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Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to address you here at the University of Economics in Jindrichuv Hradec.
History offered me the historical privilege of concluding the EU enlargement negotiations. It brought me into the centre of the crucial events, which last year marked the beginning of a new era in European history.
First, in November, I participated in Prague, where NATO decided to invite 7 new members. Then, at the Copenhagen Summit in December, it was my task to reach an agreement on the enlargement of the EU. Together, these decisions established a whole new framework for future European integration. They were indeed a “rendez-vous with history” – to use the words of your former president Vaclav Havel.
The Czech Republic was among the countries, which concluded accession negotiations in Copenhagen. The negotiations were tough at times, but at the end it worked out for the best of the Czech Republic and for the best of Europe. I am convinced that the Czech Republic achieved the best possible result in the negotiations.
Whether the Czech Republic will become a member of the EU, will be decided by the Czech people in the referendum on 13 and 14 June. I believe that Czech membership of the EU will provide your country with significant political and economical benefits – as has been Denmark’s experience.
Politically, the Czech Republic will take part in the decisions that influence politics in Europe and on a more global scale. Economically, EU membership will provide the Czech Republic with the best possible conditions for a modern and prosperous welfare state.
As a member of the EU, the Czech Republic will be respected as an equal partner and achieve the rights and obligations, which EU membership entails. Already now, the Czech Republic participates in the European cooperation. For some time, the Czech Republic has been a member of the Convention on the future of Europe. After the signing of the Accession Treaty in Athens last week, the Czech Republic is now an active observer in EU institutions and committees.
On the 5th of May the Czech minister for education will be invited to participate in the Ministerial Council Meeting on education, youth and culture along with the other acceding countries – the first ministerial meeting since the signing of the Treaty. Moreover, due to the decision taken at the Summit in Copenhagen, all acceding countries will participate fully in the next Intergovernmental Conference. Full participation is only fair, since the Intergovernmental Conference will deal with the future of the EU – with our future. We are all in this together. New members and old. Large countries and smaller countries.
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This year, Denmark celebrates 30 years of membership. Membership of the EU has brought many and various benefits to Denmark and to its people. 30 years ago Denmark needed the EU to ensure peace, security and growth. Later we needed an internal market to boost our economy.
Today these are still key areas for cooperation. But today we need the EU for much more than this. We need to work together across borders to fight terrorism, international crime and illegal immigration. We must ensure a better environment and high food quality. The EU must be the driving force to ensure European competitiveness. To rise to the challenge of the knowledge based economy and the demographic changes.
For a smaller country like mine – and yours – membership of the EU is in my view a necessity. Membership ensures a voice in Europe for the smaller countries. Membership ensures that Europe is more than the political will of the large nations. Membership provides a platform for all nations in Europe to exert influence on the direction for Europe in the future.
In the EU we strive for equality between Member States. Policy is not dictated by the large nations. An enlarged and stronger Europe will continue to ensure this. The disagreements on Iraq only underline the need to work harder for a Common Foreign and Security Policy. We must work together where necessary and possible.
Smaller Member States can make a difference in Europe through the EU. When Denmark joined the Union, sceptics said that we would not have a say. That smaller Member States did not have any real influence. But experience has shown otherwise - that smaller Member States can achieve results and exert influence, also above their weight, on the developments at the European level.
Denmark has always sought to actively influence European cooperation. We have not been afraid to express our opinion in the EU. And it is our experience that if your argument is strong, if your position is solid and if you cooperate with partners in a serious and transparent manner, people will listen. A proactive, well-prepared and coordinated approach enhances your influence in the European cooperation.
I think it is fair to say that Denmark has had substantial influence in the EU. During our 30 years of membership, we have put many Danish priorities on the EU agenda. Enlargement is one example. The environmental cooperation is another. Small and medium sized enterprises, a priority for most Member States, have also been firmly placed on the agenda. Let me also mention openness. This has for long been a special Danish priority. And during the last two years we have witnessed progress in access to documents and openness in the Council work.
I see the Danish Presidency as a good example of the influence which smaller Member State can have. The agenda for the Presidency was heavy. But we rose to the challenge. We made priorities. We had tight co-ordination between the main actors in Denmark and with partners in Europe, both Member States and the EU institutions. Our targets were clear. And we communicated challenges and progress openly. The results were very satisfactory. In Copenhagen we achieved our goal: one Europe. Together with our partners. And we ensured progress in all other policy areas in the EU.
In a EU of 25, a smaller Member State must be proactive to gain influence. Denmark aims to strengthen our public diplomacy and alliance building. In a EU of 25 alliances will not be chiselled in stone. Instead I see 24 potential partners from case to case. The Czech Republic is a natural partner for Denmark.
The agenda of the EU has developed. As the world around us. When Denmark entered the EU, many sceptics proclaimed the end of sovereignty. They still do. But I see no signs of this. Our national characteristics have not disappeared. Our welfare society and our culture is not endangered by the EU.
