Strasbourg, 6 July 2022
On Wednesday 6 July 2022, Petr Fiala, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, addressed a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In his speech, he outlined the priorities of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU and further plans on how to steer the European Union through the current crises.
Madam President, Dear Roberta, dear Members of the European Parliament, Madam President of the Commission, Dear Ursula, Mr. President of the European Council.
It is a great pleasure to be here today to present the Czech Republic’s plans for our Presidency of the Council of the EU. This is the second Presidency for my country, but the first under the Lisbon Treaty.
We are building on the excellent French Presidency. It has managed to complete a number of proposals successfully. It was not easy to find a compromise on such a difficult debate like the Fit for 55 package in the area of climate, or on new rules for the digital economy.
But the most important thing that was achieved during the French Presidency was a united action in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Our response was quick, it was tough and, most importantly, it was united.
Six packages of sanctions were not approved easily. A number of Member States had to give up their positions, some of their economic interests and some of their comfort. But because we were convinced that it was right to stand up to Russia and to help our friend and ally –I mean Ukraine – we did it.
Together we also granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. It gave them hope and faith in the future and in joining free and democratic Europe.Our Presidency wants to build on this work.
And now, according to the European Parliament tradition, allow me to present the main priorities of our Presidency in my mother language, in Czech.
Ladies and gentlemen, the themes and priorities we want to address have been many months in the making, but February 24, 2022, turned most of our plans we had upside down. Our priorities reflect this new situation.
We are at a time when there is a war going on just outside the borders of the European Union. The classic conventional conflict that many of us thought was a thing of the past in Europe.
But in addition to conventional warfare, Russia is waging a hybrid war. It is deliberately triggering a refugee wave, using energy resources as its weapon and creating a food crisis through targeted attacks on infrastructure.
We are fortunate that our membership of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation protects us from the most direct and tragic consequences that the Ukrainian people have to face.
When I visited President Zelenskyy in Kyiv on 15th March, together with the Polish and Slovenia Prime Ministers, I saw with my own eyes the heroism of Ukrainians who have fought and are still fighting for their right to exist and for the right to belong to our Western civilisation.This once again reminded me that our values are not self-evident and need to be defended daily.
The values for which Ukraine is dying today are values that were also defended by one of the founders of the modern Czech state, our first president, Václav Havel. It was his inspiring essay from 1996 that led us to the motto of our Presidency, “Europe as a task”. Indeed, Europe has many tasks ahead! Similarly, the Czech Presidency of the Council has many tasks ahead.
The main task in the period ahead will be to find a united and strong consensus on measures that will mitigate the negative impact of the current crises on our citizens as much as possible. Because inflation, energy scarcity or food crisis are threats that we can best face together. I believe that both the Council and the European Parliament will be in agreement on this.
Europe as a task is a commitment for us. Not a foregone conclusion, but something that needs to be constantly worked on, something that needs to be improved. And we need to make changes where things do not work as planned.
Europe should lead by example: it should heed its conscience and rise to the challenge. But these solutions must be balanced so that too much emphasis on one area does not damage or neglect another, such as social reconciliation or our economies.
The Czech Republic will always try to carefully take into account all views expressed in our discussions. We must also avoid divisions among ourselves and always try to find agreement among as many of us as possible. But we also need to be more respectful of the views and positions of others, even if we do not agree with them directly.
Although Havel’s memorable words about Europe as a task were written in a different time, in a different Europe from than the one we have now, its basic message is still as strong. We take as our mission the motto “rethink, rebuild, repower” which reflects the challenges and problems of today’s Europe and our response to them.
The Czech Presidency will want to build a secure and prosperous EU. One that is true to the values of freedom and democracy. One that allows all citizens to travel and work or do business freely in the internal market. One that understands that we have a responsibility to the environment, which we must pass on to future generations in good condition. One where we build on what unites us but respects what separates us. That is the EU we want!
The five pillars of the Czech Presidency, which I would now like to present to you in turn, are in keeping with this objective:
The first priority is the management of the refugee crisis and the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine.
Russia’s aggression is having an impact on every state in Europe, whether directly or indirectly. One of the direct consequences is the most massive refugee wave since World War II. The Czech Republic is one of the countries with the largest proportion of Ukrainian refugees per population. They make up over 3.5 % of our population.
We also have our bitter experience with Russian imperialism. We know what Russia’s aggressive policies can do.
The Czech Republic is therefore convinced that the EU’s political and military support for Ukraine is in the vital interest of the entire Union, with fundamental implications for the future of the continent.
For this reason, the Czech Presidency will consistently defend and support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, using all the instruments at the EU’s disposal. We will emphasise a firm and united stance towards Russia, as well as maximum assistance to Member States in providing military support to Ukraine or in coping with the consequences of the migration wave.
It is equally important to look to the future. At the last European Council, we succeeded in approving Ukraine’s candidate status. I am pleased that the European Parliament has also given us its vocal support in this regard. But the journey must not end there.
Another important task of the Czech Presidency will be the preparation of the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine. We must focus in particular on the restoration of infrastructure, the provision of basic services and economic reconstruction and stability. The European Union must play a fundamental role here. After all, this is what President von der Leyen and I demonstrated together on Monday at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano, Switzerland.
Ukraine’s road to the EU will be a long one, but we must work together to make it a success and strengthen the European Union.
The second priority is energy security.
