President Kiska at GLOBSEC: We need a strong and united Europe
The opening speech of Slovak President Andrej Kiska at GLOBSEC 2019 Bratislava Forum:
„After almost five years, my mandate as President of Slovakia is coming to an end. During these years, I have not missed any of the Globsecs. Symbolically, today´s speech, as a president, is also my last foreign policy and security address as a president of the Slovak Republic. I am glad it is here. Where the world comes to discuss the most pressing issues we all face.
So much has happened in these five years. Violation of rules of peace in Europe that we took for sacred since the end of the World War II. Migration, which tested the EU and our solidarity hard. Rise of populism, extremism, or propaganda. But also new technologies that will change our lives for good.
The fact is, that despite all these challenges, after all the difficult times, hearing so often about the end of the European Union and the world, as we know it, we are doing well. The EU is more attractive and stronger than 5 years ago. Stronger and more attractive than sometimes we see it ourselves.
I am a proud European. I am proud that the EU is an economic superpower. And I really wish that we would also become a political superpower. But there is a huge gap between our ambitions and the reality. Anyway it is not a mission impossible. To make it happen, we need to be stronger at home, in our EU – to be more self-confident.
Strong at home
The last two Eurobarometer polls showed historically the highest support for the EU among our publics. Even in countries, where relations with Brussels have significantly worsened. Populists and extremists, who not that long ago portrayed the EU as an evil, and called for all sorts of exits, now speak about reforms instead. Now competing about who will be more pro-European in the public speeches. Even Marine Le Pen doesn´t want to leave the EU anymore. Not even the Eurozone. Reforms, reforms everywhere, we hear. I say, let´s finish first what we have begun – Eurozone, Schengen, truly single market… And of course, let´s look forward, what to do next. Together, in integration – not separation.
The recent European elections showed that people recognize the advantages of being in the EU. The catastrophic visions have not fulfilled. It also showed that if we have a crisis, than it is a crisis largely provoked and fuelled by populists. By those, who aim at destroying our unity. At dissolving our integration successes. And at the same time those, who don´t come with any real solutions.
The results also show, that the crisis largely provoked by populists really exists. But also, that we can cope with it. Because, in the end, majority of EU citizens voted for a serious pro-European policy. They showed great sense of responsibility, and expressed clearly, what is important to them – areas related to our future like the environmental protection, but also the traditional ones – security, stability and prosperity in Europe. And they didn´t get dragged into the manipulations by populists inventing problems to serve just their egoistic interests.
Now we need to keep this support and to react to our citizens´ needs. If we want to fulfil our ambitions, we need to integrate more. The road to Brussels, not the road back to national states with their interests should be the solution. We need to be pro-European. Not only in our speeches. And not only in Brussels. To be European means to respect and not to violate the rule of law. To defend freedom of media and civic society. Because our European Union is not only an economic project. With its funds, single market or free movement. It is a union of values and democratic principles.
I truly believe in a strong transatlantic bond. I consider NATO collective defence to be the best security guarantee we have ever had. At the same time, I believe in a strong role for the EU in the world affairs. But let´s be realistic: if we want Europe to be relevant, we cannot avoid more integration. And we cannot continue with the statements of concern to be our boldest actions. While others shape the situation on the ground already.
Many of us have voiced our concerns about the state of transatlantic relations. We got used to the protection by the USA. We got used to the kind words, no matter what our deeds were. And we were sitting in the shade saving our resources when the US invested into our collective defence.
We may not like the tone of communication with Europe. We definitely don´t like the threats of new trade restrictions on our cars. And we are not happy that the trade and economic cooperation is far below what we could do together.
But we have no arguments, especially in the light of our ambitions, against the criticism that we don´t do enough for our security. That we do not invest enough in it.
If Europe wants to be a respected actor, it cannot depend on someone else´s assistance every time it wants to pursue its interests.
