Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 26 April 1999

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends, it is sometimes useful for any prime minister to have in his pocket a written speech prepared by his advisers, but I think that words must come from the heart, not just from paper. That is why I apologise to the interpreters for complicating their work.

After forty years of living under a totalitarian system, but still with our deeply rooted cultural and political heritage, we are returning home. We are no newcomer. The European family is our old family. We, the Czech Republic, belong to that family. It is a wonderful feeling to be coming home.

I want to express my sincere gratitude and thanks to the Council of Europe for its help in re-establishing Czech democracy. Thank you so much for your assistance and advice.

New politicians from post-totalitarian states after reading a few textbooks are tempted to visit Europe and give lectures on market economy and political democracy. However, we must learn and gain experience from you.

Our experience may be important for you, too. It is the experience of a prisoner released from a concentration camp. You might say that there is no chance of a repetition of concentration camps. That is why your experience is not useful for us. We have experienced a totalitarian system. You might say that there is no risk of a repetition of any totalitarian system because of technological progress and improving economic performance, but, dear friends, there is the risk that just such technological progress and improving economic performance might provoke new, and possibly more sophisticated forms, of totalitarianism. That is our experience. We are sensitive – perhaps even over-sensitive – after forty years of communism, to emerging forms of totalitarianism. We are like a bird in a mine which signals a poisonous atmosphere. That is the problem of contemporary politics.

I understand that there are two European families – the Council of Europe and the European Union. Everybody speaks about the European Union because full membership is connected with some degree of economic performance. As a representative of an applicant country, I understand the necessity for full membership for the Czech Republic in the European Union. Nevertheless, that body, however important, is organised and integrated mainly on economic principles – on the principles of economic performance. I understand the Council of Europe to be an institution that is founded not on money, but on values – common European values such as solidarity, respect for human rights, social cohesion, political democracy, and so on. Such values have no army, no money, no financial resources. Nevertheless, they integrate our family.

On the feedback group, I fully understand that it is better, and feels more comfortable, to develop human rights on the basis of high economic performance, but social structure and the degree of political democracy and freedom are the most important factors in improving such performance.

One of the main European values is diversity – integration not unification. I do not envisage Europe and the Council of Europe as a melting pot; I do not envisage a society just of McDonalds. Indeed, the Prime Minister of Italy, Massimo D'Alema, told me that he has organised a body – the friends of slow food. Man cannot be reduced to only one dimension: homo economicus. The kitchen is also a part of our culture. That is why we cannot unify our cultures. We must instead enrich them. Some values cannot be measured by commercial criteria. What is the price of friendship? What is the price of life? What is the price of health? What is the price of human rights? All such things are based on long-term co-operation in the broad European family which the Council of Europe embodies. The Czech Republic has deep democratic traditions. As you know, it was called the island of democracy between the two world wars. Now it has an opportunity to participate in a family that is integrated on the basis of certain values and not only economic performance.

I shall touch on the painful problem of Kosovo, which is discussed so frequently. I have discussed it with your Secretary General. We talked, of course, of the Council of Europe's successes, but we talked too of its failures. According to the philosophy of falsification of Karl Popper – a study of our failures and mistakes – it might be beneficial to learn from our mistakes. The Secretary General told me that Kosovo is our main failure. We have not been able to prevent the war with the tool of democracy. We must form a new strategy, and not a short-term one, because the Council of Europe has no weapons or armies and, as far as I know, bud­ gets are strictly limited.

But, sub specie aetemitatis, our common task must be to prepare for the development of democratic, civil and military structures in a future Yugoslavia. Rather than substituting President Milosevic with Mr Draskovic, we must prepare and educate new political leaders. That must be the long-term strategy. The Council of Europe alone is responsible for providing that missing link.

Of course, individual factions will try to develop into political parties, but there is common ground between them: a democratic approach and the desire never to replicate the totalitarian system which is still in operation there. The Czech Republic is completely prepared to participate in that strategy.

