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Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 16 February 2000 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. Address by Mr Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic

  President. – Mr President in office, ladies and gentlemen, I have great honour in extending a warm welcome, on behalf of the House, to the President of the Czech Republic, Mr Vaclav Havel.


I should also like to welcome Mrs Havel, who is sitting in the gallery. You are most welcome.


This is not your first visit to our Parliament, Mr President. You addressed plenary in Strasbourg nearly six years ago, in March 1994, and many of us, who were already European Members of Parliament at that time, still have a vivid recollection of your speech.

In fact, shortly after the Maastricht Treaty was ratified, you spoke in favour of strengthening European values, creating a European ethical dimension and opening the Union to the countries of central and eastern Europe. In other words, for many citizens, and not just in your country, you personify the European values to which we constantly voice our attachment.

There have been extremely dynamic developments in relations between the Union and the Czech Republic following two European elections and a major new reform of the European Treaties. An association agreement has been signed and a joint parliamentary committee has been set up by the European Parliament and the Czech Parliament. Your country filed an official application to join the Union in 1996 and accession negotiations were finally officially opened in 1998.

The process of European integration and enlargement has speeded up impressively since the fall of the iron curtain. The end of this artificial separation of Europe marked the start of a new era. We now face an historical challenge with multiple prospects for all the citizens of Europe.

Mr President, you are a symbol of these changes. You founded and signed Charter 77, the human rights movement which represented and called for fundamental values during a dark period in the history of your people. A Communist regime sentenced you to five years in prison for defending human freedom and dignity. But you never lost hope and history proved you right. Ten years ago, the “velvet revolution” proclaimed Havel na HRAD.

For ten years you represented democratic Czechoslovakia and, later, the Czech Republic, as its president. Reconciliation with your neighbours was, and still is, a basic objective which you have defended with vigour and perseverance. You are a first class European.

Today, the Czech Republic is preparing to join our Union. I am sure that you will agree, Mr President, and experience has shown us, that the process of enlargement of the Union is not without its pitfalls for both parties and the Czech Republic will need to make a great deal of effort in order to meet the accession criteria.

The European Union, for its part, will need to adapt its institutions and policies in order to prepare for enlargement. It has already taken a big step forward with Agenda 2000. The next step, i.e. institutional reform, will be taken following the inauguration of the new Intergovernmental Conference, in which the European Parliament will be fully involved.

Our responsibility as members of the European Parliament is to ensure that the process of enlargement takes place in an climate of optimum openness and transparency so that, when the time comes, the citizens of the European Union and the citizens of the Czech Republic will approve the accession of the Czech Republic to the European Union through their elected representatives.

Mr President, it gives me great pleasure to give you the floor.



  Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic(1). – (FR) Madam President, members of the European Parliament, ladies and gentlemen, the question of whether, deep down, a European has a sense of European identity, alongside a sense or awareness of national identity, crops up time and time again nowadays. In other words, do Europeans really feel they are Europeans or is it more of an abstract idea, a theoretical concept designed to repackage a geographical factor as a state of mind? This question also crops up during the debate on the degree of sovereignty which the nation states can and should transfer to the institutions of the European Union. Some insist that if a clearly-felt national identity is eclipsed too quickly by a European identity which few feel, or which is even perceived as fanciful, then things are sure to take a turn for the worse.

So what exactly do we mean by Europeanism?

If I look deep into my heart and try to identify the point at which I start to feel European, and what unites me to Europe, the first thing I feel is mild surprise at the fact that it is only now, under the pressure of topical political issues and duties, that I even ask myself the question. Why did I not put this question to myself a long time ago, when I started to make my way in the world and reflect on the world and my place in it? Did I consider my attachment to Europe as a purely extrinsic factor of little significance, a factor which did not need to concern, let alone torment, me? Or, on the contrary, did I consider my Europeanism as so self-evident that it did not warrant interrogation, examination or further thought?

