(Source: European Commission)
Thank you very much, dear Prime Minister, dear Petr,
It is wonderful to be here in the majestic town of Litomyšl, the birthplace of Smetana. I was just visiting the room where he obviously was born and spent his early childhood.
I know that you have Europe really at heart. It was no coincidence that one of your first trips after becoming Prime Minister led you to Brussels, to the European institutions. And I know that your European passion, and the commitment and the hard work of your government will make this Presidency for sure a success.
The motto of the Presidency is ‘Europe as a Task: Rethink, Rebuild, Repower’. These are words by Václav Havel, and they ring so true today. Let me start perhaps with the most urgent, and that is: ‘Repower’. It echoes really with our programme, REPowerEU. That is the plan that we have tailored to get rid of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels as fast as possible. We know how important the energy security is for you, Petr, as for the whole of the European Union, of course. So please, let me remind that REPowerEU has three different pillars: First, it is diversification away from Russian fossil fuels and most importantly, from their oil and gas to other suppliers that are trustworthy. We are in the process of doing that. Second, we need to reduce the demand: That is energy savings and, even more important, energy efficiency. It is amazing how much you can save through energy efficiency. And third, of course, it is about a massive investment in renewable energy. Renewable energy has the advantage of being homegrown – it creates good jobs at home – and it is clean energy – this is good for the climate, good for our security of energy supply. The next step is to make available to the EU Member States the EUR 300 billion that come along with REPowerEU. And therefore, of course, we count on your Presidency to reach rapidly an agreement on the adoption of the REPowerEU Regulation.
Energy security and climate protection, those are two sides of the same coin. REPowerEU is explicit on this. It helps that now the Council and the Parliament, as you said during the French Presidency, have both defined their position on Fit for 55 – the big Package. These are, for example, the proposals for emissions trading, important with that is the Social Climate Fund to protect the most vulnerable citizens and businesses; but of course also on renewables; on energy efficiency. Now, your Presidency is ideally placed to lead the trilogues for Fit for 55 between Council and Parliament.
The second topic of your Presidency is, ‘Rebuild’. And indeed, we have acted boldly to rebuild our economy in the wake of the pandemic. You know that of NextGenerationEU, by now, EUR 100 billion have been disbursed, but still EUR 700 billion need to be disbursed. They come along with investments and reforms. And these investment needs are very large, as we know that we need a successful transition, not only to a green economy but also to a highly digitised economy, a resilient EU economy.
This leads me to the second topic in the economy that we will have to tackle together. That is the Stability and Growth Pact. We need to design the fiscal rules in a way that it reconciles the higher investment needs that are without any doubt there, with safeguard for sound fiscal finances, both go hand in hand. The Commission will present its ideas after the summer. I am convinced that we can find a good compromise, a good system to combine the guarantees for fiscal sustainability and of course the support for investment and reforms.
In addition, we all know that the future is digital – that is a big topic for this Presidency, too. It is the European electronic identity; it is about artificial intelligence; it is our European Chips Act, the semiconductors, that now has to go into the final round; and possibly the Data Act. All this has to be moved forward by the Czech Presidency. But I am sure, knowing how intense also your interest, of this government, is in digitalisation, you will move that forward and bring it successfully to an adoption.
Let me end with ‘Rethink’. In troubled times such as these, it is important to rethink and to refocus on what makes us strong. I am thinking in particular of the Single Market and trade. The Single Market is our safe harbour when waters are rough. We should never forget about that. And we should always work on the Single Market to intensify it, to deepen it, to make it more fluid. We should use this opportunity to reflect on how to use the full potential of our Single Market. But we should also benefit from others’ dynamic markets through trade. Trade is a very important tool. I am very happy that yesterday we concluded the EU-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. One more step forward that illustrates that there is a huge dynamism in our trade policy, and our constant efforts are shown here to strengthen our economic ties with partner countries.
So, these were just a few of the topics but the big ones that we have to tackle besides all the different files that have to be moved forward. A lot of work ahead of us, Petr, but good work ahead of us. And I am very much looking forward to have you as a Presidency.
Thank you very much.