Press Advisories

25. 8. 2014 20:06

Speech by the Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka at the start of the meeting of ambassadors of the CR

The Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Minister of Foreign Affairs Lubomir Zaorálek initiated Annual meeting of Ambassadors of the Czech Republic, on the 25th of August, 2014, source:
The Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Minister of Foreign Affairs Lubomir Zaorálek initiated Annual meeting of Ambassadors of the Czech Republic, on the 25th of August, 2014, source:
On Monday, 25 August 2014, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, together with Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, opened a meeting of the heads of the embassies of the Czech Republic. In his speech at the launch of the meeting, he mainly focused on our country’s priorities over recent years and its comprehensive approach to the European Union, in relation to the preparation of a new Strategy for the Czech Republic in the EU. He also pointed out the need to manage the crisis in Ukraine, which requires European unity and extraordinarily strong cooperation. Another important topic was the continuing cooperation with Central European countries, particularly within the framework of the Visegrad group.

Minister, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is the first time I have the honour to appear before you as the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, a constitutional body responsible for the conduct of foreign policy.

In international terms, the Czech Republic is one of the smaller countries and the defence of our interests, which is the main mission of the Foreign Service, is constrained by natural boundaries caused by limited resources, whether human, financial, defence or information, as well as our geographic location. Fortunately however, the Czech Republic does not have not to, and in fact can no longer, promote its interests separately and in isolation. It can rely on its solid anchoring in a geopolitical space, which provides a natural arena for our foreign policy. I consider this area of Central Europe, the European Union and what I could simplify by calling it the Euro-Atlantic area of civilization to be the key components, the pillars or concentric circles of this arena.

First, let me outline the vision for our functioning within the EU. Since its inception, the Government of the Czech Republic has declared a change in the approach to our membership of the Union. We have formulated a clear and positive European agenda. We will not repeat the mistakes of the past – European integration does not divide the coalition and this Government, but connects it. The Government is currently setting out a comprehensive approach to the EU for the CR and is preparing a new Strategy for the CR in the EU, which we should complete in October this year.

The strategic interest of the CR is to be an integral part of the EU and to move into its main path towards integration. We understand the EU to be a strategic choice, as a political project and as the fundamental economic, social, cultural and security framework for the development of the CR. We fully endorse the values underpinning the EU, particularly the creation and development of an area of freedom, security and justice and support for economic and social progress and high levels of employment. The EU Member States are facing a number of global challenges, which cannot be satisfactorily resolved at the national level alone. The Government wants to participate in the search for a common European solution.

By sitting together with other EU Member States at the same table and taking decisions together, we also have to take responsibility for the decisions that are made. This is why the CR must be an active Member State of the EU, not simply a passive consumer of “decisions adopted in Brussels”. Membership of the EU is not a goal in itself, but must also be understood to be a tool for the prosperity and stability of the CR. The Government is convinced that substantial room still exists for a more effective promotion of the interests of the Czech Republic than in the first decade of our membership. The Government will also seek to ensure that its positions are clear, fair and predictable. The CR wants to be a constructive member of the EU and a reliable and trustworthy partner. We will make decisions on the basis of facts, not emotions. An impact analysis will be prepared for every major decision. We do not want automatically to question initiatives coming from our partners in the EU or EU institutions if we have not ourselves proposed a constructive solution.

Membership of the EU also provides options in terms of foreign policy towards third-countries and we have not yet sufficiently explored these opportunities. We can achieve far more on the international scene through EU institutions than we would be able to carry through on our own. This also requires our ability to promote ourselves in the European External Action Service. The low numbers of Czech diplomats currently in senior positions shows that we still have a long way to go in this area.

The first prerequisite for the success of EU policy is an effective coordination mechanism. The fact that this has been entrusted to the Prime Minister, who manages the Committee for the EU, testifies to its importance. The Government has approved an amendment to the statutory documents of the Committee for the EU, which will result in a more effective coordination system.

The public debate on the benefits of our membership of the EU, the alternatives and further developments is also important. For this purpose, the Government has revived the “National Convention”, which will be launched this autumn. The Government is also preparing a detailed communications strategy for the area of European affairs.

The CR has built its EU policy on the alliance. The Government has improved communication with other Member States and continues to develop this. Our key partners are our neighbours, the V4 group, as well as a series of sub-groupings of countries according to specific material priorities. In contrast to previous practice, I feel it is important to deepen our relations with Poland, we are carrying out a number of activities with Germany and we also have better relations with France and Italy.