The second proposition is the more likely: everything with which I have always identified myself was so naturally European that it never occurred to me to consider it as such. I simply did not see any point in qualifying it or, generally, in associating my way of thinking with a specific continent. Furthermore, I have the feeling that, as a young man, I might well have felt slightly silly saying or writing that I am a European, that my perceptions and way of thinking are European or even explicitly claiming that I was from Europe. It would have seemed profoundly pathetic and presumptuous, a more arrogant version of the national patriotism which has always embarrassed me.

In other words, I was so obviously and naturally European that I did not even think about it. And I am sure that applies to the majority of Europeans. They are profoundly European but they are not even aware of it, they do not hang that label round their necks, which is why opinion polls show that they are somewhat surprised at having to shout their Europeanism from the rooftops.

There does not appear to be a great tradition of considered Europeanism in Europe.

That is not necessarily a good thing and I welcome with satisfaction the fact that our Europeanism is starting to emerge clearly today from the vast melting pot of concepts which “speak for themselves”. Questioning, considering and trying to define it, helps us enormously in understanding ourselves. It is becoming a determining factor in the multicultural and multifaceted world in which we live, in which the capacity to perceive one’s own identity is a prerequisite to peaceful coexistence with other identities. Moreover, if Europe has thought so little about its own identity in the past, that is no doubt because it considered itself, wrongly, to be the entire world; or at least it considered itself to be better than the rest of the world, because it did not feel the need to define itself in relation to others. Which, of course, had unfortunate consequences as far as its actual conduct was concerned.

Thinking about Europeanism means asking what set of values, ideals or principles puts you in mind of the notion of Europe, even what is typical of Europe. More than that, it also means starting from the very essence of the thing, examining the whole concept critically. And, hence, quickly realising that numerous European traditions, values or principles are typically highly ambiguous and may lead to ruin if exaggerated, exploited or abused.

If Europe has entered an era of self-examination, that means that it wishes to define itself in relation to others and, also, that it wants to identify what is good about itself, what has proven its worth and what should be retained for the future.

When I first had the honour of addressing this House six years ago, I mentioned the need to emphasise the spiritual dimension, and the importance of the values of European integration, and I confided my fear that the spiritual, historic, political and civilising aspects of Europe might be hijacked by questions of a technical, economic, financial or administrative nature which risked upsetting the public. At the time, my words sounded somewhat provocative and I expected to be booed out of the House. But no such thing happened and it is satisfying to note that these same words now no longer sound provocative at all.

The dramatic changes in Europe since the iron curtain fell ten years ago, the increasingly obvious need to enlarge the European Union, faster and faster economic integration and the array of new threats being generated by present circumstances are also factors which have forced the European Union to open its mind to renewed, more intense introspection and to identify and redefine the values which unite it and give it purpose.

The idea is occasionally mooted that this quest has come too late, that cultural and political integration and introspection should have preceded economic integration; in other words, that we have started from the wrong end.

I do not think that is a fair judgement. After the Second World War, democratic western Europe had to deal with the memory of the horror of two world wars and the threat of the spread of totalitarian Communism. At the time, it was almost superfluous to discuss which values needed to be protected. They stuck out a mile. On the contrary, the west needed to unite technically, as it were, post haste, in order to prevent the possible emergence or even the proliferation of dictatorship and a relapse into old national conflicts.

Doubtless the same applies to my feeling of Europeanism: it came to me so naturally over the years, or even the decades, that it did not even occur to me to claim it explicitly. For western Europe, everything which it needed to protect was so obvious that it did not feel any pressing need to define it, analyse it, pull it apart or translate it into various political or institutional acts. Thus, just as I have only now come to ask myself if I feel European and to consider what that means, so the democratic Europe under construction has doubtless been forced by the historic events of the last decade to reflect on the very basis for its unification and its objectives in greater depth.

