Press Advisories

6. 5. 2015 8:29

Speech given by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka at Humboldt University in Berlin on 4 May 2015

Premiér Bohuslav Sobotka přednesl projev na Humboldtově univerzitě v Berlíně, 4. května 2015.

Europe at a Crossroads

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 1989, I was one of the students who protested in the streets of Brno and called for the fall of the Communist regime. One of the slogans that the demonstrators carried was "Return to Europe". That was in 1989. Then in 2003 and 2004 I served as the minister of finance who completed the accession negotiations with the Czech Republic, which was then preparing for EU membership. I also voted in a referendum in favour of our country joining the EU. In 2014, ten years after our accession to the EU, I became the prime minister who had the chance after ten years to weigh the pros and cons of our membership in the EU.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak before you, especially at this time when we are marking 70 years since the end of World War Two, which was the biggest and most cruel conflict in human history, but which also paradoxically was a key event for the development of the European continent. In reaction to the atrocities of World War Two and in an effort to prevent such horrific events from repeating, something which was not successful after World War One, European countries began an integration project until then unseen, which is active even today. The European Union, which developed from the European Community that was at the beginning of the integration efforts in the 1950s, is today a key benefit for Europe for promoting stability and peace in the world and a guarantor of the basic values on which our society is based. This situation puts before us as Europeans a responsibility to develop European integration further and care for its continuation. Therefore, in order to meet my responsibilities as a European, I would like to share with you my view about the future development of the EU.

The European Union is today in a very unique situation. After more than sixty years of integration efforts, it has achieved unprecedented success in the form of long-term peaceful cooperation among 28 different and independent member states, which is based on common values of mutual solidarity and respect. This cooperation is underscored by a functioning institutional arrangement, and some of the states even have a common currency. Basic liberties enable freedom of movement, commerce, settlement and employment on a scale that is unprecedented in history. Thanks to the close cooperation among its member states, the European Union has become a key player on the world stage. However, we Europeans still perceive all of these benefits as something to be taken for granted, as something that is here and will be forever and which does not require special care. That assumption often leads to unwillingness to fight for the success of European integration. The situation that I have described then contributes, together with other factors, such as the impacts of global economic stability and and new security risks, to a situation when the European Union today stands at a crossroads and faces the most important challenges in its history.

World War Two ended in Europe seventy years ago. Commemorative events are being held and will be held across the continent. I am very pleased that I can commemorate this historic anniversary here in Berlin, since Berlin was a key player during that time. The German Nazis unleashed the war, and Germany was the site of the final battles. In 1945, Germany was in ruins. And it was Germany that was part of the key post-war decision that is forming Europe today. It was a decision for cooperation, which basically amounted to shaking hands with those who had recently been its enemies. That was to a great extent the exact opposite of what happened to defeated Germany in 1918. Rather than revenge and blame based on the principle of collective guilt, there was a focus on cooperation. I personally believe that this decision was extremely wise and beneficial. Finding the will for cooperation just a few years after the biggest conflict in history required a large amount of courage and statesmanship. It happened.

Of course, the journey was not always ideal and without problems, but on the contrary it has been plagued by crises and searches for the identity and form of sustainable development of the integration project. This search has been participated in by a whole series of important statesmen and thinkers. When preparing today's speech, I took inspiration from two of them, who fifteen years ago at a time that was very significant for the Czech Republic's European integration process presented their visions for further European integration. 

The first of them was Václav Havel, whose role in bringing the Czech Republic into Euro-Atlantic structures was indispensable, and from whose legacy Czech foreign and European policy finds its inspiration today. In February 2000, Václav Havel gave an important speech in the European Parliament about integration with the European Union and about the principles on which its future depends. He spoke about European identity, and he emphasised the values on which Europe is based as well as the need to stand up for them. He highlighted the importance of civil society for cohesion, plurality and development of the European Union, and he cited the importance of European self-reflection, so that we would not get our hopes up too much and so that we could view our actions critically and not be afraid to uncover mistakes that we were making and learn from them.

Another source of inspiration for me when writing this speech was former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer and his Humboldtrede, in which at the same time as Václav Havel he highlighted two basic tasks that the EU faced.

