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16. 12. 2008 15:37

Speech delivered by Alexandr Vondra at the Conference of Committee Chairs in the European Parliament

Delivered by Alexandr Vondra, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of the Czech Republic, on the occasion of presentation of priority tasks of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council at the Conference of Committee Chairs in the European Parliament Strasbourg, 16 December 2008

Dear Chairman Galeote, dear Chairs,

It is with great pleasure that I have accepted your invitation to present on the soil of the European Parliament major priority tasks, which we set as the future Presidency of the EU Council. There are at least three reasons for which a genuine cooperation between the Council and the European Parliament is absolutely crucial, not only for the success of the Czech Presidency, but especially for the success of the European project:

First, the amplitude of challenges which require our immediate action – be it the global financial turmoil, looming economic recession, the need to agree the post-Kyoto regime, the foreign policy challenges or the bringing of the Lisbon Treaty into being.

Second, the limited time remaining for legislative work before you will leave to seek the reconfirmation of your democratic mandate with your fellow citizens.

Third, the Czech Republic will be taking over the steering wheel of the Council at difficult times of political transition of EU institutions - the expertise of the European parliament will therefore be highly valued.

I already had the pleasure of meeting many of you – both me and my fellow ministers have been visiting the EP in the past months and exchanging views on the future joint activities. I do hope that today’s meeting will enable us to draw the first picture of our cooperation, of our respective priorities for the months to come and lay a basis for a good understanding throughout the Czech Presidency.

The Czech Presidency will have a strong symbolic setting
- 5th anniversary of EU Eastern enlargement will enable us to balance the costs and benefits of the big bang enlargement for both the acceeding and „old“ Member States“. The Czech Presidency foresees an international conference „5 years after“, which will present the results of a study by the European Commission on the economic benefits of the 2004 enlargement. Its outcome could be further debated in the Council.
- 20th anniversary of the fall of Iron curtain, which has enabled Europe to reunite and which is an opportunity to remind our young generation of the importance of human rights and democracy. This anniversary has become one of the communication priorities of the EU institutions for 2009 and will take shape i.e. in the Platform of European memory and conscience, researching and reminding us of the totalitarian past of one part of Europe. This platform will be presented to the EP in a hearing in mid-March 2009
- 2009 will be the year of creativity and innovations

But the Czech Presidency will first and foremost have a strong mission:
A mission to address new and contradictory challenges, so typical for the new multipolar world that is taking shape right now. In this world cooperation is needed as much as competition, the concern over climate needs to be reconciled with the concern over competitiveness and security, negative demographic development has to be tackled as much as illegal immigration. It is not easy to find answers to these confusing trends.

We believe strongly, that the precondition for Europe´s success in this new world is flexibility, ability to react quickly but rationally. Since our capacity to do so is often hindered most by internal barriers, which can be dismantled, the Czech EU Presidency comes with a vision of Europe without barriers – Europe making full use of its economic, human as well as cultural potential.

Three main priorities fall under this motto (3E´s):
1) Economy
Only an economically strong and influential EU can solve international political, environmental, security, social or commercial challenges. The financial crisis has raised a number of issues that the Czech Presidency will have to deal with.
o Management of the current financial and economic risks brings about three big topics – healing financial markets, dealing with economic recession and debating the future global financial architecture. Unless urgency measures will be required, the Czech Presidency will make efforts for a speedy adoption of legislation on the Capital Requirements, Credit Rating Agencies, Solvency, etc. We will also expect with interest the outcome of the Larosiere group. While pursuing these activities, the Czech Presidency will underline the need to respect basic principles of the free market and values on which EU is founded.