In my view, the main European values, as shaped by the turbulent spiritual and political history of Europe, and as adopted by other parts of the world, or at least some parts of the world, are obvious. Respect for the individual and for his freedoms, his rights and his dignity, the principle of solidarity, equality before the law and the rule of law, protection of all ethnic minorities, democratic institutions, separation of the legislative, executive and judicial estates, political pluralism, respect for private property and free enterprise, a market economy and the development of the civil society. The form which these values currently assume naturally reflects countless modern European experiences, including the fact that our continent is becoming a main multicultural crossroads.

I should like to dwell, for reasons which I shall explain, on one of these fundamental values. I refer to the civil society.

In the western world, i.e. in today’s Euro-American world, a richly constructed, open, decentralised civil society based on trust in the sovereign independence of its citizens and their various associations, forms the basis of the democratic state and guarantees its political stability.

If the European Union is shortly to open its doors to new democracies and, in my view, it is in its vital interest to do so, it is extremely important, if not of capital importance, that it help to reconstruct and develop the civil society in these countries. It was not by chance that, shortly after it came to power, the Communist dictatorship shredded and then eradicated the fabric of civil society as quickly as possible. It knew full well that it would never gain real control of the people while the various grass-roots structures of the civil society continued to function. What remained of a genuine civil society lived and developed in direct or indirect resistance. And European values survived in this milieu not thanks to the political regime, but in spite of it.

The way in which society structures itself cannot, of course, be imposed from on high. But the climate and the conditions which are conducive to its development can be put in place.

In this sense, aid for new democracies should be given in the wider context of the sustainable development and reinforcement of the civil society at pan-European level.

The more varied, differentiated and interlinked the various civil European structures, the more willing the new democracies will be to join them and the faster the principle of trust in the citizens and subsidiarity will apply in them, thereby reinforcing their stability. But that is not all: the foundations of the European Union as a supranational community will grow all the stronger.

Specifically, that means that one of the first jobs is to transfer certain social solidarity tasks to local authorities and non-profit-making or public-sector organisations. The lower the level at which resources are redistributed, the more transparent and economic this redistribution will be, providing better coverage of the multifarious needs of society, which are difficult to define from the centre, and creating social solidarity which is all the more genuine for being distinctly linked to specific persons or associations of persons. This genuine solidarity between citizens, social groups, communities and regions is the best basis for solidarity which cannot be dispensed by a single entity, i.e. the state. And in a supranational entity as big as the European Union, which needs to function as an instrument of solidarity, the real civil foundations must be even more stronger and even richer. The viability of the European Union therefore depends mainly, perhaps above all, on the spirit in which its citizens accept a civil European identity.

An increasing awareness of all the symptoms or manifestations of national egotism, xenophobia or racial intolerance should clearly form part of this new sense of European identity. The policy of appeasement which culminated in the capitulation to evil in Munich is one of the bitterest chapters of modern European history. This experience should encourage us to be vigilant. Evil needs to be nipped in the bud and it is not enough that there are governments to do so. The attitude of governments should be informed by the attitude of its citizens.


The concern for security is another expression of social solidarity. This is the job of the state or of a supranational grouping. The European Union has started working intensively on a new concept for its security policy. The overriding feature of this policy should be its capacity to take decisions quickly and transform them equally quickly into action. I think that is extremely important. It is also high time. Surely, recent experiences in Yugoslavia have a great deal to teach us on this subject.

In my view, the intervention by NATO demonstrated several things quite clearly.

First, respect for life and human dignity and the concern for European security may, under certain circumstances, call for intervention beyond the borders of the European Union. Of course, the stronger the mandate for such intervention, the better. However, one can also imagine the unfortunate situation in which there is no UN mandate and yet intervention is in the interest of the whole of Europe and human civilisation as we know it. I am not convinced that Europe was prepared, even recently, to deal with such a disastrous eventuality. It is certainly more prepared now, at least psychologically, and I think that it should capitalise on this and finalise its material and technical arrangements.

