Speeches

18. 10. 2018 13:39

The vision of the future of the EU

Andrej Babiš v Management Center Innsbruck, 18. října 2018.
Andrej Babiš in Management Center in Innsbruck, 18th October 2018.
Speech of Andrej Babiš, The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic in Management Center in Innsbruck.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking Professor Andreas Altmann for inviting me here today. Thank you Mr. Altmann.   

I was asked to speak a bit about my opinion concerning entrepreneurs entering politics.

First, let me stress, that I am not an entrepreneur anymore, 2 years ago all my assets were transferred to a trust fund and I already left the company 5 years ago.

But yes, before entering politics I was an entrepreneur and most of my professional experience has been in business.

I have never said that all politicians should be entrepreneurs; government needs individuals from all sectors.

However, I said, and I believe, that we should have more politicians, who have already achieved something in their lives.  People who can then use that life experience in service of their country. Not only entrepreneurs, but people of all careers: managers, bankers, athletes, engineers, scientists, and countless other professions.

Politics should not only consist of professional politicians with no life experience. Politics should be a second career choice based on a personal desire to serve the common good.

But no one should be a politician to get richer.

This is something that has been very typical in the last thirty years in the Czech Republic.

Some politicians become miraculously rich when they leave politics and others naturally become richer by absorbing all these contacts and selling that networking knowledge.

I did not enter politics for money and my goal is not at all to make business contacts. I am here to use my business experience to find practical solutions for my fellow Czechs and make their lives better.

People sometimes feel that politics is just empty ideological talk with no visions, goals or concrete projects. I know this feeling as well. Eventually when people get fed up, they tend to seek someone who is capable of both management and leadership, and I think that the entrepreneurs could be part of the answer to this call.

Businessmen in politics are common in the US.  The Bush family, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover or Michael Bloomberg, the very successful mayor of New York were all successful businessmen before they entered into politics. There would not be national success without businessmen in America.

But businessmen in politics are rare in Europe. However, today European nations need the steady leadership of people who know how to bring about continued growth and jobs.

For me, it was the experience of being a businessman that gave me the tools to work towards these goals in the government. It gave me the understanding of everything from economic management, to tax collection, state debt and budget. I would like to invite you to have a look at my results in the Czech Republic since I became the minister of finance and currently the Prime Minister:

By the end of this year the Czech Republic expects/hopes to have a balanced state budget.  (The word ‘hope’ here does not follow the aforementioned ‘results’)

The public budget including the sum of health insurance, the budget of the municipalities and regions will have a surplus - roughly 3.3 billion EUR, which is undoubtedly the best result in the history of our country.

In addition the state debt at the end of 2013 was 65 billion EUR. At the end of 2018 it will be 63 billion EUR or even less. This year the debt will not grow. From the end of 2013 we reduced the debt by 2 billion EUR, which is one of the best result in Europe with 33% of GDP.  In Austria it is 74% of GDP, in Italy 130% and in Greece even 188% of GDP. 

The Czech economy has achieved very good results even by international comparison. Since 2014 we have increased GDP by 13% which is a very decent result. We have increased productivity and have achieved full employment. How many countries in the EU can say that the unemployment rate is around 2.5%?

And I would also like to add that the Czech Republic is the sixth safest country in the world. These are results which many countries in the EU do not have. We need people with practical skills to solve practical problems.  

The question now is: what should you do if you decide to enter politics? How can we make the system better both at national and European levels? If you allow me, I would like to talk about my vision of the future European Union and how it should be reformed.

I think it is absurd that all kinds of EU regulations are invented by people who have never experienced and never felt the impact of those regulations in real life and on businesses.

I find it equally absurd that those who have never been employees in a business, or started their own, preach about the benefits of free markets and individual responsibility.

With that being said and despite all my criticisms, I believe that the European Union is a globally unique project, which brought peace, security and prosperity for our continent. It is quite remarkable that we manage to cooperate peacefully, given how different our opinions often are.