The first was Eastward expansion, which in a broader sense symbolises the real unification of Europe and the fact that the EU is not an exclusive club with permanently shut doors, but offers cooperation to all European countries. The second was the need to resolve the institutional challenges related to the progression of the integration process.l

Both of these speeches and the thoughts expressed in them are still valid and inspirational for me today. This is especially true face to face with current developments, both in the EU itself and in the world as a whole, which are an important test for the values on which the European Union stands and for our willingness to defend those values.

What is at stake today is the internal cohesion of the EU, which has been subjected to a test by the economic and financial crisis and its related economic and social impacts; the stability of our political model, which is being threatened by new populist, nationalist and anti-system movements, internal and external security, which are being tested by increased terrorist activity, the phenomenon of foreign fighters and organised crime involving activities such as human trafficking. Another risk for Europe as a whole is Russia's behaviour, although I still believe that Russia should be a partner for us in many areas of common interest. The current Russian government is behaving differently than in the past fifteen years, and this is forcing us to reassess our stance regarding relations with Moscow. Not only is the situation in Ukraine alarming, but the situation in places such as the Middle East and North Africa are alarming as well. Another challenge from an economic point of view is competition from rapidly developing countries, which do not focus on the environmental and social standards that we consider important in Europe. These in a nutshell are the important challenges that we face today. There are not only a few of them, and they are not easy. However, I am convinced that the European Union and we with it have the tools and strength to overcome these challenges if we act with unity and solidarity and that we will be able to decide and act jointly and effectively. I would like to emphasis the word act.

European integration is a story with a happy ending. The EU represents an absolutely unique model of cooperation, which has no similar counterpart anywhere in the world, and it is a guarantor of prosperity and the peaceful development of Europe. The EU and European integration are a set of tools supported by robust institutional pillars. Of course, we alone give it life, and without our work and trust in it it will not endure.

Therefore, both my government and I personally support the concept of European integration and deepening of cooperation within the EU. The best way of effectively tackling the challenges that we face is pan-European cooperation with a single choice, which will lead to stability, prosperity, defence of Europe's position in the world and support for the values on which our civilization is based. I am proud that the Czech Republic with its historic experience and position in the heart of Europe is making clear today that it wants to play a constructive role in the European integration process.

Before I shift "in medias res", as it were, I would like to stray of on a small tangent, which, however, is closely related to the topic being focused on. The happy story of integrating Europe corresponds wit the happy story of post-war Germany, which from a country devastated by war and subsequently divided into two countries has become its strong economic core, one of the main leaders and a frequent source of inspiration. I must say that even despite any problems, the Czech Republic's story since it joined the EU has been a happy one, since our membership in the EU has helped boost the rule of law in our country, has strengthened its economic stability and has sped up economic growth and social progress.

I would even go so far as to say that the processes of European integration and Germany's development are closely connected. The situation is similar when we look at relations between Czechs and Germans. Germany had long been perceived by Czechs as an inevitable historic rival. Our coexistence is relatively dotted by conflicts and wars. However, nowadays Germany is viewed as a key partner and the European Union and our membership in it have contributed to this to a great extent. Within the framework of unified Europe, Czech-German cooperation is obviously unavoidable.

In recent years, the relationship between the Czech Republic and Germany has been repeatedly described as the best it has ever been in history, and so I do not know what the right word to describe it would be today, when thanks to intensive contacts, active communication and searches for joint topics, our relations have continued to improve. However, we must not relent, and we must carefully protect and care for our cooperation. I would like for our relations to be as strong and close as possible, so that we can successfully find solutions together for the challenges that affect both countries. Therefore, I am intensively devoting attention today in Berlin to the relations between the Czech Republic and Germany, and in a month I will do so during visits to Dresden and Munich.

The foundations of our cooperation today were the Czech-German Declaration of 1997 and the resulting Czech-German Fund for the Future and the Czech-German Discussion Forum. It is on those foundations that we would now like to to build strategic dialogue, which will be based on active cooperation in individual areas of common interest. I would like for our cooperation to be based on active communication between Czech government ministers and their German partners, and I would like to focus on cooperation among regions also at the local level. I would also like to develop our relations with Berlin as well as with the neighbouring German federal states of Saxony and Bavaria. After all, establishing relations between the Czech Republic and individual German federal states has been approached relatively cautiously for a long time for various reasons. Therefore, I am very pleased that in recent years we have managed to move this process significantly forward.

