Members of Parliament,
I am most grateful to you for the honour of addressing the European Parliament, and I can scarcely think of a better way of using this opportunity than to try to answer three questions. First, why is the Czech Republic, which I represent here, requesting membership in the European Union? Secondly, why is it in the interest of all of Europe to expand the European Union? And thirdly, what, in my opinion, are the more general tasks confronting the European Union today?
Europe is a continent of extraordinary variety and diversity geographically, ethnically, nationally, culturally, economically and politically. Yet at the same time all its parts are and always have been so deeply linked by their destiny that this continent can accurately be described as a single albeit complex political entity. Anything crucial in any area of human endeavour occurring anywhere in Europe always has had both direct and indirect consequences for our continent as a whole. The history of Europe is, in fact, the history of a constant searching and reshaping of its internal structures and the relationship of its parts. Today, if we talk about a single European civilization or about common European values, history, traditions, and destiny, what we are referring to is more the fruit of this tendency toward integration than its cause.
From time immemorial, Europe has had something that can be called an inner order, consisting of a specific system of political relations that circumscribed it and tried in one way or another to institutionalize its natural interconnectedness. This European order, however, usually was established by violence. The more powerful simply imposed it upon those less powerful. In this sense, the endless series of wars in Europe can be understood as an expression of the constant effort to alter the status quo and replace one order with another. From the ancient Roman Empire, through the Holy Roman Empire, and down to the power systems created by the Congress of Vienna, the Treaty of Versailles and finally by Yalta all these were merely historical attempts to give European coexistence a certain set of game rules. A thousand times in its history Europe has been unified or divided in various ways; a thousand times one group has subjected another, forced its version of civilization on another and established self-serving political relations; a thousand times Europe's internal balance has been dramatically sought, found, transformed, and torn down. And a thousand times the French, the Swedes, the Germans or the Czechs have dealt with apparently internal matters, only to have their actions affect the rest of Europe.
I do not believe, therefore, that the idea of a European Union simply fell out of the sky, or was born in the laboratory of political theoreticians or on the drawing boards of political engineers. It grew quite naturally out of an understanding that European integrity was a fact of life, and from the efforts of many generations of Europeans to project the idea of unity into a specific "supranational" European structure.
We may all be different, but we are all in the same boat. We can fight for our places and means of coexistence on this boat, but we also can agree on them peacefully. I understand European unity as a magnanimous attempt to choose the second of these possibilities, and to give Europe for the first time in its history the kind of order that would grow out of the free will of everyone, and be based on mutual agreement and a common longing for peace and cooperation. It would be a stable and solid order, one based not merely on military and political treaties, which anyone can break or ignore at will, but on such a close cooperation between European nations and citizens that it would limit, if not exclude, the possibility of new conflicts. This is not a mere dream. Soon half a century will separate us from the end of the Second World War. During that time all of Western Europe has successfully averted the threat of many potential conflicts, precisely by building, step by step, such an integrating system.
This alone is enough to demonstrate that this newest type of European order is not, or need not be, a mere utopia, but that it can work in real terms.
I do not perceive the European Union as a monstrous superstate in which the autonomy of all the various nations, states, ethnic groups, cultures, and regions of Europe would gradually be dissolved. On the contrary, I see it as the systematic creation of a space that allows the autonomous components of Europe to develop freely and in their own way in an environment of lasting security and mutually beneficial cooperation based on principles of democracy, respect for human rights, civil society, and an open market economy.
The Czech Lands lie at the very centre of Europe and sometimes even think of themselves as its very heart. For this reason, they have always been a particularly exposed place, unavoidably involved in any European conflict. In fact, many European conflicts began or ended there. Like a number of other Central European countries, we have always been a dramatic crossroads of all kinds of European intellectual and spiritual currents and geopolitical interests. This makes us particularly sensitive to the fact that everything that happens in Europe intrinsically concerns us, and that everything that happens to us intrinsically concerns all of Europe. We are among the expert witnesses to the political reality of Europe's interconnectedness. That is why our sense of co-responsibility for what happens in Europe is especially strong, and also why we are intensely aware that the prospect of European integration presents an enormous historic opportunity to Europe as a whole, and to us.