The current crisis has fully revealed how existentially important it is for the future of the EU to ensure its independence from countries that threaten our security. We are, of course, talking about Russian gas, oil and coal.
The path that the Czech Presidency wants to take is primarily to work on common European projects that free us from our dependence on Russia. The Czech Presidency will focus on energy security issues and the accelerated implementation of REPowerEU diversification of resources is an important part of this.
We are ready to work on coordinating gas stocks ahead of the coming winter and to promote voluntary joint purchasing, following the model that effective during the COVID-19 crisis. We should always bear in mind that we may find ourselves in a situation where solidarity between Member States is needed more than ever.
Building the EU’s energy resilience through the development of energy infrastructure and supporting all domestic emission-free energy sources, and their role both in ensuring the EU’s energy security and in meeting climate goals, cannot be overlooked. The long-term goal of decarbonising the European economy goes largely hand in hand with the short-term goal of de-Russifying energy supplies.
In order to become energy independent from Russia, we need to take advantage of all the opportunities that our geographical conditions allow us. Due to the size of the Union and the number of Member States, there is no one single solution. Each Member State must be able to choose the energy mix that best suits its own conditions and that enables it both to meet its climate objectives and withdraw from Russian energy supplies.
If we really want to meet these climate objectives, we must also be able to finance them. Today, you will vote on an objection to the taxonomy that the European Commission has presented. I would like to stress that this is a very fragile proposal which caters to a number of countries that will only be able to meet their climate targets as a result of these criteria. I therefore take this opportunity to ask you, not to reject this carefully negotiated and fragile compromise. Nuclear energy and gas from safe countries will be the only means for many Member States to reach our shared climate goals in the years to come.
The war on the European continent has shown the need to strengthen European defence capabilities and the security of cyberspace, which is our third priority.
Given the current geopolitical situation, strengthening European security and defence capabilities is crucial. NATO is a natural partner for the EU on this issue, and the implementation of the key themes in the Strategic Compass is an appropriate framework.
We will work to bolster European cooperation by strengthening Member States’ defence capabilities. In particular, the replenishment of military depots is urgent in the context of the assistance that Member States are providing to Ukraine.
I consider it necessary to develop the European defence industry, including investments in reducing technological dependence on untrustworthy countries. In the long term, we will work to facilitate joint purchases of military equipment.
With the new era of digitalisation, new types of threats are emerging, and are increasingly being exploited by hostile actors. Therefore, we will also focus on cyber threats and strengthening Europe’s resilience to hybrid threats from the outside. This concerns the fight against disinformation and the security of cyberspace and key infrastructure, including EU institutions. All this with the involvement of relevant international partners.
Already, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of the European economy and the overly unilateral dependence on certain countries. The strategic resilience of the European economy is therefore important and is our fourth priority.
Europe must be an industrial and technological leader.The key to this is a well-functioning internal market without unnecessary administrative barriers, which will strengthen the competitiveness of European companies.
We therefore need to better understand the supply chains that are the backbone of our economy and, ideally, shorten them as much as possible. Only in this way can we ensure that the availability of strategic raw materials and parts is always a certainty.
Deepening free trade with other partners who share our values plays a key role in this. The more quality free trade agreements we have, the more we can diversify our trade links and supply chains.
The digitisation and automation of European industry will be important, and it must once again be a leader in innovation, development and, above all, the use of new technologies.
Food security is also part of the strategic resilience of the European economy. The Common Agricultural Policy has made the EU food self-sufficient. However, the war in Ukraine is also having an impact in this area and the EU must respond.
At the same time, we must not forget the need to ensure sufficient food supplies in other parts of the world, especially the most vulnerable regions, an not only because destabilisation in these regions would represent a significant security threat for Europe.
Ronald Reagan once said that freedom is never more than a generation away from its demise. I add that the same can be said of democracy. That is why the resilience of democratic institutions to both external and internal threats is crucial. Which is our fifth and final priority.
Europe’s long-term prosperity and stability is based on functioning democratic mechanisms. Our societies are constantly under attack from those who resent our values. Who resent freedom and democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
We, on the contrary, must defend these values. We will therefore vigorously support the respect and strengthening of freedoms, human rights and European values. We will also strengthen civil society, independent media and independent institutions, across the whole of the European continent.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt that we are faced with difficult times, and not only in terms of the crisis caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine. We are dealing with high inflation and ever-increasing energy prices. In some of our countries, there is the threat of rising unemployment, and even the possibility of a fall in GDP in some countries.
Therefore, we must not forget those citizens for whom this will have a profound social impact. We must not forget the poor and needy. I can assure you that we will systematically address these issues as part of our Presidency.
Ladies and gentlemen, the six-month presidency is indeed a short time. However, I can assure you that the Czech Presidency is ready to play its role actively. We are ready to focus on an open dialogue, to seek compromises and functional solutions in cooperation with other EU institutions.
I believe that we will be able to deliver on our promises. I hope that with our help Ukraine will soon be on the way to full recovery. I also hope that we will be successful in the fight against inflation, in ensuring energy security, and employment and increasing the competitiveness of our economies. I trust that we will be even stronger than we are now.
Ladies and gentlemen, I´m convinced that we can count on the help of the European Parliament, which is a pillar of European democracy. We highly value democratic debates on its floor.
I am looking forward for the debate. Thank you for your attention.
Source – Czech EU Council Presidency