I firmly hope that there will be gradual convergence of the two European families. We know that the European Union began as a free trade area, but now there are second and third pillars. The Czech Republic is happy to inform you that it has ratified many Council of Europe conventions, and not only those which have economic characteristics, such as those on local self­ government and the European Social Charter. We have joined the Social Development Fund because to be pro-European means to have respect for such conventions. We have also taken an initiative, which is orientated towards the competencies of the European Court of Human Rights, in order to observe and control the fulfilment of the conventions. I greatly hope that, in the long term, the Czech initiative will be accepted.

Deep in my heart I believe that the two European families will join. I am very grateful that we are both the old and the new member of your family. Thank you very much for your attention.


Thank you, Mr Zeman for your thoughtful, friendly speech. You heard the Assembly's response to it. I am deeply envious of your articulate fluency in a foreign language and the ability to speak without a text. I wish that I could do that.


Some sixteen members have asked to put questions to you. We would like to try to get through them all if possible. Consequently, I propose that we do not have supplementary questions. Members are reminded that they should limit their questions to thirty seconds. They are not making speeches; they are asking questions.

We have tried to group the questions according to subject; that will make it easier for the Prime Minister. The first group concerns the Czech Republic's attitude to the Nato action in Kosovo. The first questioner is Mr Mühlemann.

Mr MÜHLEMANN (Switzerland) (translation)

Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, we are aware that some people in Prague take a different view of what Nato is doing. Could you tell us what alternative solution the opponents of this action propose?

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I emphasise the simple fact that the Czech Government is a loyal member of Nato. We have fulfilled all the requirements laid upon us. The problem is as follows: will the bombardment strengthen the position of Milosevic or will it weaken his position? That is the crucial question that has to be discussed in respect of all our obligations and duties as a full member of Nato.

We have no original proposals. We agree with the three proposals of Joschka Fischer, your colleague. They are as follows. The first is on disarmament. The five points of Nato are completely valid. They reflect Mr Fischer's proposals. The second concerns the guarantee from the Security Council. The third involves the participation of the Russian Federation in the Kosovo conflict. Only Russia is able to put some pressure on Milosevic. Co-operation between Nato and the Russian Federation would be a good idea.

Therefore, there are no protests against the action as such. There is discussion about the efficiency of various methods, how to overthrow the dictatorship and how to stop the genocide. In democratic society, such a discussion is necessary. Not to discuss those problems would be one-sided.


Thank you. The next questioner on the same subject is Mr Shuba of the Russian Federation, who is a member of the Group of the European People's Party. It appears that he is not here. In that case the next question is from Mr Glotov, who is also from the Russian Federation and who is a member of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr GLOTOV (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

recalling the Czech Republic's former membership of the Warsaw Pact, asked whether the Czech people would adhere in full to the principles of Nato. What was his reaction to taking part in ground forces?

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic (interpretation)

recalled that in 1968 Warsaw Pact tanks came to Prague uninvited. He added that one difference between Nato and the Warsaw Pact was that Nato tanks would never invade the Czech Republic.


The next question on the same subject is from Mr Davis of the United Kingdom, who is a member of the Socialist Group.

Mr DAVIS (United Kingdom)

My question concerns the post-war situation, rather than the current situation in Kosovo. May I welcome the emphasis that Mr Zeman puts on a long-term strategy for the reconstruction of Kosovo and Serbia. Clearly he agrees that such a strategy should involve not only replacement of buildings but the creation of a new society, based on the values of the Council of Europe and, as he puts it, respect for diversity.

Therefore, the Council of Europe has a role to play, but do you accept that such action will involve the education not only of a new generation of leaders but of a generation of people? Leaders without supporters are powerless.

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I completely agree with you. That was one of the topics of my speech. The idea cannot be excluded that a new Marshall Plan will be needed in the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. The Czech Republic is prepared to participate. The Czech Government proposed to the Czech Parliament that financial help should be given to Kosovo refugees, amounting to one billion Czech crowns. Of course, our financial position is not good, but solidarity is more important than economy. That is why we are prepared to participate in the reconstruction of the former Yugoslavia. We are also prepared to participate in education programmes, but we cannot exaggerate our influence. Such help must be co-ordinated. We should endeavour to do it under the leadership of the Council of Europe.