Secondly, more effort needs to be made in the area of preventive security. In Kosovo and Serbia, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other parts of former Yugoslavia, tens of thousands of human lives and countless property could have been saved if the international community had been capable of appropriate reaction earlier, when the conflict broke out.


Unfortunately, despite all the appeals, despite all the warnings of possible or imminent atrocity, nothing happened. One of the possible, conceivable reasons was a preoccupation with a variety of individual and material interests and the inability of government teams to rake risks in the name of a good cause and the greater good.

Thirdly, the United States played the leading role in this particular instance and it is highly probable that, without their intervention, the international community, not knowing what to do, would today still be witnessing the atrocities which led to intervention in Kosovo. But Europe cannot rely indefinitely on the United States, especially when it comes to European problems. It should be capable of finding a solution and resolving the situation itself. It is unthinkable in today’s world, where small entities legitimately unite in international or supranational communities, that the European Union can continue to be a respected member of the world order if it is unable to agree on how to defend human rights, not only on its own territory but within its sphere of action, i.e. in the area which may, one day, belong to it.

I think, as I said a moment ago, that enlargement is in the vital interest of the European Union. Allow me to reiterate and highlight this conviction.

It stems perhaps from the experience of a man who lived for forty years under Communist rule, preceded by Nazi domination, or from the individual experience of an inhabitant of a country at the very centre of Europe which, over the centuries, has become the crossroads of various spiritual currents and European geopolitical interests, even the birthplace of more than one European conflict. All this leads me to the firm conviction that Europe is the only political entity whose security must be undivided. The idea of two Europes living cheek by jowl, the idea of a democratic, stable, prosperous Europe on the road to integration and a less democratic, less stable and less prosperous Europe is, in my view, completely illusory. It sounds like the idea of sustainable coexistence in a room which is half flooded and half dry. Despite its differences, Europe is indivisible, and anything serious which happens to it will have repercussions on, and consequences for, the rest of the continent.

As a single political entity, Europe has an opportunity today which it has never had throughout its turbulent history; the opportunity to construct a profoundly fair and peaceful order based on the principle of equality and cooperation by all sides. No more acts of violence perpetrated by the powerful on the less powerful; instead, understanding and general consensus, however difficult they are and however long they take to achieve, should be the guiding principle behind the structure and stability of Europe in the next millennium. In this context, I understand Europe to mean the continent as a whole.

We all know that the process of enlargement of the European Union needs to be accompanied by continual and ambitious reform of its institutions. I am sure that the Intergovernmental Conference will make realistic proposals which will send the European Union in the right direction. However, institutional change within the European Union must not stop there. On the contrary, it must be the start of a very long process, possibly taking several decades, in which the overriding concern is to speed up and simplify decision-making within the European Union and make it more transparent.

Allow me to mention two more specific points which I have alluded to on several occasions and which could, in my view, help to achieve these objectives in the more distant future.

First, I believe that the European Union should, sooner or later, have a clear, accurate, universally understandable constitution…


… a constitution which every child in Europe can simply learn at school. This constitution would comprise two parts, as is standard practice. The first part would set out the fundamental rights and duties of the European citizens and states, the fundamental values on which a united Europe is based and the sense and purpose of the European structure. The second would describe the main institutions of the European Union, their main powers and the relations between them. The fact of having a constitution would not automatically radically transform the union of states as we know it into the federal superstate which the eurosceptics dread; it would simply give the people of the Europe under construction a clearer idea of the nature of the European Union, thereby allowing them to understand it better and identify with it.


One of the important questions often rightly raised in connection with institutional reform is how the Union will ensure that the smaller Member States can rest assured that they will not be relegated to a minority by the larger Member States, even taking due account of the size of the various states. It seems to me that one possibility might be to create a second chamber in the European Parliament. It would not, of course, be directly elected; instead the various parliaments would send delegations of perhaps three deputies per state. The first chamber, i.e. the current parliament, would reflect the size of the various Member States, while the second would reinforce their equality because all Member States would have the same number of deputies. This would mean that the Commission, for example, would not need to have one member per state and the national parliaments could be involved in a much more “hands on” manner.

