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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
"A Europe of freedom and national democracies forty years after the Prague Spring"
Czech Senate speech
Prague, 22 May 2008

European Commission - SPEECH/08/258   22/05/2008

Other available languages: none

SPEECH/08/258












José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission




"A Europe of freedom and national democracies forty years after the Prague Spring"




















Czech Senate speech
Prague, 22 May 2008

Honourable Chairman of the Senate,

Honourable Members of the House,

Ladies and Gentlemen

Dobry den, damy a panove. Jsem rad, ze mohu byt dnes s Vami.

It is an honour for me to address the joint Houses – may be I can say the home - of Czech democracy forty years after the original Prague Spring.

This is my first opportunity to speak directly to representatives of the people of the Czech Republic, coming from both legislative assemblies, as well as to representatives of the civil society.

I am also especially pleased and grateful for the chance to make a direct contribution to the debate on the future of Europe in Czech Republic at this critical juncture of European politics.

When I visit your capital I always feel that Prague represents one of the most precious and majestic legacies of European history. A history of major political events, of fine art and culture, and great writers. To visit Prague is to revisit some of the defining moments of your history, indeed of our history. Adding to its past, modern Prague is also an extremely dynamic city, a leading European city. It is once again a symbol of Europe's freedom.

Just forty years ago, the people of Czechoslovakia demonstrated in the streets outside this building. Expressing their resistance to the totalitarianism of the Soviet system.

Their love of freedom.

And their demand for democracy.

Of course, in the short term, their fight for liberty was tragically crushed by the Soviet military power. But their spirit could never be destroyed and lived on.

The political spring finally came, twenty one years later, in the Autumn, in November of 1989. The Velvet Revolution brought at last freedom and democracy to Czechoslovakia. At the time, I was already a member of the Portuguese government and I will never forget the images of Prague, the streets of Prague, packed again with young and old alike, this time celebrating the victory of freedom and their belief in a new future.

At that moment, it was also clear that the destiny of your country was as part of the free world, as part of the European Union, as part of a voluntary community of free nation states. The EU, and the Euro-Atlantic Community, is the natural destination for the countries of the central Europe who fought so hard and long for their freedom.

The relationship between freedom, democracy and European integration is very close to my heart. I also grew up in a country where we had at the time no political freedom. For the Portuguese people, the European Union was also the place we sought as the guarantor of our freedom and democracy.

This historical experience gave me two firm beliefs, which I wish to make clear to you today.

First, enlargement is one of the greatest successes of the European Union.

Secondly, European construction is above all about freedom and solidarity.

I understand that your memories from 1938 and 1968 years, when you were first betrayed and then abandoned, might lead you to distrust the effects of major continental events. But I hope you share my view that the European geopolitical landscape has changed considerably. Today, European history is not made by occupying superpowers and totalitarian political regimes. It is made by democratic countries that are free and equal. We should never lose sight that the project of European integration was a reaction against a continent suffering from wars and military occupations. Keeping peace and stability is also a central goal of a democratic Europe.

Of course, there are still potential threats to security in our countries. But to deal with them requires not only effective defence systems and reliable military alliances, but also a reinforced degree of European cooperation and solidarity.

In terms of cooperation and integration, the European Union is also a pioneer. But not with a closed mind about the road ahead. European integration has been and always will be an open process to face up to changing circumstances: always able to define common interests, to settle disputes and working together to deliver results for European citizens. This is a truly new and European way of making history. It might not look spectacular on a day to day basis, it might cause frustration, fear or even doubts in specific cases, but I don’t know a better way.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Finding the right method is exactly the purpose of all the successive institutional debates, negotiations and reforms. And the latest one signed in Lisbon is not exception.

Working together within the European framework has never been, is not and will never be easy. It takes time to work out compromises; and it takes time to have them implemented. And no one is fully satisfied, everybody has to make compromises. This is the price to pay: compromises. But is it too high a price to pay for peace, freedom and democracy? Is it too high a price to pay to avoid decisions by great powers on the fate of smaller nations, like the one in Munich in 1938, or military invasions or totalitarian regimes? I do not think so.

We have spent a lot of time on Intergovernmental Conferences, Treaties and ratifications during the last eight years. It is now time to move on with the Treaty of Lisbon. This is the first Treaty that all 27 Member States discussed and negotiated from day one, signed and hopefully will ratify soon.