My goal is for Czech-German cooperation to serve as an example for building and deepening relations among EU member states, which I regard as crucial for the integration process. As I have already pointed out, membership in the European Union in the case of the Czech Republic and Germany has led to closer cooperation, and I am convinced that our deepening relations will have a positive effect both on our countries and on Europe as a whole. This is a two-way process, which does not have a disintegration or isolationist character, but rather supports the integration process in the EU.

In order to speak about what kind of Europe we want, we first have to generally define the basic problems with which we must cope and the key focuses that are crucial for our future.

I consider trust and self confidence to be key for the future success or failure of the EU. These relatively difficult to understand and immeasurable variables serve as a basis for cooperation, since we are the ones who can most effectively dismantle and destroy the European integration process if we are not careful and lose trust and self confidence.

We must not lose trust in our partners, with whom we have been creating a shared European home for years and even decades, trust in the idea that a jointly developed community makes sense and is sustainable, trust in the values and rules based on which we have built the EU. Last, but not least, we must not disappoint our citizens who trust the political system and its functioning. Self confidence is also just as important. This means self confidence that we are capable of holding ourselves up in the world in economic and political competition, self confidence that we are capable in dialogue with other world powers to pay at least an equivalent role and self confidence that we are able to defend our values and our model even in the face of potential aggression from outside the EU. The European Union is based on dialogue, on shaking hands, on finding partners and on cooperation with them. Those constitute its main asset. Of course, it is becoming apparent that dialogue and cooperation have their limits, that it is necessary to maintain them below a certain limit, beyond which there can be no more discussion, because otherwise we would lose ourselves. Therefore, too, it is important to maintain our great alliances based on shared values, and it is important to build and deepen trans-Atlantic ties and cooperation in NATO.

Today we live at a time when trust and self confidence are most in danger. We have been  shaken by the problems in which we have found ourselves. Of course, the EU is not a definitive structure. It is a very valuable and functioning tool for cooperation, but one that we have to care for and continue to believe in. If we do not have that trust in it, then it will not continue to exist and function.

Trust is easily lost and difficult to restore. So that we retain our mutual trust, it is mainly important to comply with the agreed rules and work against attempts to sacrifice the joint arrangement for unilateral advantages. Europe has experience with circumvention of rules and knows that doing so does not pay, either in terms of economics or security. We must be very cautious and careful in what kinds of rules we accept, so that we do not impose nonsensical or needlessly rigid regulations on ourselves. Of course, we must take seriously the rules on which we agree. Only by doing that will also be taking seriously our shared objectives and successfully fulfil them. I consider the European model of cooperation to be unique in that sense, because we place limits on ourselves in order to achieve something more together.

If we speak of current challenges, we must not forget Greece. I will not start giving economic explanations, but I will mention two aspects that relate to the topics of trust and maintaining rules, which I have already spoken about.

The first aspect is solidarity, which lies in the foundations of European integration, just like following agreed rules. One of its forms involving solidarity in the EU is the assistance that states that have found themselves in serious economic difficulties receive. That assistance proves that we are able to find functioning solutions even at times of crisis.

That assistance is also tied to certain duties and requirements that individual countries must fulfil. For mutual trust and maintaining of stability, it is crucial for us to be able to find a balance between provided assistance, accepted obligations and consideration of their impacts on inhabitants, meaning a balance between duties and solidarity.

The second aspect that I will mention is disintegration tendencies. In relation to Greece, there have been very intensive debates about its potential exit from the Eurozone. I believe that such a move would be unfortunate, and that it is in the interest of all of us for Greece to remain in the Eurozone if at all possible. I have a similar view about the idea of the UK exiting the EU. That would be a huge loss, both for the EU and for Britain.

We must realise that this is not an issue related exclusively to these two countries, but a larger problem, since both mentioned processes of exiting the EU would have negative impacts on trust in the functioning of the Eurozone and the EU, and therefore it is important for both Greece and the UK to remain in it.

The economic crisis, which took its toll on the EU, revealed one major problem, which not only is alarming today, but in the future could have even more fatal consequences. That problem is youth unemployment and youth dissolution and their belief that the current system cannot help them solve their problems. This situation results in a lack of trust in the system and its tools in general, which poses a significant risk of loss of legitimacy and could lead to a collapse of the political system as we know it today. This problem is further worsened by the phenomenon of an ageing population, which is intensifying friction between generations. We are getting older, and there is also a risk that we will lose the young generation. This situation does not allow us to be too satisfied with ourselves, but it should not make us desperate, and instead should serve as an engine for further activity.