o European Recovery plan – in line with the European Council conclusions the Czech Presidency is ready to implement the policies proposed by the plan. We believe however, that it is crucial to anchor the plan within the framework of the current mid- and longterm initiatives, such as the Lisbon strategy and the Stability and Growth Pact. The Czech Presidency will lend most time and effort during the first 3 months of 2009 to the preparation of the spring European Council. We are expected to report there not only on the implementation of the plan, but also to make recommendations on increasing competitiveness, fiscal sustainability and financial stability. We believe that the economic slowdown must be seen i.a. as an opportunity for speeding up reforms, increasing competitiveness, employment and long-term sustainability of public finance. Increasing competitiveness is the best strategy for Europe.
-  Better regulation. It is important to continue decreasing the regulatory burden, especially with respect to SME´s. We will support new measures heading in this direction in the Action programme at the spring European Council. We are also persuaded about the benefits of the impact assessments of newly proposed policies. We are ready to prepare the Council positions on the 3rd strategic review of better regulation.

- It is equally important to continue developing human capital via education, research and innovation. The Presidency will support further development of the European Research Area, in particular big research infrastructures.

- Remaining barriers of the four basic freedoms of the EU internal market should be dismantled in order to unleish additional economic potential. We will stress that last remaining limitations of the free movement of workers should be abolished. We shall pay attention also to the crossborder provision of services. An introduction od a new 5th freedom - the mobility of researchers - has much of our support.

2) Energy

Energy is the fuel of economy. On one hand, the Czech Presidency will work on finalizing the legislation already in the pipeline:

o Climate change package. We welcome the political compromise on the package born on the last European Council and we keep the fingers crossed for the European parliaments´ vote today and tomorrow, hoping for a 1st reading agreement. Shall that not succeed, we are ready to pursue the dialogue with the Parliament in order to reach a common European stance for Copenhagen. We will support an open and critical debate on all accessible sources of energy, with specific aim on new technologies, energy efficiency, risks and opportunities of the nuclear energy as well as renewables.

o Internal energy market – the Czech Presidency considers the creation of a transparent, stable, efficient and interconnected internal energy market to be precondition for ensuring safe, sustainable and competitive energy supplies. The finalization of the 3rd energy package will therefore belong to our priorities. We will also open a discussion on possible introduction of a single transparent tarif for crossborder transmission of electricity.

On the other hand, we would like to come up with some new contributions and tools for increasing the European energy security:

o Infrastructure - based on the annual Commission´s document, the Strategic energy review and the Green book on transeuropean energy networks, we will be looking into the investment into transmission and transport capacities within the member states, which we consider to be one of the preconditions of finalizing the common energy market.

o Analysis of energy demand and supply: we would like to contribute to energy security by identifying priority actions in infrastructure thanks to a (so far non-existant) mid- and long-term perspective analysis of energy demand and supply.

o Coordination of the transmission operators - within the finalization of the 3rd energy package we will bring forward proposals for improving the coordination mechanisms between European operators enabling them to communicate on a daily basis and prevent blackouts.

o Diversification. The Czech Presidency would like to develop contractual relations with third countries and regions with the aim to diversify energy sources and routes. We would like to organize a Southern Corridor High Level Meeting in Brussels with number of transit or supplying countries from the Caspian region and possibly try to reach progress in the Nabucco project. We also need to communicate with Russia, who is Europe´s prime energy supplier – it is the intention of the Czech Presidency to organize an extraordinary Permanent Partnership Council EU-Russia.

3) Europe in the world

The Czech Presidency intends to pay great attention to the external policy of the EU. Europe has no choice – the Georgian crisis has shown that she already is a global player, with global responsibilities which go hand in hand with it.
Foreign policy priorities of the Czech Presidency will have an Eastern dimension (directed towards our neighbors and towards Russia) and a Western one (aimed at the United States and the new administration).

Our relationship to Russia will be pivotal in the determination of EU´s geopolitical weight for the next decades. The disproportionate reaction of Russia during the Georgian conflict has underlined the need for EU to understand better Russiaa and its interestes. A shared analysis of Russia is a basis for once achieving a more coherent EU policy on Russia. The Czech Presidency will therefore support the mutual cooperation of EU experts on Russia.

