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Europe’s task now: Embrace diversity and work together against Russia

Petr Fiala is the prime minister of the Czech Republic.

As we face a large energy crisis and an aggressive war on Europe’s very borders, the Czech Republic is assuming the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the second time in its history — once again at a turbulent point.  

February 24 changed many things and sent tremors through what we take for granted. It revealed we had paid too little attention to the security threats in our own neighborhood, exposing our dependency on third countries — and not only in the field of energy. It also reminded us of the strength and importance of the values on which a united Europe is built. 

It is precisely these values for which innocent people are dying in Ukraine today.  

When I visited Kyiv along with the Polish and Slovenian prime ministers, I saw with my own eyes the heroism of Ukrainians fighting for their sovereign right to belong to our European family. It showed us that these values need to be defended daily, as they can be subject to attack at any given moment. 

These are the values that gave birth to our modern Czech state. Values that were upheld by Václav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic. It was his inspiring essay from 1996 that led us to our presidency motto, “Europe as a task.“ And indeed, we have many tasks ahead. 

However, there is one major difference between the current EU presidency and our previous one. While the impact of the energy crisis and the Gaza war on EU citizens was quite limited in 2009, the impact of Russia’s current aggression against Ukraine is being felt by EU citizens with full force. 

The main task of this presidency will be to counter these impacts.  

And although Havel’s memorable words were written at a different time, and in a very different Europe, the message remains as strong as ever. 

Europe will only be strong if it’s united in its core. And it will only be united if we, first and foremost, seek what unites us.  

Of course, there will be attempts to divide us — from the outside, as well as from within.  

It’s obvious that among the 27 member countries, there will always be a diverse mix of opinions on every issue. But I see that diversity as our strength, not our weakness. 

The Czech Republic, as the presiding country, will always try to consider carefully all the views expressed in discussions, keeping in mind that all our actions affect the lives of citizens and impact their welfare.  

Just as we managed to reach consensus at the last European Council — agreeing that Ukraine deserves candidate status —we must also find consensus on further support for Ukraine, including militarily.  

At the same time, we must discuss how to ensure Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction as efficiently as possible. Although we would all like to see the end of the conflict now, it isn’t on the horizon. And we will support the swift adoption of a clear and constructive national reconstruction plan to help get Ukraine back on its feet. 

As for the bloc, although Russian aggression is taking place beyond the EU’s borders, it has exposed the weakness of our security architecture. We want to tackle this proactively, not only in terms of our traditional partnership within NATO, but also within the EU itself. We’ll look at strengthening traditional military production capabilities, as well as countering new types of threats our enemies are exploiting. And crucially, the EU must shape a secure cyberspace together with our democratic partners.  

Russia’s imperialism has caused international damage — and not just in the form of military aggression. It’s using energy as a weapon. If the EU wants to be respected, it can no longer be vitally dependent on countries that directly threaten its security. Getting rid of our dependence on Russian fossil fuel supplies will be the first step toward this independence.  

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential to this journey. The diversification of sources and routes, energy savings and the massive exploitation of low-emission and renewable sources are an important part of our joint efforts. And we must do all of this while respecting the freedom of each country to choose their own energy mix, which reflects their specific national circumstances. 

However, Russia’s aggression hasn’t only disrupted energy links between countries, it has affected the entire global economy at a time when supply chains haven’t fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to support our industries and develop key technologies in chips and artificial intelligence. We must also focus on food security and mobilize all our resources to strengthen it. 

The key to our economic growth isn’t protectionism: it is unfreezing negotiations on free trade agreements with like-minded democratic countries, which will allow us to better defend our geopolitical interests. 

The list of our current problems is long and looks dire, but they all point to one common theme: seeing our differences not as a disadvantage but using them as our greatest strength. 

I firmly believe that our European community will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. This is our task.

I look forward to seeing what we can all achieve together. 

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