Despite the undisputed successes that we have achieved in the integration process and despite the advantages that this process brings to Europeans, a significant segment of the population does not care about the EU, see themselves as detached from it and do not understand it. This has resulted in the spread of various myths and half-truths about how the EU and the integration process function, or rather do not function. These myths have become a basis for the policies of anti-European, nationalist and anti-system parties.

There is not an easy way to tackle this situation either. The road involves active communication, solving of real social problems openness and presentation of the benefits of integration. My government's change in policy towards the EU has resulted in citizens perceiving the EU very positively, and according to surveys, Czechs increasingly see more benefits and advantages in EU membership. It is becoming clear that communication is not only critical and assertive, but is also showing positive aspects and makes sense.

In building Europe and in implementing individual policies, however, we cannot focus only on the formal institutional framework, on the state or on public-legal entities. A crucial an indispensable role is also played by non-state actors, such as non-profit organisations and religious groups. These institutions are building the face of Europe from the bottom up, and their cooperation is an important part of the integration process. Their assistance, work with specific people and face-to-face tackling of specific problems are often the most effective form of support. If we consider the pillars on which today's European Union and the European integration process stand, then these partners must be part of our consideration and our support.

So far, I have talked mainly about issues related to the internal arrangement of the EU, but of course maintaining our alliances, their functioning and their strength, mainly where they are based on shared values, are crucial for maintaining stability and development of Europe. I consider Euro-Atlantic ties to be key. They are based on our security architecture and play an indispensable role economically as well. For the EU's future, it will also be important how we manage to further strengthen and develop those ties.

The EU also benefits from the continuity of its development, which is a progression of steps that will lead to gradual strengthening and deepening of cooperation. European integration does not need a revolution or a fundamental breakthrough, but there is a need for us to ensure that we continue to take steps forward and maintain a maximum level of transparency.  Some might view that approach as somewhat bold. However, what I do not consider bold is setting objectives that are not realistic and then attempting in vain to fulfil them. I consider it bold to have a clear vision, to apply it extensively and not to let up, even when such a vision is not popular, or when difficult obstacles stand in its way. Our steps must be comprehensive and controlled, because otherwise we would lose the support and trust from our citizens and would cease to have credibility and legitimacy, which would likely have fatal consequences.

In order to face further steps in the integration process without concerns, we must be certain that our cooperation is based on solid enough foundations and that what we do is also supported by most Europeans. I consider the role of member states to be indispensable in this area. It is the member states that represent the main link between the EU and its citizens. A system based on member states is still the best and  most democratic kind that we have available. It is comprehensible to us and our citizens and will ensure the legitimacy of the European integration process. Most of us Europeans still link our European identity with allegiance to specific countries. Maybe in the future, that perception will change too, but today we need to take it into consideration, or otherwise we will not have a chance of success.

Another area in which member states are indispensable is in seeking and creating European interests, in other words decisions at the European level. European policy is formed by discussions based on defence of national interests and conflicts regarding them. So far we do not have a better method. This of course is not a new or revolutionary idea, but is one important thing that we must realise when thinking about the situation. For the future of Europe, it is absolutely essential for the national interests of each member state to include the interest in real effective functioning of the EU as a whole and for the interest in the EU to be one of the key interests of each member state.

I will try to elaborate on this idea by using the Czech Republic as an example. My government has been trying to be actively involved in European policy to a maximum extent, both externally and domestically. Our primary aim is to find a way to support cooperation and individual European projects, not the opposite. That does not mean that the Czech Republic agrees with everything, that it only adapts or that it does not have its own opinions. It means that our membership in the EU and cooperation within its framework is taken by us as a basis for our policies, and we attempt to take an active approach to promote our interests and to present European topics actively. It may seem insignificant, but what has fundamentally changed in the Czech Republic's EU policy in the past year is the basic approach to ideas. We do not view the EU and individual proposals and projects as a threat, but as an opportunity. We are seeking ways to be inside, in the main progression, not to withdraw ourselves from cooperation. European policy for us does not mean foreign policy towards foreign entities, but part of our own policy. The Czech Republic will not repeat the rejection of the Fiscal Pact or Klaus' exception.

