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Tomáš Petříček
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Address of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tomáš Petříček, to the EU and candidate countries

 

Prague, 13 December 2018

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to address you in this format for the first time since my appointment, and special thanks to Ambassador Grubmayr, representing the current EU Council Presidency, for organizing this gathering.

As you well know, I have spent large part of my professional life in Brussels. For that reason, the European Union and its future is something that is very close to my heart. I am firmly convinced that European project is the best thing that could have happened to our continent, and our accession to the Union back in 2004 is the best thing that could have happened to this country. I want to make sure that next year we will commemorate the 15 years since this moment in a solemn and dignifying manner.

Our Union has gone through countless crises and tests of unity and cohesion in recent years. We have managed to surpass them and, I dare to say, to emerge stronger. Not everything is over yet. We still have to reach an agreement on major issues, such as the reform of Common European Asylum System or the future Multiannual Financial Framework. These big decisions will be taken after European citizens will have elected new European Parliament next May, and after the Member States and the European Parliament will have endorsed the new Commission.

But one important milestone is ahead of us before all this. It is called Brexit. Tuesday´s vote in the House of Commons has been postponed.  Still, I hope we will eventually avert a hard Brexit scenario. This would be a failure for everyone. In the coming period we will have to work on the agreement framing our future relations, whose main contours are embedded in the political declaration accompanying the divorce deal.

Excellencies, I have alluded to numerous crises that the European Union has been facing in the past years. From the perspective of diplomacy, it is especially important to foresee how the Union will be able to cope with the external risks. And yes, these have been growing rather than diminishing. It is clear that without committing further resources and without greater efficiency in their allocation, Europe will not be able to stand up to them.

On a general note, simplification in terms of merging various Union’s external action tools into one instrument is laudable, as long as it brings more flexibility and transparency. Its focus on new challenges, such as development, migration, climate change or human rights represents also a step in the right direction. Within the new instrument, we are eager to see sufficient allocation for the neighbourhood countries and the current balance between the funds for Southern and Eastern neighbours maintained.
We have also strongly advocated need for a robust common funding for EU operations, as well as capacity building of our partners, and creation of a dedicated instrument to this end. Thus we are happy that Mrs Mogherini tabled a proposal for European Peace Facility ahead of the June Foreign Affairs Council.

In terms of policies, our response to external challenges has to be multiple-fold: from beefing up our military and defence capabilities, through more effective development and humanitarian action to support of good governance, rule of law and human rights, especially in our neighbourhood.

Speaking of the external challenges, I cannot leave unnoticed the impressive progress that we have made on enhancing EU’s security and defence. I am glad to confirm that one of the projects submitted by the Czech Republic within the framework of Permanent Structured Co-operation, namely the one on electronic warfare, has recently been approved by the EU ministers of defence.

I am also happy that one of the flagship projects of EU-NATO co-operation, namely on military mobility, is moving forward. In November, we had a chance to host general Ben Hodges, one of the spiritual fathers of the idea, at the Transatlantic Policy Forum here in Prague.

Another tool to enhance Union’s security rests in modern development co-operation.  On a  long run, it brings prosperity and hence stability to the countries of global South. By modern, I mean policy that shifts from traditional donor-recipient relationship to one that stimulates economic development, creates jobs and enhances competitiveness. Needless to say, this cannot be achieved without a private sector. Our National Development Bank will launch a pilot guarantee programme for investment projects in developing countries next year.

Making Union’s external action more effective also entails debate initiated by President Juncker on possible use of QMV in EU foreign policy. These proposals do merit thorough consideration. It could lead to our decisions being adopted more easily and faster. However, I am convinced that our unity is the greatest asset of CFSP. It gives us credibility and respect. Greater effectiveness can also be achieved by other means, for instance by improvement in our working methods.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me now briefly touch upon three geographical areas where our Union needs to do more: Western Balkans, Eastern Europe and Africa. 

I am delighted that our Balkan friends are here with us today, and that South Eastern Europe features among the Austrian Presidency priorities. I believe the upcoming Romanian presidency will have it high on the agenda too. As you well know, the Czech Republic has been a staunch supporter of the enlargement process, and I can assure you we will remain one. That’s why I am planning to pay a visit to the region soon. We are also discussing a joint visit with my Slovak counterpart Miro Lajčák.

Speaking of EU foreign policy toolbox, no doubt enlargement has been the most effective policy at our disposal. Unfortunately, we have not made the kind of progress I would imagine on this dossier. Albania and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have not launched their accession talks, despite the positive assessment of the Commission. I do hope we will be in a different situation next June, especially in the context of a historical agreement that our Macedonian and Greek friends reached recently.

I also hope that in the coming months and years Bosnia and Kosovo will be able to progress towards EU integration swiftly. Their success and eventual integration is paramount to regional stability. But enormous effort will be required by both of them before this happens. 

Our Balkan friends have a clear perspective of EU accession. But I believe we must also support the Eastern European countries in their European choice. Ukraine is facing double elections in 2019. Its Eastern territories are still subject to Russian aggression, while recent developments in the Azov Sea exacerbated the conflict further. Elections are due also in Moldova and in Armenia. In all these cases, we can expect Russian pressure and meddling, attempting to secure outcome favourable to Russia. It is our duty to support the resilience of partner countries to such manipulation. They have every right to choose a foreign policy course that they believe is the best for them.

Next year will also mark the 10th anniversary of Eastern partnership. I do not have to remind you that it was here in Prague that the policy was conceived. We will use this anniversary for stock taking and thinking where we could take it further.
Finally, the EU southern neighbourhood also has to be on our radar. I am referring especially to our engagement in Africa. It cumulates enormous problems that prevent it from developing along the same trajectory as other parts of the world. Yet, it also represents countless opportunities, with its young, dynamic and entrepreneurial population and growing middle class.

I believe that strengthening the competitiveness of African economies and creation of environment conducive to business is the best recipe for brighter future. It will be a long-haul run with many hurdles on the way. But it is necessary that Africa moves in this direction.

We will be shortly updating our strategy on Sub-Saharan Africa. Enhancing Africa’s stability will be its main leitmotiv.  This entails hard security measures, which in our case will focus mainly on North Africa and the Sahel region. But soft measures need to go hand in hand with security and law enforcement: these include curbing corruption, improving education, attracting investment and promoting human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are but a few issues that we will have to tackle jointly, should we wish our Union to succeed in a more connected, contested and complex world. I am firmly convinced we can achieve this. I hope that the European Parliament elections I alluded to at the beginning will result in a strong leadership for a strong Union for the next five years. Thank you for your attention.
 

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