The Future of the EU: Facing Common Challenges

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a true honor for me to speak today at such a respectable institution situated in the heart of Washington. The European Institute is famous for enriching the dialog between Europe and the United States – which is not an easy task with all the pivots and resets of the US foreign policy in the last few years. On this occasion, I would like to appreciate the excellent work of President Attinger and her team.

We can hear from many sides that European continent is finding itself at a crossroad while facing serious challenges – the migration crisis which is connected with civil war in Syria, growing aggressiveness of Russia, terrorist attacks in Europe or the threat of Brexit. All those issues cause frustration among Europeans and growing distrust in the European project and its institutions.

Not even two months ago Europe was hit by a terrorist attack in Brussels, the center of European Union. In November 2015 terrorists attacked Paris and shocked not only Europe but the whole world. The attacks were frightening due to the scope of their premeditation and coordination.

Europe was caught unprepared. This event has shown that the EU is lacking crucial measures which need to be implemented. Members of the EU need to send a clear signal – we are able to react and come together, we will not be intimidated. Assuring our citizens must be our first priority.

However, we have to avoid generalization and the pursuit of simple solutions despite the fact that it can sometimes be difficult. Even though the attacks hit Belgium and France we perceived it as an attack against all of us.

Today EU Member States are more connected than ever, therefore we need to find common solutions which will help the EU to overcome these challenging times and make the Union even stronger. I do not deny that finding consensus among 28 states can sometimes be hard.

One of the great examples of finding consensus is the UK reform agenda, which was a major topic of European discussion over the past months. The negotiations that took part over the early months of 2016 were a comprehensive effort to ensure that the UK and its people can continue to be a part of the EU. I believe the decision made at the European Council in February has shown that the EU is capable of dealing with high priority internal issues related to positions of individual Member States without giving up the values that serve as the very backbone of the EU.

It is now up to the people of the United Kingdom to decide whether their future lies with the EU, or without. I fully believe the EU would lose a great deal, should the UK choose to leave the EU. The UK has and continues to be an important member of the EU and I believe it is of utmost importance for it to continue to be so.

It will be not only the British referendum that will prove to be an impulse for EU to decide whether to continue in process of integration and deepening cooperation among member states or if we should put the brakes on and focus competences more in the hands of national states.

EU´s future development will also be affected by the migration crisis, which has resonated in society in the last months the most and presents one of the biggest challenges for all of us. I am firmly convinced that we can succeed only if we will have a common position. We need to restore the control of our external borders and get the inflow of people coming to Europe under control.

Due to the migration crisis the controls at internal borders were temporarily reintroduced, which indicates that Schengen – one of the major achievements of European integration – is at stake.

Schengen is the very essence of the European integration project. Thanks to Schengen, hundreds of millions of Europeans enjoy tangible benefits of moving freely across the Continent.

Losing this building stone of the European Union would lead in the minds of many already doubtful Europeans to the loss of faith in the European Union as a whole.

Still despite all the complications we can’t forget that many refugees are running from their countries because of war and terror, fearing for their life. It is our non-negotiable duty to aid those people who need our help. At the same time we must be able to provide help to EU member states but also to non-member states, which face migration flows and therefore are affected by migration the most.

Primarily, the origin of the migration crisis is in the states destabilized by civil war which are no longer safe for their citizens. Naturally people are leaving those countries, trying to find a better and safer place to live their life – which might be Europe. If we want to solve the migration crisis, we need to try to restore the peace in states like Syria, Libya or Iraq.

War in Syria is not the only problem beyond Europe´s borders which we are concerned about and must deal with. We witness the expansion of Russia which is a threat not only for the European continent but for the whole world. Russia can be less and less perceived as a strategic and predictable partner. And I regret that

Undoubtedly the annexation of Crimea and deliberate destabilization of a neighboring sovereign country was a violation of international law, therefore EU has imposed restrictive measures against Russia – and made clear under what conditions these sanctions may be lifted – the Minsk agreements.

It is crucial that EU member states agree that it is necessary to implement the Minsk agreements. As long as Russia supports the separatists, whether by supplying weapons or by the presence of members of their own army in Ukraine, it is not possible to achieve a lasting solution to the crisis.

Another – and more complex – issue we must deal with is the growth and impact of the Russian propaganda. Making everything relative and fudging the issues has been a very effective strategy for Russia – the latest example being the failed Dutch referendum on free trade with Ukraine.

In such uncertain times as these we must strengthen cooperation with those with whom we are linked by common goals and common values. Therefore, I believe our priority must be to build and deepen transatlantic cooperation within NATO, which is the key organization for security of the European continent and the whole western world.

Czech Republic´s membership in NATO and the EU is a natural part of our policy and there is no alternative to it. The Czech Republic, which is often called “the heart of Europe” belongs to the EU. It is a part of our identity and it fills the idea of Europeanism presented by the great men of the Czech history – Czech king and Roman Emperor Charles IV., who united most of Europe 700 years ago, our first president T. G. Masaryk and of course the person you are all familiar with, our first president after the fall of communism, Mr. Václav Havel.

Our country has a strong democratic tradition and is strongly connected with western countries. It is our strategic interest to be in the center of united Europe and to take part in the decisions that affect the future direction of the European continent. Even though Europe is facing difficult challenges we should not turn our backs to the idea of European integration – despite all the political costs being pro-European and pro-integration brings in these pro-nationalistic times.

Not only the Czech Republic but the rest of the Member States should not resort to a policy of isolation and refusing the common European project, even though we know it is always easier to blame somebody else for our problems. Given the interesting primary season here in the US, you know very well what I mean.

If hard times in European history proved something, then it is that no European state is capable of facing fundamental problems by itself. Despite all the pessimism and Euroscepticism that haunts Europe today, I am convinced that only when we stay united and when we work together to find common solutions will Europe stay strong.

All member states should continue to support and strengthen European integration. We need to fulfill the role of a major global player, which the EU surely is. Face to face with all the challenges I have mentioned, close cooperation in Europe and with the United States is the only choice that leads to stability and prosperity. Whatever our differences and momentary priorities – the values we share bind us together. We defended them jointly in two world wars, we defended them jointly during the cold war and we must defend them jointly now once again. If we forget to protect our values, we loose. And our common history is about winning, so let’s not change that!

Projev v European Institute, Washington