Another pillar that we must take care of in the integration process is a stable, functioning and trustworthy institutional framework. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Court of Justice of the EU function consistently well in general. The biggest shortcoming is in the involvement of national parliaments. As I have already mentioned, many Europeans build their relationship to the EU via their national context and national institutions, which are more familiar to them and easier for them to understand. In this regard, I believe it makes sense to find ways to get national institutions involved in the processes that occur at the national level.

If I were to define today's situation with European integration in brief, I would say that we are already very far along, but that our work is far from finished. Further integration is essential, because in some areas that are key for Europe's future and about which I will still speak, we are only half way there, and in some cases only at the beginning.

In order for us to move forward, we have to be realistic and choose a pace that will not lead to instability and will enable us to maintain the support of our citizens. I don't believe that it would make sense to get make sweeping or demanding changes to primary law. In Europe, movements are increasing in popularity that question the very idea of integration. We are recovering from a protracted crisis, and furthermore, we have not yet fully implemented all of the changes that the Lisbon Treaty introduced.

The road leads elsewhere. We have to fully use the framework that we have available and focus on the areas that are crucial for us in terms of the shared interests of member states and the EU as a whole. In these areas, we must advance the integration process quickly and go all the way to the boundaries of what is possible and perhaps even a bit beyond them. However, we should leave other policies primarily to the member states. I am pleased that support for this "quality and intensive" approach is shared by the current European Commission.

My selection of important topics of common interest includes energy, the internal market, migration and asylum and related free movement of persons, commerce, foreign policy, policy of neighbours, defence and security policy and enlargement policy.

I consider the social dimension to be a specific issue, which is playing an increasing role as far as citizens' trust in the institutions and the integration process is concerned. I am convinced that its importance will significantly grow. Unfortunately, at this time we are not far enough along to be able to talk about a real single social policy, but deepening economic integration has placed social issues before us on the European level, and we simply must find solutions for them. Such solutions do not always involve adjustments or decisions at the European level. It is difficult for us to find a single solution that would satisfy all, but we almost always find in relation to this topic certain aspects, where as EU member states we should cooperate and communicate.  I predict that this will lead to deepening of cooperation of this area.

Something that I consider absolutely fundamental is the single currency, the euro, which is closely connected to coordination of economic policy, and that is also why I have focused on it ahead of other areas of shared interest. The euro is a key political and economic project of the EU and links both of these levels. Its fate is therefore crucial for the EU as a whole, both economically and politically. For the Czech Republic, the stability and functioning of the Eurozone is a key national interest, and this is true even though the Czech Republic is not yet a member of the Eurozone. That is where I find one major shortcoming. Without adoption of the euro, we will be at the very least only on the edge in certain areas of cooperation.

My aim is for the Czech Republic to take all necessary steps to ensure that it will be prepared to join the Eurozone around 2020. That is not a simple task, and the road to it will involve fiscal discipline, a courageous economic approach and the ability to communicate with the public effectively and win their support for it. However, I am personally convinced that this is the right path to take, since deepened cooperation in economic policy, as is being prepared and completed by Eurozone states, will undoubtedly form the core of the EU's integration in the near future.

I probably do not have to explain why I rank energy among the important topics. Energy is one of the most discussed political topics of our time. It is natural – it is a sector that affects different areas of our lives, from the economy to security. Energy also understandably has a major international context, and the current developments in the world clearly show how crucial it is. For these reasons, I consider developing a single energy policy to be an important task for the current EU, whose successful fulfilment can lead to greater progress in integration efforts.

The current discussions regarding the creation of an Energy Union merely confirm that we Europeans are aware of this connection. I consider two of the five proposed dimensions to be key for the success of the Energy Union. They are energy security and creation of a functioning integrated energy market.,

The current crisis in Ukraine shows us again that the security of supplies of energy and raw materials is not something to be taken for granted. We need quality infrastructure, whose development is unfortunately financially demanding. We must find ways to finance it and to involve the state and burden consumers as little as possible. In the area of raw material supplies, we must more than in other areas take into consideration the principle of solidarity, one of the basic principles of European cooperation.

The interconnection of energy systems will lead us a step closer to finalising the internal energy market. The European Commission with a bit of exaggeration is talking about a fifth freedom, and of course success in this area could have, without exaggeration, overcoming the impossible. Nonetheless, an interconnected infrastructure is not the only necessary step. A truly integrated and functioning market can be ensured only if there are integrated rules, which we actually follow.