Eastern partnership
In line with our historical ties as well as current international challenges, Eastern partnership will be the main foreign policy priority of the Czech Presidency. In the era of enlargement fatigue, we must find new concepts for granting our Eastern neighbors more political attention and more financial resources. Georgia is a common transatlantic task. But Ukraine – divided as it is on its NATO membership perspective – remains an EU homework. Offering a project-based institutionally anchored cooperation might be the way to solve the quadrature of the circle.

The European Council has supported the idea of a substantial Eastern Partnership, that was first outlined by the Czech Republic, followed by a well elaborated Swedish and Polish paper. The partnership should include very concrete measures – bilateral as well as multilateral. Bilaterally we should go ahead with facilitation of mobility and people to people contacts, accompanied by better border management. In the area of economy, deep free trade agreements should be negotiated. In the domain of energy, we should extend EU energy acquis to our partner countries.

The Czech Presidency would like to formally launch the Eastern partnership by an „Eastern summit“, organized in Prague, probably in spring 2009 with participation of EU27 + 6 Caucasian countries and countries directly neighboring with the EU. This summit should commit EU on the structure of the partnership. We firmly believe that this way the much needed balance in EU´s approach towards its neighbors could be reached: in 2008 we´ve had a „Meditarreanean spring“, spring of 2009 could be dedicated to the East.

Transatlantic bond
The new administration will take office during our Presidency and we need to start setting the future agenda of our collaboration. The importance of the transatlantic cooperation has been highlighted by a number of global challenges – security, humanitarian, economic, energy or environmental. EU and US should strengthen their cooperation vis a vis third countries. The Czech Presidency will follow-up the November 2008 Gymnich, which has outlined 4 basic areas of transatlantic dialogue: efficient multilateralism, Middle East, Pakistan/Afghanistan and Russia. We would like to organize an informal summit EU-USA in Prague which would be an occasion to debate two issues not covered on other meetings with the American Presidents: our common stance for the Copenhagen conference on post-Kyoto regime and Middle East. Another area we would like to support is regulatory cooperation – we would like to give a boost to the Transatlantic Economic Council during the Czech Presidency. Our task will be to avoid protectionism and isolationism, as well as to manage EU expectations on the new administration.

In the context of the financial crisis and events in Georgia, Western Balkans seems to be somehow forgotten. We however have the duty to finish our homework there as soon as possible. The Czech Presidency will be organizing an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers dedicated to the Balkans in March 2009 and this is a brief description of what we would like to do:
- We will encourage Croatia to speed up its preparations in order to finish the accession process by the end of 2009.
- We will also have to manage the situation in other Western Balkans countries and we should do our best to defreeze the interim agreement in Serbia.
- We will probably have to decide on the future status of the OHR in Bosnia
- We also want to act strongly in the area of the implementation of the visa liberalisation roadmaps so as to facilitate contact with the EU for the citizens of the countries of the Western Balkans.

The Georgian crisis has highlighted the strategic importance of Turkey. Now, more than ever before, we need Turkey to help us stabilise our neighborhood. Turkey is also our key partner in the area of energy security. I therefore believe that we should urge the progress in the accession negotiations.

To conclude my speech, let me say a few words on my vision of what the Czech Presidency will be like.

First, we are a middle-sized country, not a superpower. Our contribution to the EU will be shaped accordingly to that and will be based on a realistic estimation of our capacities. Our main added value will be moderation, search for balance and inclusive solutions – which will be particularly important in relation to Ireland.

Second, „Europe without barriers“ is not to be confounded with Europe without rules – this goes for economy, as well as for politics. Rules governing our mutual relations are at the very core of the success of the European integration. They have brought order into our encounters, without which the decades of European prosperity would never have been feasible. Respect for the rules of the game will therefore be the guiding principle of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council.
Thank you for your attention.

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