The Treaty of Rome, the founding Treaty, was signed in a divided Europe.

The Treaty of Nice was the Treaty of a Europe in transition.

The Treaty of Lisbon is the Treaty of a unified and enlarged Europe.

The Treaty of Lisbon is above all your Treaty. It is of course the Treaty of all European Union, but it is specifically the Treaty of those states that could not negotiate and sign the Rome Treaty or the Nice Treaty. This is why, for me, the logical implication of having fought for the last enlargement is to fully support the Treaty of Lisbon.

I know that some people wonder if the Czech Republic is not becoming rather sceptical of further European integration. But knowing the Czech people and its recent history, I am sure that this is rather more in the classical Greek way, where “skeptikos” means the one who examines in a soundly rational way.

Therefore, the fact that the Czech Republic – or any Member State - takes its time to examine the Treaty of Lisbon is perfectly legitimate. Indeed, it gives me the opportunity to examine with you some of the institutional innovations of the Treaty of Lisbon.

First of all, the Treaty of Lisbon enhances the role and the responsibility of national parliaments in the Union. National parliaments will have more scrutiny powers over European matters and will have more opportunity to have their voice heard at the EU level, most obviously through the new mechanism to ensure respect for subsidiarity. I welcome this. I was myself for many years a Member of Parliament and I can tell you that as a former Prime Minister and a former leader of the opposition I know very well the importance of national parliaments. The Treaty of Lisbon recognizes the crucial role that national parliaments have in a democratic system.

This is why my Commission has seen over 120 meetings between Commissioners and national parliaments in the last year alone, and why we have set up the new system for privileged consultation of national parliaments.

Since September 2006, national parliaments have sent over 200 opinions, more exactly 223 opinions, to the Commission. And I am pleased to see that the Czech Senate is one of the most active chambers in Europe in that respect. By the latest update, the Commission has received 18 opinions from you. The approach you have set out in these opinions is very much in tune with our own thinking, with its stress on competitiveness, better regulation, and subsidiarity.

I fully trust that national parliaments will fulfil their new responsibility and will give a strong political impulsion to Europe, as the representatives of European citizens. I am proud to say that I have now spoken myself directly to the Parliaments of 19 Member States.

Chairman, honourable members, ladies and gentlemen,

The Treaty of Lisbon also creates a permanent President of the European Council. I believe it will contribute to reinforce the efficiency of the meetings of the European Council and, above all, the external role of the Union in a world that needs more Europe.

But the Treaty also recognizes that the rotating presidencies of the Council have an important part to play in the European process. It could not be otherwise because the Member States are at the heart of what makes Europe work and what gives it its authority and legitimacy. And again, from personal experience, I know what European politics means for Prime Ministers, particularly during the rotating Presidencies. In this regard, according to the Treaty of Lisbon, all Member States will be on equal terms.

From January 2009, Czech Republic will have a great opportunity to show the importance of the rotating Presidencies. I know that your government is intensively preparing itself to take over the rotating presidency of the Council. I make an appeal to you in the following ways:

- Use this as an opportunity to engage with Europe. It is important for your citizens but is also important for Europe. Your economic potential, your technological traditions, your attachment to the values of freedom and human rights are all crucial assets that you bring to the European project.

- Seize this chance to become a leading player in the Union. Europe is not "them" in "Brussels". You are Europe. Europe is in Prague, as it is in Paris, in Warsaw, and as in any other European city.

- And maximize the opportunity: if ratification proceeds as expected, you should be the first rotating Presidency after the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. Your six months in the driving seat of the Union will help to shape in a decisive way the role of the rotating Presidency in the new institutional structure.

You will have the opportunity to start shaping the European Union for the 21st Century. As Jean Monnet, so rightly put it,

our countries have become too small for the world of today, given the rapid development of modern technology and comparing to big powers such as the United States, Russia, China and India.

Monnet said these words in 1954. But such a picture is still more accurate half a century later. Today, all Member States are crucial to prepare the Union for globalization. With so many challenges to tackle, from economic growth, social justice, security threats and a variety of global issues, the stakes are high, and so are our citizens’ expectations.

In reading the motto of the upcoming Czech Presidency, "Europe without Barriers", I find the best tradition of European freedom. I know you will do a great job. I can assure you that you will have all the necessary support from the Commission for what I know will be a very successful Presidency.

Thank you for your attention.

Dekuji Vam za pozornost.


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