If we succeed in achieving an Energy Union that does not only remain on paper, then I believe that it will become one of the foundations of European energy security, competitiveness, and finally European integration itself.

While in energy, even despite certain partial successes, we are still looking for a common voice, building the internal market is a policy that will contribute to fulfilling the idea of European integration from its very beginning. The internal market as a single space for free movement of goods and services, persons and capital is most often referred to as a successful project bringing about economic development in EU states. That is of course true, but to look at it only through that prism would mean to underestimate its actual importance. A Europe with a strong internal market will be better at facing global challenges. The internal market is also a tool that enables people to feel the practical effects of integration, and that strengthens European identity.

We must admit that building the internal market is an constant work task with varying aims.  New social phenomena and new technologies are emerging, and previous steps are resulting in challenges that could not have been foreseen. Deepening the internal market needs to be understood as a continual and dynamic process. We should realise its purpose and not let up in the effort to deepen it.

In the days to come, it will be necessary to focus in particular on those parts of the internal market in which the need for cooperation is the most urgent. I have in mind mainly the Energy Union, which has already been mentioned, along with the single digital market. It is necessary to do more to bring about a single environment for the movement of services, where we face many shortcomings, but we must not neglect work on eliminating obstacles to the free movement of goods or intellectual property products. Finally, it is necessary to focus on improving the process of creating our legislation and reduction of administrative burden. The internal market is not only about harmonisation of legislation, but is also about improving administrative processes and making them easier. Administrative obstacles are indeed what to a great extent are preventing the full development of all four freedoms.

Another topic that cannot be resolved in the EU isolated at the level of member states and where we must find a joint solution is migration and asylum policy. This topic is currently very relevant and very pressing for the EU. Migration is a very complex and dynamic phenomenon, which is affecting not only the Mediterranean Sea region, but also Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans. Migration is a natural phenomenon, which has accompanied mankind for millennia. Therefore, it is not appropriate to talk about migration flows as something that is a product of today's era, although each era, including ours, has its specific characteristics. With awareness of this fact, we must take an approach to deal with the current migration situation.

It is undisputed that the current mass migration pressures are a challenge and a difficult test for the entire EU, but if we manage to cope with it, then it can become a phenomenon that boosts the unity and strength of the European Community. If we are not successful, there is a risk of the opposite effect. Migration policy is already now firmly enshrined in the EU's joint policies, and its implementation to a great extent is based on the EU's shared legal resources. Therefore, we should focus mainly on effective and sensible implementation of resources in the areas specified above and eliminating shortcomings.

However, where we must be more active and effective are in relation to measures focused on the roots of migration flows, whether these involve helping refugees on site, closer cooperation with migrants' countries of origin and transit countries and avoiding additional military conflicts that would worsen the current situation. We must make a major effort to combat barbaric human trafficking, which is often used to finance terrorism and criminal organisations.

To conclude this mention of migration issues, I would like to highlight a topic that especially lies at my heart and about which I mentioned in relation to the internal market, and that is the free movement of persons. That key freedom of the EU is indispensable for me personally, and I am strongly convinced that it is for you as well. It is a fundamental source of European integration and is a crucial symbol. If we are serious about the EU, then we have to make a maximum effort to overcome its limitations. Any sign of negative developments in this area would have serious consequences for the integration process.

Single rules, single market and single trade policy are all terms that anger opponents of European integration. For me as a living and breathing European, however, they are evidence that the EU is moving in the right direction. When compared to the key economic and business competitors in the EU, even the largest EU states are small, we all can afford to move in this area on our own, and we can benefit from a single trade policy. For a mid-sized European country such as the Czech Republic, that applies to a double extent. Of course, even the strong German economy benefits significantly from single policy. After all, the EU is not the strongest player on the global economic scene. Trade relations are a means for us of deepening our relations with partners, creating new relationships and influencing global policy.