I think I have essentially answered my first question that is, why the Czech Republic wants to become a member of the European Union. Yes, we are able and happy to surrender a portion of our sovereignty in favour of the commonly administered sovereignty of the European Union, because we know it will repay us many times over, as it will all Europeans. The part of the world we live in can hope for a gradual transformation from an arena of eternally warring rulers, powers, nations, social classes and religious doctrines, competing for territories of influence or hegemony, into a forum of down-to-earth dialogue and effective cooperation between all its inhabitants in a commonly shared, commonly administered and commonly cultivated space dedicated to coexistence and solidarity.
I believe my thoughts about the interconnectedness of Europe have, to a considerable degree, answered the second question as well: why the European Union should gradually expand. Europe was divided artificially, by force, and for that very reason its division had to collapse sooner or later. History has thrown down a gauntlet we can, if we wish, pick up. If we do not do so, a great opportunity to create a continent of free and peaceful cooperation may be lost. Only a fool who has learned nothing from the millennia of European history can believe that tranquillity, peace and prosperity can flourish forever in one part of Europe without regard for what is happening in the other. The era of the Cold War, when the enforced cohesion of the Soviet Bloc contributed to the cohesion of the West, is definitively over.
We must all accept that the world is radically different today than it was five years ago. The vision of Europe as a stabilizing factor in the contemporary international environment, one that does not export war to the rest of the world but rather radiates the idea of peaceful coexistence, cannot become reality if Europe as a whole is not transformed. The gauntlet simply must be taken up. What is going on in the former Yugoslavia should be a grave reminder to any of us who think that in Europe we can ignore with impunity what is going on next door. Unrest, chaos and violence are infectious and expansionary. We Central Europeans have directly felt the truth of this countless times, and I think it is our responsibility repeatedly to draw others' attention to this experience, especially those fortunate enough not to have undergone it as often as we have.
Western Europe has been moving toward its present degree of integration for nearly fifty years. It is clear that new members, particularly those attempting to shed the consequences of Communist rule, cannot be accepted overnight into the European Union without seriously threatening to tear the delicate threads from which it is woven. Nevertheless, the prospect of its expansion, and of the expansion of its influence and spirit, is in its intrinsic interest and in the intrinsic interest of Europe as a whole. There is simply no meaningful alternative to this trend. Anything else would be a return to the times when European order was not a work of consensus but of violence. And the evil demons are lying in wait. A vacuum, the decay of values, the fear of freedom, suffering and poverty, chaos these are the environments in which they flourish. They must not be given that opportunity.
For if the future European order does not emerge from a broadening European Union, based on the best European values and willing to defend and transmit them, it could well happen that the organization of this future will fall into the hands of a cast of fools, fanatics, populists and demagogues waiting for their chance and determined to promote the worst European traditions. And there are, unfortunately, more than enough of those.
Allow me now to turn to the third question I have posed. That is, the question of the tasks with which, in my opinion, the European Union is now confronted. There are certainly many of them, and all of them are difficult. One, however, appears to me especially important, and it is this I would like to talk about.
Members of Parliament,
I confess that when I studied the Maastricht Treaty and the other documents on which the European Union is based, I had a somewhat ambiguous response. On the one hand, it is undoubtedly a respectable piece of work. It is scarcely possible to believe that a common framework could be given to such a complex and diverse legal and economic order, involving so many different European countries. It is amazing that common rules of the game have been created, that all the legislative, administrative and institutional mechanisms that enable the smooth running of this great body have been invented and that, in so colourful a political environment, agreement on an enormous number of concrete matters was reached and many different interests harmonized in a way that will benefit everyone. It is, I repeat, a remarkable labour of the human spirit and its rational capacities.
However, into my admiration, which initially verged on enthusiasm, there began to intrude a disturbing, less exuberant feeling. I felt I was looking into the inner workings of an absolutely perfect and immensely ingenious modern machine. To study such a machine must be a great joy to an admirer of technical inventions, but for me, whose interest in the world is not satisfied by admiration for well-oiled machines, something was seriously missing, something that could be called, in a rather simplified way, a spiritual or moral or emotional dimension. The treaty addressed my reason, but not my heart.
Naturally, I am not claiming that an affirmation of the European Union can be found in a reading of its documents and norms alone. They are only a formal framework to define the living realities that are its primary concern. And the positive aspects of those realities far outweigh whatever dry official texts can offer. Still, I cannot help feeling that my sensation of being confronted with nothing more than a perfect machine is somehow significant; that this feeling indicates something or challenges us in some way.
