We need to build confidence
It is a great pleasure and a privilege to welcome you in the Czernin Palace at the onset of the New Year. The turn of year is a moment for reflection – both collective and individual – on events that have unfolded in the previous twelve months; on what we have gained and on what we may have lost. Traditionally, as you well know, it is also the time to renew resolutions and set goals for the year ahead.
This is my second New Year address in my capacity as minister. In looking back, the intuition is to reflect on how the world has changed since last January. Surely, this is a vital task. We may disagree in construing the meaning of events and would learn from an exchange of views. More importantly, perhaps, this speech is also the opportunity to draw and reflect on our ability to predict how matters would evolve and to reassess the attitudes that we have adopted.
Finally, the ultimate purpose of this exercise is to outline the central thread in my country’s foreign policy for the year to come. I believe that given the condition of the international environment, we all need to step up our efforts to overcome the current crisis of confidence. It is essential that we do our best to reinvigorate and renew trust at multiple levels. Only then can we hope for 2016 to be a more successful year than 2015.
It is wise to recognize that it will only be possible to judge our day with the wisdom of hindsight. Still, some things are clear even from our vantage point. We can be quite sure that in the course of 2015, the international environment has become no less complex and contested. Now, just as at the beginning of last year, the same worrying words take prominence in foreign policy discourse, the same disconcerting images overwhelm the public sphere.
We were all taken aback by the sudden surge in violence in Ukraine and by the spectacular rise of Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Ever since, there has been no respite. While a ceasefire has been agreed on in the Ukrainian conflict, the situation is far from settled. Despite efforts to degrade the so-called Islamic State, large swathes of Syria and Iraq remain under the control of terrorists, whose efficiency in attracting foreign fighters has not diminished. Syria has suffered further loss of life and destruction to the point of non-recognition. The spark of war has ignited conflict in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The collapse of regional security threatens to draw in other countries. On several occasions we nearly faced a standoff between powers with a stake in the region.
All these troubles notwithstanding, one unprecedented phenomenon emerged on the scene which has proved more divisive for Europe than any other – the migration crisis. The throngs of desperate people on their move to our part of the world test our political architecture and presage the challenges which lie ahead of our societies. This is not only true of Europe but, given the forecast and the inevitable effects of climate change, may soon be true for other regions as well.
Many observers agree that we live in a transitional era. The world as we have known it after 1990 has run its course. The current system is contested by a number of agents, both state and non-state. It is often portrayed by challengers as a dated offshoot of the post-war consensus at best and of western imperialism at worst. To a number of observers, the prospects of the international order are gloomy and bleak.
To this emerging Zeitgeist, I refuse to give in. Last year, I said that this was the hour of diplomacy. I would like strongly to reaffirm this belief.
Let me explain.
Despite the overall trend, we have gained a number of things over the last twelve months. In December, a promising climate agreement was signed in Paris which, for the first time, commits all developed and emerging countries to a massive reduction in carbon emissions. War has not expanded beyond Donbass. A deal was finally struck with Iran on its nuclear programme, opening prospects for co-operation. We are slowly beginning to understand that globalized terrorism is a common and shared enemy of all, irrespective of where they sit.
Surely, the achievements of last year are not enough. We are under pressure to deliver on our promises and visions. Public debate is increasingly imbued with voices which suggest that solutions be found in isolation, each country on its own. Near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin, they say. These voices curtail our sense of responsibility. We are invited to look inward and turn a blind eye on the plight of others. But this is short sighted. If our neighbours – near and far - fail and fall, so do we.
In setting us against the others, the logic of cynicism, confrontation and blame games would have us think it is describing. Instead, it reaffirms and recreates the reality it seeks to portray. None of us will ever be free, safe, and prosperous if we shy away from engaging meaningfully with the others.
It is firmly in our power to make sure that we manage to resolve disputes, contain threats and build an international community based on trust, mutual respect and adherence to legitimate rules. For this to happen, we will need to build and sustain confidence – the key ingredient in all fair and durable solutions.
For Czechia, the confidence-building mission is centred on three concentric circles.
