Membership of the Union - Stronger voice, greater responsibility

7 October 2004

Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross stressed that domestic politics could no longer exist in isolation from a wider European context. He outlined the three main priorities for the Czech Republic in this first phase of EU membership: achieving a stability of public finances, social cohesion and competitiveness were all closely linked in a triangle, he said.

Public finances had to be stable to ensure the Czech Republic could join the single currency by the target date of 2010, the Prime Minister stressed. Social cohesion was also necessary to give the country stability. He placed a particular emphasis on competitiveness as a vital component of the European agenda. Today’s world had become so globalised that it was no longer possible to talk about the competitiveness of just one country.

Competitiveness was not just transatlantic issue - it stretched to growing economies such as South America and South East Asia. If the EU neglected its competitiveness agenda and these growing markets then it could see its prosperity diminish in 30-40 years, he predicted. “We cannot take for granted that we will continue to be prosperous if we do not work at it,” he cautioned.

Foreign policy

The Czech Republic was slowly and steadily taking part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and it wanted to be an active member of the process. EU membership had given the Czechs a new status in the world with it more responsibility. In this context, the country wanted to play a more important role in foreign policy. The Czech Republic would not be overly ambitious but would try to specialise its efforts on areas where it already had valuable experience. The government was currently working on a list of where it should be active, the most obvious example being the Balkans.

The transatlantic link was very important as the main guarantee of the Czech Republic’s defence capacity, the Prime Minister said. The international community was very reliant on NATO. His government wanted to take part in the liberalisation process of Europe but at the same time it wanted to ensure that the EU’s defence capabilities were not in competition but complementary to NATO’s. “We must find a common position with our  partners on a large number of security issues to prevent the creation of artificial and useless conflicts,” he said.

Prime Minister Gross called for a strengthening of the EU’s capacities in civil crisis management. Additionally, Europe’s military forces needed to be restructured and needed better overall management. This could ensure greater burden-sharing and efficiency among Member States in EU missions such as the peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

Reflecting briefly on Europe’s neighbourhood policy (ENP), he said that his country was committed to cultivating stronger ties with its neighbours through the ENP. Relations with Russia were particularly important in this respect.

Justice and Home Affairs

Turning to internal security, the Prime Minister urged the EU not to put the brakes on the Czech Republic’s entry into the Schengen area. “We have done our homework to be ready by 2006 and it would be very unfortunate if this were to be slowed down by technicalities,” he said.

Overall, he believed that European competences should be broadened in the Justice and Security area, even in the field of criminal law. “We do not need to have different legal sentences for the same crime in the Czech Republic and Portugal. Common rules should be in place as much as possible,” he said. Law enforcement bodies must be independent from the policy-making sphere, and a European Public Prosecutor should be put in place.

Future enlargement

The Czech Republic was in favour of further EU enlargement as long as it did not hamper the Union’s cohesion and ability to act. All candidate countries should be able to fulfil the criteria, he stressed. He felt that Turkey should  accede the Union in the long run,  if EU policy was to be credible and in line with its Helsinki commitments.

The Prime Minister rejected the idea of putting the issue to a referendum at the moment. “We need to start the accession negotiations first,” he said, “it’s unfair to now ask for another procedure than what we had. You must build a house from its foundations, not from the first or second floor.”