Speech of the President of the Republic Petr Pavel in the European Parliament's Chamber of Deputies
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of Europe,
I am extremely delighted for the opportunity to address the plenary of the European Parliament today. This institution bears key responsibility for the shape of our common European future. Next year we will mark 20 years since my country, Czechia, has participated on this project. Today we take it for granted, but for most of the last century, we did not make free decisions about our country. This had changed. Even though some people are trying to tell otherwise.
Je voudrais commencer mon discours en remerciant la famille européenne pour tout le soutien qu'elle a apporté à mon pays. L'intégration européenne a été le principal moteur de notre transformation politique et économique au tournant du siècle dernier. Reconstruire les institutions démocratiques, assurer une concurrence politique libre, sortir de l’économie planifiée : Tels étaient les principaux défis à l'époque.
Our main driving force was the desire to return to where we have always historically belonged. To a Europe based on democratic and moral imperative. A Europe based on the legacy of the Enlightenment and critical thinking. To a Europe where technological progress would serve to advance our societies.
Yet, Europe has not always been defined by its ideals. Far too often did Europeans resort to violence. The consequences of the two world wars were tragic. Europe was divided, with its eastern half alienated from its true self, abducted by the Soviet Union.
Today, we are back in the cultural and political space we have belonged to for centuries. We are ready to shoulder our share of responsibility and make every effort to ensure that our difficult, troublesome, and often bloody history does not repeat itself.
The concept of securing peace in Europe through union is not new. As you may know, as far back as the 15th century, the Czech King George of Poděbrady cherished the vision of uniting European kingdoms into a Peace League. Based on an early version of international law, his goal was to prevent conflicts between its members and to boost their defence against external threats. In his day, his Peace Project did not succeed. Luckily, the ultimate ideal of peace based on unity and cooperation did find a later incarnation.
The European idea we know today is based on the notion of peace through cooperation, solidarity and respect for human rights and the rule of law. Our security and prosperity are closely interconnected. It is impossible to achieve one without the other.
Twenty-three years ago, one of my predecessors and a true European and world citizen, Václav Havel, spoke in this very building about the need to constantly reflect and critically examine European values, ideals and principles. Since then, the urgency of the task has not changed. It is even more important to ensure that our citizens can genuinely identify with the principles we stand for. This is our job as politicians. To explain Europe better and to involve our citizens. If we want to shape Europe, we need them to understand it at home.
Strength of Europe lies in our unity and diversity! This is the key to peace and prosperity. Not surprisingly, our enemies know this. That is why they are constantly trying to undermine our moral and democratic values to make us weaker.
Honourable Members, the election campaign next year will put our democracies to the test. I hope that it will serve as an opportunity to demonstrate that the European democratic spirit is truly alive. We should refrain from simplistic solutions and empty promises. The temptation to manipulate realities for short-term political gain will be enormous. We all have huge responsibility to articulate problems as they really are. My Presidential election campaign has proved that populism is not the only vehicle to electoral success.
Next year will also mark 20 years since ten Member States, including Czechia, joined the EU. In a sense, we have recently come of age as members of the European family. We are neither new, nor inexperienced. During our second Presidency of the Council of the European Union, our country showed leadership and determination in finding solutions among Member States as well as with you - the European Parliament - on many pressing issues.
The EU is often labelled as slow and inefficient. Yet, together, we have shown that, united, we can face the challenges of today and tomorrow. Despite the initial diversity of views, we have managed to reach many good compromises. Not only during the Covid 19 pandemic, but also afterwards. On energy and food security, just green and digital transitions, sanctions against Russia or financial assistance to Ukraine. It demonstrates our ability to be efficient under pressure.
Over the next year, we will hear a lot about the benefits that the EU membership has brought to the ten countries which joined in 2004. However, this was never a one-way street. Let us not forget the benefits the enlargement has brought to all Member States. Not only in terms of prosperity, new markets, value chains and skilled labour force, but also in terms of security.
By enlarging our family, we have created strong bonds and a safety net. In the European game, no one is to be left behind, alone and frustrated. Overcoming differences through rational debate and dialogue and not through the power of weapons, as was the case for centuries. Therefore, we should thoroughly pursue this great idea that makes us a strong, attractive, and respected partner at global stage.
When the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, some people smirked. A decade later, we appreciate the EU’s contribution to peace on the European continent with greater understanding. The European Union is indeed the most successful peace project this continent has witnessed!
Security can never be taken for granted. Three decades ago, as part of UNPROFOR mission, I witnessed first-hand the atrocities during the war in former Yugoslavia. I hoped I would never see another war on European soil in my lifetime.
In the year 2000, in front of the Members of the European Parliament, the aforementioned Václav Havel stressed that Evil must be confronted as soon as it has emerged. Unfortunately, Europe failed to detect the evil in time.
The current full scale Russian invasion has been nothing but a blunt and cynical attempt to wipe out Ukraine, its people and its culture off the map. The unprovoked, unjustified and indiscriminate aggression cannot go unpunished. For decades, we have designed international rules to prevent the horrors of the Second World War to be repeated. In a matter of hours, Putin made an attempt to destroy a sovereign country and to undermine the world order. He has not prevailed, and he shall not prevail!
I am proud that European countries, small and big, have come together to support Ukraine’s fight against evil. I am also proud of Czech people. From day one, they have shown unprecedented solidarity and did not hesitate to provide Ukrainian refugees with money, food and shelter. On a per capita basis, Czechia has taken in more people than anybody else.
During my speech at the UN General Assembly two weeks ago, I argued that Ukraine’s security is our own security. With several crises unfolding because of Russia’s expansionism and unsatisfied imperial ambitions, every European citizen has felt the consequences: higher energy bills and rising food prices. Unfortunately, there is even more at stake. Our freedom.