Whatever the process or outcome of institutional reform or the reform which I mentioned, one thing would appear to be certain: disagreement or the absence of consensus on institutional issues should not hamper the enlargement of the European Union. Were it to do so, too great a delay might have far more dangerous consequences than the failure to complete institutional reform.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the technical civilisation which covers the entire planet was born in Europe and has been highly influenced by certain aspects of the Euro-American civilisation.

Europe therefore bears a great deal of responsibility for the state of this civilisation. However, this responsibility should never take the form of forcibly enforcing its own values, ideas or heritage on the rest of the world. On the contrary, Europe should, at long last, get its own act together and serve as an example which others may, but are not obliged to, follow.

The whole modern perception of life as continual material progress and growth, based on the assurances of man, who sees himself as the master of the universe, is the hidden and regrettable face of the European spiritual tradition. This perception of life also predetermines the threatening side of our current civilisation. Who, if not this part of the world, should vigorously oppose these threats, given that it was this part of the world which started this trend, sending our civilisation into free fall?

It seems to me that, at this turning point in time, it is up to Europe to take a good look at its equivocal contribution to the world and to realise that we have not only taught the world human rights, we have also shown it the Holocaust. We were the spiritual mentors not only for the industrial and then the information revolution, but also when it came to disfiguring nature in the name of rampant materialism, pillaging its resources and polluting its atmosphere. We need to understand that, yes, we did open the way to huge developments in science and technology; but we did so at an exorbitant price by doing away with a whole set of very important and complex human experiences formed over several millennia.

Europe needs to get its own act together first. It can make savings, impose hardships, respect – in the best spiritual tradition – the higher cosmic order as something which is above and beyond us and respect the moral order as the consequence of that higher order. Humility, affability, kindness, respect for what we do not understand, a deep feeling of solidarity with others, respect for what is different, the willingness to make sacrifices or do good deeds which eternity alone can reward, the eternity which watches us, silently, through the eyes of our conscience. These are the values which could and should be on the agenda as we construct Europe.

Europe bears all or some of the responsibility for the most horrific events of the 20th century: two world wars, fascism and the totalitarian Communist regime.

Over the last century, Europe witnessed three positive events, not all of which were of its doing: the end of colonial domination, the fall of the iron curtain and the emergence of the European structure.

In my view, the fourth major mission which awaits Europe is to try and show, by its very existence, that it is possible to counter the huge danger which our contradictory civilisation allows to hover over the planet.

I would be happy if my country could take part in all this as a fully paid-up partner.

Thank you for your attention.

(Long and enthusiastic standing ovation)


  President. – Mr President, allow me, on behalf of the European Parliament, to extend our warmest thanks for the clear message which you have brought and of which the members have already shown their appreciation. Thank you. You are right to remind us that a national identity is perfectly compatible with a European identity. And you have used your personal experience to show us that your European identity was not decreed; it was a spontaneous and natural move. I have taken note of your words; this is something which we all feel very deeply.

We find you faithful to the principles which have always guided you, which have always guided your actions; your attachment to fundamental values. You reminded us of your speech in 1994, which you yourself qualify as slightly provocative, but there is such a thing as creative utopia and we have been able to gauge together how far we have come. And you very opportunely highlighted the role of the civil society, the importance of the civil society, not just in the candidate countries, but in all the countries in the European Union, in restoring our citizens’ confidence, in restoring confidence in the social solidarity which we need. To summarise, perhaps what struck me most in your speech; above all, you wished to remind us that, beyond its economic aspects, the task of constructing Europe is a spiritual one. We of course look forward most keenly to continuing this task with you. Thank you, Mr President.

(The formal sitting was closed at 12.40 p.m.)




(1) Original speech given in Czech.

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