However, trade policies have a wider reach than just a purely economic one. In some cases, they serve as a sign of where the EU is headed, where it belongs and what values it stands on. Such a sign for me is the work to negotiate the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA. The United States is our main political and defence ally, and that fact should also be reflected in trade relations. The signing of the TTIP will not only lead to growth in trade, but will also reaffirm the importance of our partnership. I know that the negotiations regarding the TTIP will still be complex, and I am aware of the many concerns related to it. I fully recognise that the USA is a strong player, which will seek to promote its interests, but that is why I consider it all the more important to remember what I have already mentioned, the basic principles of European cooperation. We must be united, show solidarity towards each other and give the Commission a strong mandate for negotiations, so that Europe can negotiate the best terms of the arrangement.

Another three areas that I will talk about have an external focus, but they have significant impacts on the internal arrangement and stability of the EU.l The aim of the neighbourhood policy is to promote and develop the values on which the EU is based in countries that directly border the EU and to support their stability and prosperity. From the EU's point of view, this is a key shared policy and its success is in our vital interest.

For a long time, it seemed that the neighbourhood policy was having its desired effect and was successful, but the recent developments near the EU's borders have shown a few things: first, that the neighbourhood policy cannot be the only tool that we have available, and second that in certain aspects it has major shortcomings and is failing to achieve its objectives. Since we strongly need a functioning neighbourhood policy, we must fundamentally reform it with a focus mainly on the principle of a differentiated approach to individual partners and the principle of inclusiveness. The structure of this policy is based on two instruments, the Eastern Partnership and the Union for the Mediterranean, which we should maintain.

Partner states in Europe that choose this path, which leads to the EU, must be offered reasonable European perspective. Today this involves mainly Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. The European perspective in the case of these states is a strategic goal and will serve as an impulse for implementing reforms. It is a perspective that these states have, and we who have already fulfilled it should not fail to support our partners.

Something no less important is our ability to ensure our defence and security. Previously, this part of our policy was tied exclusively to NATO, but that trend is changing. While NATO remains a keystone for our security, the EU must play an important role in it as well, because it would be more than wrong not to use the potential for cooperation in this area. Indeed it is a paradox to talk in the case of the EU about defence and arms, since the EU's founders aim was to ensure peace.  But our wish has always been and remains that we be capable of convincing partners and rivals and the possibility of cooperation through dialogue by establishing relationships with them through close ties. It is being shown that this does not always work, and in some cases it simply is not possible to agree, since such an agreement would mean a loss of our individual identity. It is also obvious that there are plenty of problems in Europe's surroundings, which we can either observe or do something about in order to neutralise them. In these cases, a single defence and security policy should serve us, and so that we can truly take advantage of it we must focus on its functioning, mainly with among member states' armed forces, flexibility in the use of their tools and maximum team cooperation in NATO.

The last topic that I want to focus on is the enlargement policy. It naturally must be among the policies that are joint for us. I know that this topic today is not perceived as a fundamental problem, but I am convinced that the enlargement of the EU must be at the very core of our attention. The very idea of European integration is about the unification of the entire continent. I consider enlargement to be a process that will stabilise Europe as a whole over the long term and make it stronger, and therefore we should not give up the idea. Václav Havel and Joschka Fischer today in their already mentioned speeches pleaded for enlargement of the EU to include former Communist countries, including the Czech Republic, and their calls were heeded. I am also doing this for countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe. The fact that a sizeable part of Europe is outside of the main integration process is something view as a shortcoming. It is absolutely fundamental to continue with them in cooperation based on the (shared) values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. States that decide to enter the EU must be given a clear European perspective. In order for these states actually to be able to enter the EU, they must fulfil clearly and precisely defined criteria, which will involve long-term work as well as relatively unpopular steps. They need help in this process. We Czechs know from our own recent experience how important the signs of whether we were counted in or not were for us, whether a European perspective actually existed for us. Therefore, we are aware of the importance of these signs for our partners in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the future of Europe is in our hands. We must continue in the integration process that was begun by its founders in the post-war period. We must fulfil their goals, honour their trust in the opportunity for cooperation and fulfil their effects to ensure a peaceful Europe. That goal is ours as well as theirs. We have the tools to fulfil those aims, and we must use them.

So how could it be summarised in brief how the EU should be? The EU must not give priority to rationality at the expense of hope, and vice versa. Rationality without hope would lead to a loss of attractiveness and public support, and hope without rationality would lead to irresponsibility. It is mainly important for all of us in the EU to understand the EU and its values as our own, so that we will be able to stand up for it and defend it, day after day again and again.

Thank you for your attention.

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