The world around us is changing quickly, there are threats of trade wars. Due to the power of quickly growing Asian economies, Europe must stay united and intensely negotiate regarding the trade balance.  

European history has created a continent of nation-states with unique cultures and traditions. We must respect these differences and fight for our values.

The European Union is our family. No brother or sister is identical, and we might have very different tastes and opinions. We might not always agree with each other.

For me, the best way that the Union can help our citizens and unite our nations is for the European Union to concentrate on areas in which it can achieve something meaningful for all and abandon ambitions which are unhelpful, unrealistic and a waste of both time and focus. Now is time for practical thinking and returning to our roots.

The Roots of the Union were security, peace and prosperity.

First and foremost, it should once again focus on the liberalization and deepening of the single market, which is still unfinished.

On the contrary to this much needed focus, I see tendencies by some governments and parties to call for the dismantling of the single market. There are attempts to install protectionism from inside the single market as was demonstrated most recently by the Directive on the posting of workers and its ideas of one region, one wage, which go against the principles of the single market, including the Freedom of movement of goods and services.

The EU must work to further liberalize the single market, especially in services. It should build a digital single market and should stay active when it comes to protecting consumers but also it must perceive the differences in the energy production of individual member states.

Outside the Union, the EU must strengthen its role in liberalizing international trade, which is crucial for our open, export-oriented economy and to generate even more growth. Just as we must increase trade among ourselves, we must do so around the world.

In order to bring this focus, the EU institutions should be reformed.  The decision making process should be streamlined. It should produce less, but more effectively. It should weigh the benefits of current regulations and if there are no longer clear and tangible benefits, it should dismantle and remove those old regulations.

It should be clear it is not the European Commission that is producing economic growth. It is the private sector, companies and entrepreneurs, and they can only do so by having the space to breathe more freely. New regulations do not create economic growth, free people do.

The European institutions are the system to work towards solving European problems. It is not the solution in itself. It is up to the leaders of the European nation-states to decide what Europe does or does not do.

After Britain leaves, I fear that the EU will miss its spirit of freedom and their fever to fight against regulation. It is now the duty of the countries of Central Europe together with the Netherlands and the Nordic countries to pick up this flag of free markets and free trade. I hope that others will join us in time.  

The Second area of common agreement must be external security. We must emphasize proper protection of the EU’s outer border. With the migration issue, it is important that V-4 countries keep their position against mandatory redistribution mechanisms and quotas.

We are for solidarity. But solidarity should also be effective and practical. We must and will help, but the most practical solution is to address the migration problem at it’s roots/where it begins, in Africa and the Middle East. We must do more to remove the desire to move here, by making life better there.

At the same time, we need strong borders. We must do everything we can to protect the Schengen system, which guarantees in practice the free movement of people and goods. Schengen can only work if its external entries are secure. We need to focus on the best way to jointly strengthen protection of the external border and enlarge the Schengen zone to include Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia immediately and the Western Balkans as soon as possible.

Let me be clear again, just because we agree on important issues like the single market and external security does not mean we support those groups or parties who seek an illiberal democracy in Europe. I should mention that the Czech Republic has nothing to do with these tendencies. We have a functioning and independent judicial system and the rule of law. Police and state attorneys are free of political pressure. We have a functioning and respectable constitutional court and an independent central bank. We have a free and competing media and a flourishing civic society and NGOs.

Ladies and gentlemen, Europe is at a crossroads. We absolutely disagree with the idea of a two-speed Europe where the core of the EU would integrate more and its periphery less. We cannot have a Union where you have one foot in and one foot out. The EU should stay united, but to do this, it must reform. Let’s focus our energies on getting the core systems like the single market right before we use it elsewhere. We must let the European Council members decide where they believe Europe must act and where it is better to leave policy to Member States. Trying to force Member States to do things that their citizens do not want will only backfire on Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Let’s go back to the Roots. More Europe is not the Answer, a Better Europe is.  Thank you.

Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

 

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