I therefore call on everyone to continue providing support by all possible means. If Ukraine fails, so will we. And this failure would cost us even more.
Let us not be fooled by those who claim that – in the name of appeasing Putin - peace should be achieved by offering concessions, which undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In reality, what they are asking for is for Ukraine to surrender and for us to resign on our own principles. This is a grave affront to those suffering from Russian occupation – people who have been stripped of their civic rights, who constantly suffer abuse and whose children were abducted to Russia.
Eighty five years ago, Czechoslovakia was in a similar situation. To avoid war, some European statesmen hoped that ceding vast swathes of Czechoslovak territory to Hitler would satisfy the dictator and result in a peaceful resolution of the conflict. This hope did not materialize. Peace can never be achieved on the aggressor’s terms. If the aggressor succeeds once, he will try to succeed again and even further.
I firmly hope that peace will return to Ukraine. I hope this will be a reality soon. However, hope is not a strategy. That’s why we have to strive for a settlement that safeguards the necessary conditions for Ukraine’s continued existence in lasting peace and prosperity. Russia must be defeated in Ukraine! And it must withdraw from Ukrainian sovereign territory!
Our European security is based on partnership and democracy. We have created a solid common defence and security architecture, with NATO and the EU as its main building blocks. It is imperative to strengthen the European pillar of NATO and enhance European interoperability.
It is now more obvious than ever that securing peace cannot be confined just to our borders. Indeed, I am convinced that pursuing a full-fledged European perspective of all countries of the Western Balkans and of the Associated Trio. It is not only our moral duty. In the long-term, it is an investment in security and resilience of Europe and its citizens. We have already wasted too much time. Meanwhile, political culture in several countries has deteriorated. It is in our interest that the candidate countries succeed. Their success will be our own success.
Of course, the process cannot be completed without the necessary reforms. Both on the side of the candidate countries, and the Union. At the same time, we should not use this as an excuse to delay the accession process. There is a chance to make bold decisions at the European Council by the end of this year!
The debates on the future of the EU and its enlargement are necessarily interlinked and should be approached in parallel. Shaping a new, whole Europe is unimaginable without anticipating the future European order. Enlargement should be seen as an opportunity to recalibrate the European idea. It should be seen as a chance to bring about a more unified and efficient Union. A Union that remains ambitious and competitive. A Union that is more flexible and proactive. A Union that is able to react rapidly when needed. A Union we are all proud of. I am confident that after extensive discussions we will be able to find the best way forward for a modern and strong EU governance.
For centuries, Europe has sought world domination by force. Today, it should lead by example. Václav Havel, who would celebrate his birthday tomorrow, was right to stress the importance to engage with citizens. This was based on his genuine belief in strong and emancipated civil society as the main source of trust between the people and their elected officials.
Today, trust is constantly under attack from disinformation and numerous attempts to distort the meaning of words and deeds. If we allow rule of law to crumble and to be displaced by “might is right” or even “false is right”, this could lead to unforeseen consequences for the whole of Europe. We can all disagree on many different topics, but we should not base our arguments on lies and false accusations.
With the European elections approaching, we are to witness the rise of disinformation created and spread with the help of algorithms and artificial intelligence. This is a real threat we all must prepare for. Constantly engaging with private companies dominating the modern media space is crucial to ensure that our democracy and freedoms, including the freedom of speech, are not undermined by malign actors.
In our changing world, the main question remains, how to preserve our openness and dismantle unnecessary barriers among ourselves, and at the same time, strengthen resilience of our democracies. This is a fundamental debate. I believe that the question of resilience and sustainability of the concept of democracy deserves a special focus.
In order to confront ever more assertive behavior of autocratic regimes, we also need to forge stronger ties with our natural European and transatlantic allies. We should suppress rivalry and instead encourage an even closer cooperation to preserve our common values. The values, which are not limited to any country or continent. A worldwide alliance of democratic countries can make us stronger and more resilient to even more prominent threats like climate change and disinformation.
We also need to engage with countries, which are already exposed to a high degree of political, economic and climate risks. While we may not always share the same views, we still need to establish pragmatic and mutually beneficial partnerships, including free trade agreements with relevant countries. Wherever we neglect this requirement, we leave the space open for our strategic competitors.
History and nature show that if you want to survive, you must be able to adapt. The same applies to Europe. Our security needs are constantly evolving. Climate change and economic transformation expose us to a new set of challenges.
Over the last three years we have dedicated our work to setting the framework for the next decades. With the Fit for 55 package in principle adopted, our job is far from being over! We will have to overcome the insecurities of our people about their future, especially the younger generation. This will be a crucial test of whether we can reconcile our degree of ambition with credibility. Politicians will have to demonstrate that the goals they have agreed on are realistic and trustworthy.
It is regard in our common interest to seize the opportunities of the green and digital transitions. Of course, balancing the costs and benefits will remain crucial for the success and acceptance by general public. In this respect, we must ensure the twin transition will bring benefits to all groups of our citizens, especially communities which heavily rely on employment in traditional industry areas. We must not leave anybody behind!
Europe is an everlasting task and European nations are meant to live together. My country understands that being part of Europe goes hand in hand with responsibility. So far, the story of Europe after the Second World War has been a story of success.
Therefore, to remain competitive on the global stage and to be able to continue telling this story to future generations,
I encourage all of us to resist the war fatigue!
I encourage all of us to cooperate in unity and solidarity!
I encourage all of us to stand for our European values and principles!
I encourage all of us not to fall for false promises and populism!
If we succeed in this noble endeavour, Europe will surely remain a great place to live for our citizens!
Thank you for your attention.
Petr Pavel, the President of the Czech Republic, Strasbourg, 4th of October 2023