Don´t get me wrong. I am not primarily speaking about building new institutions. New structures. Or new European armed forces. I am convinced that if we invest into our forces, we strengthen the European pillar of NATO. And we strengthen Europe. This is why we need to invest into our forces, not into new structures. To be able to act independently as Europe, when we decide so.
To make our Europe stronger, we need unity. We need capabilities. And we need a will to act.
First, our unity. We need to speak with one voice. Not as 28 different states. And we can do that. We already have done so. We agreed to impose sanctions for the illegal annexation of Crimea – as one. We speak with one voice in Brexit. But unfortunately we hear many different voices when it comes to Nord Stream 2. Or peace in the Middle East.
To fulfil our ambitions, we need a strong foreign policy. It is time to realize that our weak political voice will never grow strong, if we put our national interests before the European ones. Because then, while we argue, the others take the lead. Our Eastern neighbourhood is still at stake. And in Syria, Iraq or Venezuela actors like Russia, Iran or Turkey have much stronger voice than our 28 states.
Second, our capability. To back our voice. Without concrete contributions into our security and capabilities, our ambitions will remain only a vision. If Europe wants to be treated differently, even by our Ally over the Atlantic, we must do more. The operation over Libya showed a natural ambition of Europe to lead. But this ambition was hampered by our missing capabilities. Part of them should come out of our joint research and development. To have competitive products for a reasonable price. Today, we are far from both. Once we achieve it, we will buy more in Europe, than elsewhere. And it will not be just another business opportunity for some. But a strategic element of our security and sustainability.
Third, our will. To be ready and willing to deploy these capabilities. Either as NATO, or as Europe. To be present and act where our interests are at stake. As the others do. For that, we need to look into our decision-making, to make it faster and flexible.
And lastly, technologies
While it takes weeks to months for the conventional threats to turn into a real danger, in case of technology-related threats it may take seconds to minutes. If we do not take it seriously in Europe, no military investments will compensate the damages of our ignorance.
In the recent months, we all learned about the 5G technology. Not because we could already enjoy its benefits. But because we have finally begun a serious discussion on how these technologies are linked to our security. And how ignorant we have been so far.
This is a much more complex issue than the purely business-driven affair, as the critics claim. I am convinced that our technological recklessness and lack of strategic thinking in this area is a serious threat to our security. If there is one area, where we need to act immediately, then it should be this one.
To make it short, the 5G will become the backbone, the new critical infrastructure of our society. It will connect our homes, hospitals, universities, cities and autonomous infrastructure. And yet, we pay so little attention to its importance. I am shocked how carelessly and how little we think before we are willing to give it to someone else hands. What worries me even more is that instead of thinking strategically, we only count how much we can save today. And ignore, that tomorrow, it can cost us billions to build it anew. Instead of putting our security first, we discuss fairness of public procurement.
We need to think in terms of technology, security and strategy together. We absolutely ignore the strategic importance of a jointly owned and developed European technology. Not only in terms of a new European supersonic fighter, or armed vehicle. I am talking about the European Chip.
This most sensitive part of the infrastructure must stay in our European hands. And not to be given to someone who can switch off our infrastructure in a second. Or just stop providing support. To leave us vulnerable.
That is why I consider the question of European Chip of a more strategic security issue. With far more serious security impacts, than any current thinking of building new security institutions in the EU.
Because this is not only about data or network protection. It is about our ambition. To be safe, to think big in our ambitions, but to pay attention to small details, when preparing for it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I kept saying my entire mandate, that the EU is not a problem, but a solution to our problems in Europe. And our Alliance with the North America is the strongest and the most important bond we, Europeans, have ever had in and with the free world. To strengthen it further, to show we are ready to face any challenge, we need a strong and united Europe. Ready and well prepared. This is the Europe I would like to see in the future. This is the Europe that will be a partner for our closest Allies on the other bank of the Atlantic. This is the Europe that our citizens deserve. We are able to have such Europe. And we can afford it. And we definitely deserve it.