Please allow me to mention six basic priority areas that I see for the CR within the European Union. The first is the question of active participation in the reform of the eurozone, in preparation for our membership. The Government will honour the Czech Republic’s commitment to join the eurozone in the future and is taking active steps to fulfil this. The first active, visible step was the Government’s commitment that the CR would join the fiscal pact, and we are now waiting for the relevant document to be ratified by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The second priority is to support the real economy. The Government supports better ex ante coordination of structural reforms and economic policies among EU Member States to restore and strengthen economic growth. The Government’s key priorities also include a solid framework and the effective use of EU funds. The third priority is the issue of developing the internal market. We will continue to strive for the completion and better functioning of the internal market, for a fair and open EU trade policy with third countries, for improved regulation and a reduction of the administrative burden, in order to encourage the creation of new jobs. The fourth is the very important priority of energy security and availability. We want to complete the EU energy market, to ensure physical connections with our neighbours and create conditions for return on investments into new production capacity, including nuclear power. The climatic framework for the EU to the year 2030 is currently under discussion and the CR must very strongly, but unambiguously, protect its interests, particularly when this concerns a quality environment for the continuation of modern industrial production in our country. The fifth priority is a strong European Commission. As a medium-sized EU country, the CR must have an interest in a strong European Commission, which is able to promote existing rules and to ensure better internal coordination within the Commission. And the last priority, the sixth, is the expansion of the EU to include countries that meet the conditions for EU accession, as an instrument for the stabilisation and democratisation of other parts of Europe. This completes the first part of my speech, which concerns ties and relations to the EU.

Allow me now briefly to address a topic that is very current and which to a large extent affects our foreign policy and security situation. This is the issue of the Ukraine crisis.

Ladies and gentlemen, war is now raging a few hundred kilometres to our east. One of the characteristics of wars in general is their ability to escalate, unexpectedly and rapidly. I personally believe that the crisis in Ukraine will be over within a short period of time. However, we will have to take it into consideration at least over the medium term. Allow me to mention some features of the Czech Government’s approach to the present Ukrainian crisis. First of all – it is true that Ukraine is a sovereign state and has the right to restore sovereignty on its territory. Secondly – managing this crisis requires European unity and extraordinarily strong cooperation between the individual Member States. Actions by individual countries, however strong they are in themselves, may even worsen the situation in some cases if they are not coordinated with others. The Czech Republic will therefore strive to ensure that Europe speaks with one voice and to maintain control over the escalation of tensions in Ukraine as far as possible. Thirdly, the situation in Ukraine cannot become politically and economically stable without a suitable form of agreement between Ukraine and Russia. The Czech Republic has no interest in a further escalation of economic sanctions between the EU and Russia, but given that the CR has already once expressed its agreement with the existing level of sanctions, we should maintain a joint EU position and not weaken it. The Government must actively seek out alternative territories for our exports, given that Russia may be at threat as a market. This is naturally also the key and unequivocal role of our embassies. Fourthly, the period of warfare which, I firmly believe, is due to end, will be followed by an extremely lengthy period of reconstruction, where it will be in the interests of Europe and the Czech Republic to help Ukraine to stabilise as quickly as possible and to develop fair economic and political cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to be very realistic in how we perceive the economic situation in Ukraine. It is by no means good. And the EU cannot impose the necessary reforms for the Ukrainians. Neither can we finance them in any decisive way. We can help, but we cannot replace the will of the Ukrainian government to adopt the necessary reforms and often unpopular economic steps that will have to be implemented over the coming years.

Now let me return back to us in Central Europe. From what I have said about my idea of the participation of the CR in the EU and our cooperation with our European partners, It is clear that an important aspect, not only in terms of our European policy, is regional cooperation here in Central Europe. Here I should mention Germany, as one of our key partners. We must be more than easy-going partners with Germany. It is important and useful to seek out additional areas where our strategic interests intersect, to strengthen dialogue on European issues, as well as in matters of scientific and economic cooperation or even on security and human rights issues. Another cornerstone of our Central European relations remains our exceptional relationship with Slovakia, the close cooperation with Poland I have already mentioned and the platform of the Visegrad group. I am delighted that, despite the differences of opinion that may arise, and that from time to time do arise, between the Visegrad partners in certain areas, this format remains highly effective and the Visegrad cooperation is also influential within the EU. We will therefore continue to use it to reinforce our influence on what is happening in Europe today. Austria is also an integral part of Central Europe. I consider that the renaissance we are experiencing in our bilateral relations is one of the successes of our Government and we want also to develop dialogues between our regional partners with the participation of Austria.