Thank you. The next question is still on the Nato strikes but specifically on their eco­ logical impact. It is to be put by Mr Aushev of the Russian Federation and a member of the Socialist Group. He appears not to be here. Therefore, the next question is on the humanitarian impact of Nato strikes. It is to be put by Mr Zhebrovsky of the Russian Federation. He is non inscrit, which means that he is not a member of a political group.

Mr ZHEBROVSKY (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

recalled the early 1960s and the methods of Krushchev, and asked whether it was right to fight for Kosovan rights in the same way, with the consequences being seen in respect of refugees.

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic (interpretation)

said that the question was based on a false premise, namely that the crisis in Kosovo had started when Nato had started bombing. The first act of the tragedy had taken place some ten years ago, when the autonomous status of Kosovo was abolished. Causes and effects should not be confused!



The last question on Kosovo is from Lord Judd, who is a member of the Socialist Group.

Lord JUDD (United Kingdom)

Interestingly, you have said that the involvement of the Russian Federation in the future handling of the situation is crucial. You have also referred to guarantees by the Security Council. As I understand it, Russia looks to the United Nations for leadership, while America does not believe that the UN can provide convincing military leadership and that any military operation, even if it is endorsed by the UN, must be led by Nato. How can that circle be squared?

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

As you know, the official declarations from Nato's Washington Summit expressed the desire of all the allies to include Russia in the solution of the conflict. Three proposals were made: the first had Nato in command; the second had Nato as a core; and the third was a repetition of the Dayton Bosnia model. Joschka Fischer proposes a guarantee from the Security Council, because if Russia was willing to participate in such an operation it would probably abstain and not use its veto on the Security Council resolution. As far as I know that is Nato's proposal for Russian participation. I discussed the issue last week with Mr Primakov and Mr Ivanov. I do not think that they are against such co-operation or that they support Milosevic. They have the strength to put pressure on Milosevic to agree to land forces being placed in Kosovo. That is my evaluation of where matters stand.


There are two questions on the entry of the Czech Republic to the European Union and Nato. The first is from Mr Jaskiernia, who is a member of the Socialist Group.


In your very interesting speech, you told us that the Czech Republic was applying for membership of the European Union. Can you tell us a little more about what stage you are at legally and economically? When do you predict that you will fulfil all the conditions necessary to become a member of the European Union and when do you predict that the Czech Republic will join the European Union? I know that it is not only up to you, but your comment and prediction would be valuable.

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

My answer may be surprising. The problems for the Czech Republic's full membership of the European Union are mainly ones of domestic policy rather than foreign policy, because we have to adapt all our legislation towards the norms of the acquis communautaire. Three years ago Hans Van den Broek said that it was not the European Union that was asking the Czech Republic to join. I fully agree and that comment is still valid. Adapting our legislation is a problem of domestic policy. Some laws are not necessary. For example, European norms prescribe even technological parameters such as the length and breadth of a bus. It would be nonsense to prepare laws about such technological norms. We adapt our norms wherever we have the chance, but the legislative process is relatively slow. We have two chambers and all laws have to be adopted in both.

The date depends on the European Union. After the Helsinki Summit at the end of this year or early next year there is a good chance that a concrete date will be proposed. However, the problem of the timing of the process is exaggerated. From a historical perspective, it does not matter whether the Czech Republic becomes a full member of the European Union in 2003 or 2004. The core of the problem is not just to have good legislation that is compatible with European law and the acquis communautaire, but to implement all the laws and to have an efficient state apparatus. Those are issues of domestic policy.


The second question on this subject comes from Mr Marshall of the Socialist Group.