It is imperative for us to make sure Central Europe remains a live concept. The Visegrad countries, Germany and Austria share more than they sometimes realize. We have lived through a period of discord both within Visegrad and across the former iron curtain. But we must absolutely make sure that no psychological curtains redevelop. Within Visegrad, we must eschew the temptation to resort to national stereotypes. Surely we can do better. I believe that it is time to remember the noblest of our aspirations. The 19th century model works for no-one. No part of our continent has suffered more tragically from the rise of nationalism than ours.
We need to recall that speaking in one articulate voice gives us both clarity and weight. There is a lot to build on, not least our shared experience of the delicacies of political transition.
In one voice, we may hope to explain to our European friends that Visegrad remains part and parcel of the European project. It is essential to have our positions interpreted correctly. Central European countries and societies have historically been fragile, never to be taken for granted. To this day the fabric of our societies remains sensitive to interactions with the outside.
But when our European friends are in distress, as they have been in the previous few months, we are willing to extend a helping hand and be part of the solution. Not only because it is right, but also knowing that there is nothing to be gained from the erosion of the European project.
This brings me smoothly to the second circle: the European Union and the continent as a whole. Let me be clear here: we realize how much hinges on the ability of our European partners to come out of the crises unscathed.
We stand ready to work together on sustainable schemes to manage the migration flow. We have provided support and humanitarian assistance along the Balkans migration route – in a region which has long been our priority – and in the Middle East. We endorse the project of the European Commission for a new European Border and Coast Guard Agency, even if we realize that there is still political and legal work ahead. But securing the Schengen border is a primary task. Only then will we be able to bring some degree of order into the crisis.
We understand that the Union is under immense pressure. The backlash against pro-European political forces is a reality in most countries. But let us make no mistake. It is illusory to believe that we would fare better without a strong and convincing European Union. Although the founding fathers are long gone, it is vital to remember their legacy. They were aware that problems of a continental and global magnitude could only be resolved together.
Together, we need to generate power which is equal to the problems at hand – geopolitical, security and economic. We are learning slowly, but perhaps more surely than those who face no opposition and whose unity is not shaped by diversity of opinion. I hope this will also be the spirit in which British proposals for EU reform are discussed. Such proposals deserve due attention – as long as they do not undermine the elementary tenets of the European project and do not thwart further integration for those who wish to collaborate more closely.
Third, we urgently need to build confidence across our neighbourhood and beyond. In a sense, we are all neighbours in a globalized world. With the global financial crisis and with the terrorist threat, we have seen how events in one part of the world may shake nations thousands of miles away.
For Europe, stabilizing the nearer neighbourhood is key. We are resolved to continue providing support to our eastern partners. Ukraine is a case in point. But support is not unconditional. We are watching closely if progress is made in tackling corruption and nepotism and in meeting agreed targets. At the same time, it is important to point out that we have always held that our partnership with eastern neighbours need not undermine the partners’ other ties.
As to our southern neighbourhood, we must do all we can to stop the contagion of violent conflict. Syria is obviously the focal point. At last, the major world powers have agreed on a plan for ending the civil war, embodied in a UN Security Council resolution. We need to do all we can to reach a political settlement which will work across the sectarian and ethnic divides. Only then can we begin to hope to root out radical Islamism with the help of local and regional forces. Foreign intervention is no option. I hope the lesson has been taken.
Yet, with the military and political aspect, we are only scratching the surface. In the second place, we must mobilize both international and local resources to give young people in the region perspective - namely education and jobs -, to empower citizens, to make sure they live in an equitable environment. Without eliminating the hotbed for frustration and radicalism, no solution will be durable.
I hope we will be able to draw lessons from the past. In all likelihood, we are living at a turning moment. If we manage to spell out and reaffirm a convincing vision, I believe that we will be able to transform it into an opportunity for joint action. The crises which, as many warn, risk to undo Europe, indeed pose a challenge to our identity. Nevertheless, they do so in ways unforeseen by those who call for a return to the nation-state and for the defence of “our values”. We should always remember that our true political culture is one of dialogue. Sometimes, we must content ourselves with compromise. But in genuine dialogue, all voices have the right to be heard and to defend their point of view. Our political culture is one of humanity and dignity for everyone, irrespective of his background. No matter what our detractors may say, there is a European Dream. We may sometimes lose sight of it. But the choice of the downtrodden to seek a better life in Europe testifies that it has by no means lost its appeal.
Novoroční projev ministra zahraničních věcí k představitelům diplomatického sboru ze dne 12.1.2016