The large empires, complex supranational entities or confederations of states that we know from history, those which, in their time, contributed something of value to humanity, were remarkable not only because of how they were administered or organized, but also because they were always buoyed by a spirit, an idea, an ethos I would even say by a charismatic quality out of which their structure ultimately grew. For such entities to work and be vital, they always had to offer, and indeed did offer, some key to emotional identification, an ideal that would speak to people or inspire them, a set of generally understandable values that everyone could share. These values made it worthwhile for people to make sacrifices for the entity that embodied them, even, in extreme circumstances, the sacrifice of their very lives.
The European Union is based on a large set of values, with roots in antiquity and in Christianity, which over 2,000 years evolved into what we recognize today as the foundations of modern democracy, the rule of law and civil society. This set of values has its own clear moral foundation and its obvious metaphysical roots, whether modern man admits it or not. Thus it cannot be said that the European Union lacks a spirit from which all the concrete principles on which it is founded grow. It appears, though, that this spirit is rather difficult to see. It seems too hidden behind the mountains of systemic, technical, administrative, economic, monetary and other measures that contain it. And thus, in the end, many people might be left with the understandable impression that the European Union to put it a bit crudely is no more than endless arguments over how many carrots can be exported from somewhere, who sets the amount, who checks it and who will eventually punish delinquents who contravene the regulations.
That is why it seems to me that perhaps the most important task facing the European Union today is coming up with a new and genuinely clear reflection on what might be called European identity, a new and genuinely clear articulation of European responsibility, an intensified interest in the very meaning of European integration in all its wider implications for the contemporary world, and the re-creation of its ethos or, if you like, its charisma.
Reading the Maastricht Treaty, for all its historical importance, will hardly win enthusiastic supporters for the European Union. Nor will it win over patriots, people who will genuinely experience this complex organism as their native land or their home, or as one aspect of their home. If this great administrative work, which should obviously simplify life for all Europeans, is to hold together and stand the tests of time, then it must be visibly bonded by more than a set of rules and regulations. It must embody, far more clearly than it has so far, a particular relationship to the world, to human life and ultimately to the world order. Far more clearly than before, it must impress upon millions of European souls an idea, a historical mission and a momentum. It must clearly articulate the values upon which it is founded and which it intends to defend and cultivate. It also must take care to create emblems and symbols, visible bearers of its significance.
It should be perfectly clear to everyone that this is not just a conglomerate of states created for purely utilitarian reasons, but an entity that in an original way fulfils the longings of many generations of enlightened Europeans who knew that European universalism can when projected into political reality become the framework for a more responsible human existence on our continent. More than that, it is the way to achieve the genuine inclusion of our continent as a partner in the multicultural environment of contemporary global civilization.
Naturally, my intention is not to advise the European Union on what it should do. I can only say what I, as a European, would welcome.
I would welcome it, for instance, if the European Union were to establish a charter of its own that would clearly define the ideas on which it is founded, its meaning and the values it intends to embody. Clearly, the basis of such a charter could be nothing other than a definitive moral code for European citizens. All those hundreds of pages of agreements on which the European Union is founded would thus be brought under the umbrella of a single, crystal-clear and universally understandable political document that would make it obvious at once what the European Union really is. At the same time, it also would be to its advantage if it were made even more obvious who represents it and embodies and guarantees its values. If the citizens of Europe understand that this is not just an anonymous bureaucratic monster to limit or even deny their autonomy, but simply a new type of human community that actually broadens their freedom significantly, then the European Union need not fear for its future.
You will certainly understand that at this moment my concern is not so much any particular suggestion but something deeper: how to make the spirit of the European Union more vivid and compelling, more accessible to all. For it seems to me that this is a project of such historical importance that it would be an unforgivable sin were it to languish and ultimately disappoint the hopes invested in it only because its very meaning were drowned in disputes over technical details.
I have come from a land that did not enjoy freedom and democracy for almost sixty years. You will perhaps believe me when I say that it is this historical experience that has allowed me to respond at the deepest level to the revolutionary meaning of European integration today. And perhaps you will believe me when I say that the very depth of that experience compels me to express concern for the proper outcome of this process and to consider ways to strengthen it and make it irreversible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me, in conclusion, to thank you for approving the Europe Agreement on the association of the Czech Republic with the European Union two weeks after it was signed. In doing so, you have shown that you are not indifferent to the fate of my country.