Now, let me comment on the issue of trans-Atlantic relations and NATO. This third area I mentioned for the implementation of our national interests, the Euro-Atlantic space, its freedom and security, is another key imperative of our foreign policy. The current crisis in Ukraine underscores the importance of our membership in NATO and ties to the United States as a key ally. Our security is not a given constant, but has to be maintained and strengthened in cooperation with our allies. The Government of the CR is aware of its obligations to its own security as well as that of its partners. I would therefore like to emphasise that the governing coalition has decided, after a lengthy period of declining spending, to initiate a gradual increase in the defence spending of the Czech Republic, from the current approximately 1% of GDP towards 1.4% by 2020. The Government coalition will want to declare this commitment at a political level before the September NATO summit. Our responsibility to the alliance also includes participation in foreign missions. The Government will discuss this and, by the end of the year, will submit to Parliament a draft mandate for the operation of Czech soldiers during the period from 2015 to 2016. We also plan to allow the Czech army to continue over the coming years to operate in Mali, Africa, to participate in the protection of our allies’ airspace and also to engage in a non-combat assistance mission to Afghanistan, provided that we manage to negotiate an appropriate agreement with the Afghan government.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow ne now to comment on a topic that I consider extremely important within the context of the economic policy of the new Czech Government. This is the topic of economic diplomacy. Although it may appear that our anchor in the Euro-Atlantic area is safe and stable, it cannot be seen in isolation from the rest of the world. The centre of gravity of international affairs is shifting from the north Atlantic and we must therefore devote increased attention to territories located outside the European continent. The planet’s economic centre has largely moved to Asia, with many Latin American and some African economies also showing high growth potential. This represents a major opportunity and allows room for our active economic diplomacy. We expect a strengthening of our economic cooperation with China. Our relations with this country are undergoing a significant political reboot. We have the same, or similar, ambitions in relation to many other countries in South-East Asia and the Far East. One example is our cooperation with the Republic of Korea, which we want to anchor in a strategic partnership, which offers new opportunities for our country, not only in the economic and investment area, but also in the fields of tourism, science and innovation. In this regard, I would also like to draw your attention to the increasing importance of the mobility of selected categories of foreigners, such as tourists, foreign investors or students, which bring obvious benefits to the CR. Cooperation between the MFA and the ministries of interior, industry and trade, regional development and education must be strengthened in this area, and dialogues must also be initiated with strategic countries that are key partners for the CR in this respect.

Allow me to comment on foreign policy issues that relate to its global framework. Europe and North America are no longer the only dominant players on the international chessboard, even in political terms. Other actors have appeared on the international scene, and often enter the game with different expectations or ambitions and also seek to change the rules. The CR obviously has limited means to influence the behaviour of these actors. But we should always try to engage with these players and to develop a dialogue with them that will help us to understand their vision of the world and to build on that to develop cooperation with them in the political, economic, cultural and humanitarian fields. The West can no longer determine the rules of international society, making it more stable and predictable, on its own. In the same way, the most important global problems, such as climate change, poverty, migration and security in the widest sense of the word, cannot be resolved in the absence of dialogue with countries such as China, India or possibly Brazil. The only possible way to establish a system that will be stable and at the same time globally fair, is effective multilateralism. We should therefore brace our energies for a more ambitious representation within the UN, which still remains the most representative forum of the international community, as well as other international platforms for various global issues. The need for dialogue with a number of new important actors on the international scene does not mean that we should resign ourselves to our normative system. The CR has already earned considerable respect for its support for human rights worldwide. The human rights agenda will remain an important theme of Czech foreign policy. However it should not be confined to civil and political rights, but should also include second and third generation human rights, for example economic and social rights, or rights relating to the environment. To this end we should put all the tools we have at our disposal to effective use – development assistance, transformation cooperation or humanitarian aid. Our contribution to achieving a globally stable and fair society, which is what we seek in the long term, will always be limited, but should be noticeable and visible.

One important issue, which I would also like to address at the end of this speech, is the topic of foreign policy coordination. In an increasingly complex and interdependent international environment, it is even more important for the CR to speak to the world, our partners and allies, with a single voice. Coordination in foreign policy issues is becoming increasingly important. At the same time, the number of actors involved in shaping foreign policy is increasing. Alongside the traditional roles of the head of state, the prime minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, individual ministries, regional representatives are also becoming increasingly involved in international relations, and the role of our parliamentary diplomacy is also important. The consistency of our foreign policy, the comprehensible and unequivocal approach by various Czech actors towards our foreign partners, must be one of our main imperatives. I am therefore glad that we have been able to establish effective coordination mechanisms between the individual ministries and between the Government and the President of the Republic. In this regard, I would also like to acknowledge the agreement between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and also with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Ladies and gentlemen, the result of everything that has been said here is that you are faced with a series of difficult tasks. I believe that you will discharge these tasks with a high degree of professionalism and bring them to a successful conclusion for the benefit of our country and for the benefit of our citizens. I believe that the recently adopted Act on the Civil Service will also contribute to stabilising the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has in the past been faced with particularly difficult problems, such as the policy of across-the-board budget cuts. On the occasion of our first official meeting, I would also like to thank you for the work you are undertaking for the CR. I would like to say that, as Prime Minister, I look forward to our further cooperation, for example in the area of active economic diplomacy and would like to assure you that you have my full support in representing the interests of the CR and that I am open, both now and in the future, to your suggestions and also your initiatives.

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