Czech PM outlines EU vision in Strasbourg speech

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek set forward his government’s vision for the Czech EU presidency today, in front of a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Mr Topolánek used the speech to underline key Czech goals during the six-month long EU presidency, which began this month.

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK
“Today, I am not standing before you as the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, but as the chairman of the European Commission. The views that I am going to be representing over the next six months will not be my own, nor will they be those of the Czech government, but rather will represent the consensus of the 27 members of the European Commission.”

It was a confident almost-30 minute speech, given in front of European members of parliament as well as the president of the European Commission, Jose Emanuel Barroso. A variety of themes were addressed including many of the unplanned crises that have arisen during the Czech Prime Minister’s watch – namely the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine and the conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.

“The international role of the EU will be tested not only by the still unresolved conflict in Georgia, but also the fresh escalation of tensions in the Middle East. Finally, we are also being reminded of the burning issue of energy security and just as it was during the French presidency, we too will have to be ready top face new challenges.”

There were also broader moments, for example, when the Czech PM stated that he wanted not only to defend Czech interests, but European interests, comparing himself to Charles IV, who served as both King of Bohemia and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire during the 14th century. The PM also underlined the division that once haunted Europe during the Cold War.

Photo: European Commission
“This year will mark the fifth anniversary of the thus far greatest expansion of the EU in its history in 2004. This was a symbolic and practical conclusion of the process of reintegration of a once divided continent. And this year, Europe will also celebrate twenty years from the fall of the Iron Curtain, which enabled the countries of the former Soviet Bloc to have freedom and democracy.”

The Czech PM struck a conciliatory tone throughout, for example praising both the Czech president as an icon of free speech and the Lisbon Treaty, which he albeit described as an imperfect document. The speech was also noticeably short on specifics, rather focusing on several grand themes underscored by concepts of unity and solidarity.

“As you probably know, the motto of our presidency is ‘Europe without barriers’ – and to this I would like to add the subtitle ‘A Europe of rules.’ This vision gains added significance in the current economically and politically turbulent times. We firmly believe that only a Europe that fully utilises its economic, humanitarian, and cultural potential can manage to economically and politically can stand up to global competition, which at the time of a crisis counts doubly so.”

During the speech, Mr Topolánek used the concept of three “Es” to underline the Czech vision – economy, energy and Europe in the world. He also underscored a notable trump card in the Czech arsenal – its relative financial stability:

Photo: CTK
“Thanks to the stability of our financial institutions, we are today one of very few countries which have thus far not had to pump taxpayer money into banks affected by the financial crisis.”

Mr Topolánek also emphasized the needs for furthering goals of EU energy security, which involves divestment away from Russian gas.

“As a country dependant on the import of gas and oil, and as a former state of the old Eastern Bloc, we fully understand the importance of energy security as not only the underpinnings of economic prosperity, but also of a free and independent foreign policy.”

While the Czech Prime Minister faces a myriad of challenges at home, many connected to a weak government and the faltering of his Civic Democratic Party, the international stage seemed to provide the PM with a welcome breath of fresh air. The Czech EU presidency finally finds itself centre-stage.