The EU is leading by example, and therefore must be very loud and clear that all other nations must make the necessary political decisions.

The main economic models assessing the European Union's plan to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050 estimate that the average annual cost to be at least 1400 billion dollars. The cost of significant emission reduction is so high because we are all fully dependent on fossil fuels alternatives, such as solar and wind energy, which are generally not efficient enough.

So, in this respect, the young protesters are right: the world is failing to tackle climate change. But the approach they pursue - even greater commitments to reduce carbon emissions - will also fail because green energy is still not ready. The sun and wind currently provide less than one percent of the world's energy and already require 129 billion dollars in subsidies annually.

The world should invest more in research and development in of green energy, so that the price of renewables falls below the price of fossil fuels and naturally encourages the energy transition. We also must be open-minded in looking into other zero-carbon energy sources such as nuclear energy. My country has no other option than the nuclear one and we must keep the sovereignty of our energy mix intact.

These days, climate change is a popular topic around the world. And the arguments are correct in many ways. Greta Thunberg has many interesting observations.

Yet I am not sure that emotional, hysterical, theatrical, and sometimes even aggressive speech leads to a rational discussion. And it is an unfair generalization that nobody is doing anything. It is not true. Many of us are doing we promised in our commitments! And Greta Thunberg should differentiate. Otherwise, she is not being helpful.

We should keep in mind that while Europe decreased its CO2 emissions by 20 million tons in 2018 and the total European share in CO2 emissions is only 9 %, the rest of the world increased its CO2 52 times to 1020 million tons.

A recent analysis has shown that only a few of the 185 states that ratified the Paris Agreement in 2015 are actually fulfilling their commitments. It is crucial that nations respect their commitments, and as members of the United Nations, we have a joint responsibility for this planet - for our planet.

However, as leaders of our respective countries, we also have responsibility towards our own citizens and economies. We unfortunately sometimes forget in our discussion, that the European economy is very dependent on its industry.

We have a mandate from our citizens to ensure that we maintain prosperous economies and protect our environment.

Our citizens also expect us to provide them with productive and sustainable jobs that they will not lose due to decreased competitiveness, which will occur if our countries adopt tougher more ambitious measures to combat climate change than the rest of the world.

After all, we cannot ignore that the reduction of emissions means in many cases just exporting them to other countries. This is unacceptable. The Czech Republic is a country whose economy is heavily dependent on industry, and although we are investing a lot in new technologies, decreasing dependency on coal and strengthening low-emission energy sources, we must do so not only with regard to environmental, but also technological, economic and sociological factors.

Ladies and gentlemen, adapting to climate change and working on mitigating its negative effects is the main task for all of us. At the same time, there are other challenges that we must focus on. And they are complex, and they are tied to each other.
 
Let us not forget, that:

  • over 800 million people are still starving this year,
  • around 785 million people don’t have a basic access to drinking water,
  • only just this year, more than 5,5 million children younger than five are going to die,
  • around 750 million adults remain illiterate. Two thirds of them are women,
  • around a quarter billion children still do not have the possibility to go to school,
  • the share of people living in extreme poverty is 8,6 % of the global population.

The whole area stretching from North Africa to the wider Middle East is a region ripe with conflict and instability. Wars in Syria and Yemen, conflicts in Afghanistan or Libya, civil strife in Africa or Latin America, all bring incredible suffering and hardship on an enormous number of people. Overlooking these conflicts is a source of problems that affect us all.

The UN has a unique responsibility in this. This is especially true for the Security Council, responsible for maintaining peace and security around the globe. The question is of course whether the Security Council is fit to the task. The current practices are sometimes slow and do not provide a flexible response.

Nowadays, migration is one of the main issues worldwide. Since the large migration crisis in 2015, this has been a major political issue for the European Union as well as for my country. Although we have reduced the second part of the migration wave by deepening our cooperation with Turkey, by trying to reduce the influx of migrants from conflict zones in the Middle East or Afghanistan, it is definitely not a systemic solution to the problem.

It is not enough to tackle the consequences and impacts of these crises. Above all, we must address and eliminate their causes. Refugees must be motivated to return home, and this will only happen when their homes will give them hope again. This is why we support the achievement of the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. They will help to eradicate the causes of people fleeing from war zones or leaving economies that are unable to provide them with decent lives. The problem of migration must be addressed where it roots. We want people to have a better and safer life at home.

We therefore support long-term stabilization of turbulent areas directly on the spot, through rapid humanitarian aid and long-term development cooperation, which the Czech Republic provides in many places around the world. That is also why we support open and free international trade, which is a source of economic growth and the best instrument for reducing poverty. We are now engaged in Africa much more actively than before.

The Czech Republic opened the Embassy in Bamako and we are helping with the stabilization of the security situation in Mali, although many unfortunately and unrightfully think that we only care about our interests in Central or Eastern Europe.

We have introduced a new financial program for our entrepreneurs, which makes it much easier to invest in developing countries, because investment is the key to employment and development.
For a long time, we have been active in Syria, where we have been the only EU country to maintain an open Embassy headed by an Ambassador throughout the conflict.

5.6 million people have already left Syria and 6.2 million live outside their homes. I think that Europe must find a common language with President Erdogan. It is important to encourage him to pursue a concrete plan for refugees from Syria, and it is essential to establish peace in the region and make the region livable again by building apartments, hospitals and schools for them instead of refugee camps. We must start discussing how to achieve this with Turkey. I am fully aware of the President Erdogan’s recent statements that he will release 1 million Syrian refugees to Europe if there is no buffer zone in Northern Syria.

I personally support his plan for a secure corridor in Syria. I think we can improve the situation if we in the EU speak more with President Erdogan, while not forgetting we have to be able to speak to Syria.

Ladies and gentlemen - one of the main slogans of our 1989 revolution was "back to Europe". 30 years ago, the Czech Republic returned to where it historically belongs. Today, therefore, the Czech Republic is playing its part - within the United Nations and globally. Ladies and gentlemen, I hope we can work on this together. Thank you for your attention.

Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister

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