Mr MARSHALL (United Kingdom)

I should like to follow on from the Prime Minister's answer to the previous question. He will be aware that complying with the acquis of the European Union involves not just the legislative process but an additional cost. The Czech Republic will be faced with an extra financial burden as a consequence of complying with the acquis. There is a similar problem in relation to its membership of Nato, which will require a restructuring of its forces, imposing a further financial burden. Why are the people of the Czech Republic prepared to face such an increased financial burden?

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

If you want to be a member of a club, you must respect its rules. If you do not want to be a member of a club, in light of the globalised society and economy, the result will be isolation – non-splendid isolation. The consequence of isolation will be the low growth of gross domestic product and technology and the complete obsolescence of the Czech national economy. A cost-benefit analysis must be done. We know that participation in the EU and Nato has some costs but we know also that it has some benefits. I have mentioned overcoming isolation. If you compare the benefits and the costs for the Czech Republic, you see that it is better to be inside than outside the family.


The next question comes from Mr Jansson from Finland who wants to ask about the principality of Liechtenstein.

Mr JANSSON (Finland)

That is correct. Reference has been made to relationships between member states of the Council of Europe, and you referred, Mr Prime Minister, to the monitoring procedure after your country's accession to the Council of Europe. Are there obstacles preventing the recognition of the Principality of Liechtenstein by your country? If so, what in your view can be done to overcome them?

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I am very happy that my colleague from Finland is interested in a bilateral problem that may exist between Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic. First, I have proposed bilateral negotiations on this topic between representatives of Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic. That might provide a solution. There are some open property problems, as there are in some other countries. This is no special case. There were some problems between Germany and the Czech Republic which, after my visit to Bonn, were solved and we opened the road towards the future. When my friends in Liechtenstein invite me to Vaduz, it will be a pleasure for me to participate in a bilateral attempt to solve the problem. If there is no satisfactory resolution, we shall ask the Council of Europe for help.


Thank you. The next question is from Mr Atkinson, the leader of the European Democratic Group. He wants to ask about Czech asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

Mr Prime Minister, as you will recall, several hundred Czech citizens arrived on British shores last year seeking asylum, which came as a surprise to us because your citizens, like ours, enjoy unique protection of their human rights as a member state of the Council of Europe, including the right of petition to the European Court of Human Rights. Did these people have a genuine cause to flee from their country or did they have some other reason to come to Britain?

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I would like to be frank with my colleague. There is a problem with minorities in the Czech Republic. That problem has been rather exaggerated by the press, but it exists. We have tried to solve the problem and we have started with the education of the young children of the minorities. We have tried to improve living conditions and we have created institutions providing them with guarantees.

I was frank in the first part of my answer and I shall be frank in the second part. We have one commercial television station which showed to that group of the population the high living standards not only in the United Kingdom but in Canada and other countries. After that, the people simply wanted to visit the UK and other countries – not because of discrimination but simply in the hope of substantially increasing their standard of living. They were disappointed.

We cannot increase our standard of living in a short time but we are doing our best to prevent any form of discrimination against minorities, with one exception – the minority of smokers. I am a heavy smoker and I completely accept it when I am discriminated against. (Laughter.)


I hear the smokers applauding you. The next question comes from Mrs Langthaler from Austria. She wishes to ask about the Temelin nuclear power station.

Mrs LANGTHALER (Austria) (translation)

Thank you very much. Prime minister, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place precisely thirteen years ago. Before that, Austria had already taken up a clear posi­ tion against the operation of nuclear power stations. We are particularly worried about such plants near national borders. You are aware of the long-standing dispute concerning Temelin and of the position of the Austrian opposition. In a few weeks' time, your government will be deciding whether to finish building Temelin or not. I should like to ask you whether you can already let us know now what the Czech Government's decision will be.

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

For the first time there has been some completely objective expertise on Temelin. In a fort­ night, the Czech Government will decide between two choices which are very complicated – do we stop Temelin or continue the building while respecting all the necessary safety measures? Yes, of course, there have been problems, including Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and others. I know that you have stopped your power station following a referendum, but we know that in France – I hope that French colleagues are present – approximately 80% of electricity is generated by nuclear power stations.

