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Ministr zahraničí Tomáš Petříček
Photo: © MZV/MFA
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Address of Minister Petříček to the EU and candidate countries’ HoMs

 

10 April 2019, Intercontinental Hotel

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends and colleagues,

It is my pleasure and privilege to address you again in this format. Thank you, Ambassador Buriacu and the Romanian Presidency of the EU Council, for your hospitality when hosting us today.

I want to address several important topics in the light of two recent events.

Last week, I met with many of your ministers in Washington D.C. to commemorate the 70th anniversary of NATO. It was a unique opportunity to reflect on the most successful military Alliance in history. It also served as a reminder of what we stand for. It is not only the military defence of the North Atlantic area against our adversaries. We also stand for defence of our values - freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights. This was clearly expressed in the address of Secretary-General Stoltenberg to both chambers of US Congress.

The ministerial was well prepared, and managed to send a strong signal of unity and cohesion among Allies. Especially on issues such as the INF treaty, Afghanistan and Black Sea security. This was really useful ahead of the crucial domestic debate, which we will have, this coming autumn, on the deployment of our forces abroad.

Allow me to say that the termination of the INF treaty will create a void that can be detrimental on several fronts: to the interests of this country, to arms control regimes and their cooperative arrangements, and also to the Alliance’s deterrence credibility and possibly to our cohesion. I want to personally engage in keeping this issue on the table. I expect it will also be taken up by the next edition of the Czernin Security Forum, the traditional conference in Prague, at the end of this year.

I mentioned that NATO has proved to be the most successful Alliance in history, by efficiently deterring attacks against it. But its success will increasingly depend on its ability to keep continuously adapting to the changing security environment. New challenges are present in all our debates. The fact that we are today having a debate on China in the Alliance would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

Keeping pace with the external change represents the major challenge in the long run. The one realm where it will be particularly visible is cyber. We all suspect that this might turn into the main battlefield in the future, with the digitalisation of our critical infrastructure advancing through the build-up of 5G networks.

You all know that we take cyber security very seriously. By the way, it was part of the reason why I was invited to Washington shortly before the NATO ministerial and discussed the issue with Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Advisor Bolton.

As part of our efforts, we will be hosting a non-public conference at the MFA in early May under the auspices of the Prime Minister and myself, to discuss further how to protect our critical infrastructure and future 5G networks. Although most proceedings of the conference will be by invitation only and off-the-record, we still foresee publishing some key outcomes in the aftermath. My deputy Martin Povejšil is also planning a special briefing later this month.

Excellencies, there were a number of topical issues that we tackled during the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxemburg, which I just attended on Monday.

By adopting conclusions on Afghanistan we demonstrated that the Union is willing to take on a stronger role in this theater, which has so far been an arena for NATO engagement. To me, it serves as yet another example of what can be a productive EU-NATO co-operation. This should help the EU to become more of a real player, rather than only a payer.

We have also discussed preparations for the Eastern partnership ministerial in May, which will commemorate 10 years of this policy. I need not remind you that this has a particular importance for us in Prague, where the policy was officially launched. We will be hosting a few events on the occasion of the anniversary. Firstly, on 16-17 April with a focus on economic co-operation, and then on 5 June to discuss the Partnership’s political aspects.

These debates should help us reflect where to take the Partnership next. My personal belief is that differentiation and focus on tailored practical co-operation represent the way forward. For this purpose, we will strengthen our efforts to assist the partners in public administration reform and will organise another seminar of this kind in Prague in the second half of the year, together with our Estonian friends.

The future of Eastern Partnership also requires adequate financing. We want to see sufficient funding for Eastern partners guaranteed in the future NDICI instrument, as we are moving ahead in the EU process in the region. The current balance of funding between the Eastern and Southern dimensions needs to be maintained. And let us be clear, our success or failure in affecting positive change in our neighbourhood will largely determine how we can succeed globally.

Speaking of money brings me to the upcoming landmark that will have a crucial impact on how the Union uses its resources, namely the European Parliament elections. As you know this is a topic close to my heart, not least because I was associated with the EP for a large part of my professional life. Polls suggest that constructive pro-European forces will gain a majority. They will need to endorse a strong leadership approach to tackle the challenges we face. I hope there will a higher voter turnout in my country than during the previous elections. I will personally do my best to help make this happen.

Brexit still leaves me concerned, especially the enduring uncertainty. I do hope we will finally have a “Velvet divorce” with our British friends. Our Prime Ministers are gathering later today to discuss Ms. May’s request to extend the Brexit date until 30 June. Our position remains clear: we do not want the UK to leave the Union without an agreement. My government is likely to agree to another extension beyond 22 May, if the UK fulfils its obligations under the EU law. That includes preparing for the EP elections, and suggesting a clear way forward. The Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened, the EU decision-making autonomy and institutional framework must be respected, and the Irish border issue needs to be settled in a satisfactory manner.

Of course we have our Western Balkans friends with us today, and I am happy to reassure you that have our full attention. I have recently paid a visit to Albania and Northern Macedonia to support your countries' bid to open the EU accession talks, which will be discussed at the General Affairs Council in June. And I will soon be travelling to Bosnia and Herzegovina to get familiar with the situation ahead of the publication of the Commission's Opinion, as well as to Montenegro where a visit has long been overdue. 

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I am happy to engage in a discussion and look forward to your questions and comments.

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