On the contrary - our society is enriched by the cooperation in Europe. We can and should learn from others. And we are more than willing to share our experiences. For this is what the EU is about. Sharing experiences and making the EU work despite national differences. Many problems do not respect borders. So we must handle them together. Large and smaller Member States alike, making the best of our resources. For this purpose, the EU has always been relevant. And will continue to be.
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Let me now turn to the future of the European Union. A future which the Czech Republic and Denmark are actively participating in defining.
The EU Member States – old as well as new - are facing an important challenge. In the next couple of years we will have to define the character of a European Union with 25 or more Member States.
Discussion are taking place in the so-called Convention on the future of the EU. The Convention will end its work in June this year. It will be followed by an Intergovernmental Conference. The goal is to reach agreement on a new Constitutional Treaty for the EU.
It is vital to ensure that the enlarged Union becomes a success. We need a strong, dynamic Union to solve problems by tackling them together. We must ensure that the Union remains capable of taking decisions. At the same time we must create a simpler framework that citizens can relate to. A framework based on the values shared by all Member States. The new Constitutional Treaty must and will reflect these aims.
Also in the future we will need the EU as a forum where the Member States can solve their shared problems. This is first and foremost the case in areas with problems of a cross border nature. In the first instance, this naturally means the traditional main tasks of the EU. In the future, key areas will include, among other things, the internal market, trade policy, competition policy and state aid control. We must maintain the results EU already have achieved in these areas and further build on them in the enlarged EU. We must ensure the efficient functioning of the internal market. By means of an efficient internal market we can create the framework of a competitive economy that can hold its own in a globalised world. We must become better at creating jobs in Europe. We must ensure a strong and stable common currency, the Euro. The liberalisation of our markets must continue. It is crucial to ensure effective competition in our markets to the benefit of consumers and the business sector alike. We must secure development that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. The aim is to safeguard the future of the European welfare model. We must fight unemployment by enhancing coordination of our employment policies across borders. The environment is an example of a transnational task. Pollution knows no borders. We need a strong EU to fight pollution. And we must continue to develop and improve European environmental co-operation. We have to strengthen our ability to act together in all these areas. But a new Treaty must also strengthen the ability of the EU to help us solve problems in areas where we are facing new challenges that have a cross-border nature.
This is the case with regard to the fight against terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal immigration. The pressure on Europe from these challenges will grow in the coming years. These problems are by definition transnational in nature, and they can only be resolved by intensified cross-border co-operation. We must enhance and develop the ability of the EU to form the framework of this co-operation among the states and police authorities of Europe. And this is the case with regard to the need for strengthening the role of the EU in a globalised and changing world. This shall take place in a continued strong and close cooperation between Europe and the United States. We must strengthen the Common Foreign and Security Policy. From the point of view of a smaller country, the ideal would be for foreign and security policy to be a common EU matter. This would bind the large countries to a common line. And the smaller countries could gain greater influence on the international scene. But let us be realistic. The large countries will not give up their national sovereignty in foreign and security policy. Can anyone imagine that France and the United Kingdom, for example, would give up their permanent seats on the Security Council of the United Nations for a joint EU seat? I suppose not. Therefore the point of departure must be that the foreign, security and defence policies of the EU continue to be based on co-operation among the Member States, so-called intergovernmental co-operation, firmly anchored in the Council. But within this framework of intergovernmental co-operation, we should endeavour to make foreign, security and defence policies as common as possible. This can take place by strengthening the present position of the foreign policy coordinator. Furthermore, Denmark is open to greater use of decision making with qualified majority on foreign policy questions.
The goal must be a strong EU which can help us solve our shared problems of a cross-border nature here in Europe. And a strong EU which in close cooperation with the United States can promote freedom, democracy, prosperity and western values throughout the world. The Czech Republic and Denmark are natural partners in this great endeavour. We shall build our future together.
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I would like to finish with a few words about the Czech-Danish relationship. The conclusion of accession negotiations not only marked the beginning of a new era in the EU cooperation – it also marked a new stage in the bilateral relations between Denmark and the Czech Republic. We have finally become true and equal partners in the European family with the same rights and obligations. I am confident that the friendship between our two countries will continue to grow, and that we will develop our excellent bilateral relations even further. This also goes for commercial cooperation. The events of recent years have made the already-strong relationship between our countries even stronger. Our close co-operation during the enlargement process has brought us closer together. The substantial reforms carried out in all aspects of the Czech society have created respect and admiration in Denmark.
But now the time has come to look forward to a common European future in an enlarged Union. I believe that Denmark and the Czech Republic as two of the smaller states in the Union can find common ground on many issues. For instance, I have found that we have quite similar views on the Convention – in other words, we tend to agree on how the future of Europe ought to look like.
Denmark is looking forward to the day in the near future, when we can welcome the great Czech nation as full member of the EU. Together, we will work for a better future – together we shall build the new, strengthened Europe of tomorrow.