There are different experiences and our government must decide democratically. It has nineteen members, and I am no dictator, so my voice is only one among nineteen. The decision will be taken within two weeks.


Thank you. The next question, on the Czech Fund for the Future, is from Mr Behrendt, who is a member of the Socialist Group.

Mr BEHRENDT (Germany)

Mr Prime Minister, you have already referred to Czech-German relations. I want to ask about the declaration of reconciliation between the Czech Republic and Germany, dating from January 1997. I wonder how you judge the fund, which has been implemented in the framework of that declaration, and whether you think that it might serve as a model for future friendship agreements elsewhere in Europe.

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I greatly appreciate the fund. You will know that the Czech-German declaration says that the majority of the resources should be devoted to victims of nazi terror. Their average age is more than 70 and they are dying rapidly. Help for concentration camp survivors must come rapidly, because we cannot help those who have already died. The Czech-German declaration also provides a common forum for discussion and not only the past but the future is discussed. Politicians should discuss mainly the future and leave historians to study the past.

Questions for the future include the youth exchange and common ecological projects such as the Rhine­Elbe project, and cultural exchange, as well as euro­regions and many other matters. As a former social forecaster, I must admit that there is a golden rule for scientific forecasting which says that the future is always clear and only the past changes all the time.


If you were a forecaster, you have an opportunity to be one again now, because we have come to the mystery section. The last three questioners have not given subjects. The first of them is from Mrs Ojuland, who is leader of the Liberal, Democratic and Reformers' Group.

Mrs OJULAND (Estonia)

I promise that there is no mystery about my question.

I want to ask about the future of the Council of Europe. We are celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, so we know the face of the Council in the past fifty years. What do you think that its face will be in the next fifty?

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I think that I gave some response to that complicated question in my speech. My forecast was based on the assumption of the continuation of the process of convergence of the two European families, namely the Council of Europe and the European Union. In the horizon of fifty years – not fifteen years – even modem Russia could participate. I am speaking of a democratic Russia, the Russia of Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Solzhenytsin, not the Russia of Stalin or Brezhnev. In the long term, not only the Baltic states but the Russian Federation could become part of the European Union. I am always optimistic because without dreams and optimism politics would be too risky a job for me. Within the next fifty years Europe could be completely integrated – not unified, let me stress – as a democratic family.


Thank you. The last question is from Mr Solonari, who is a member of the Socialist Group.

Mr SOLONARI (Moldova)

The Czech Republic was and is one of the most successful countries of central and eastern Europe in the matter of European integration. My colleagues and I are very sure that soon your country will become a fully fledged member of the European Union. I congratulate you on that success, but it is a fact of life that the integration of some countries into the European Union is accompanied by the appearance of new dividing lines between the more successful countries and their less successful neighbours to the east. For example, problems can arise in visa regimes under the Schengen Agreement. What concrete measures could or should be taken to mitigate the negative impact of such developments?

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I discussed that problem during my visit to Bulgaria and Romania. It is possible to accept concrete domestic measures in your country and others against illegal immigration and to control passports and other documents. The so-called blacklist of the European Union has been based on statistical data on illegal immigration but I do not think that there is a strong connection between a country's economic performance and the strength of the measures that it takes against illegal immigration – in other words, security measures. That is why I firmly hope that such domes­ tic measures will be applied, and that the number of illegal immigrants to the Czech Republic and, above all, to Germany will decrease gradually. In such circumstances, the possibility that the blacklist will be changed cannot be excluded.


Thank you very much, Prime Minister. That concludes questions. We thank you warmly for the frank, friendly and informative way in which you have responded. I know that you have a press conference to face in fifteen minutes, so we will release you for that. Again, I thank you for coming and we hope you will come back.

Mr Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I thank members of the Assembly for their attention. Goodbye, all the best and good luck to each of you.