Prime Minister Fiala, dear Petr,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It was the beginning of November of 1989, when a young student from Bohemia took to the streets to protest against the Communist regime because the air in his hometown was simply unbreathable. It was the first spark of the Velvet Revolution. Now, 35 years on, we all understand that fossil fuels are poison for both our individual health and for our climate. Just one month ago, I was in Greece, as the country was ravaged by the worst wildfires in Europe in living memory. And only a few weeks later, the same country was hit by three years’ worth of rainfall in just three days. And the same is happening from Libya to Slovenia, from Spain to the Philippines. That is the reality of a boiling planet.
The European Green Deal was born out of the necessity to protect people and the planet. But it was also designed as an opportunity to build our future prosperity. And since its inception, it has delivered. Last year, for instance, greenhouse gas emissions in Europe went down by roughly 2.5%, while the economy went up by 3.5%. So we have successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions while growing our economy. Right here, in Prague, for example along bus line 170. Buses are on that route and they start to be powered by hydrogen. They make almost no noise and have zero emissions. And crucially, this is a new generation of buses produced by Škoda – the Czech automotive champion. And this is not the only example of hydrogen innovation made in Czechia. Tatra Trucks, for example, will present in November the first hydrogen-powered heavy-duty vehicle. It has been designed together with a host of Czech research institutions, for difficult terrains and extreme tasks, including firefighting and rescue operations. This was unthinkable just a few years ago. Tatra is already a Czech national pride, as the third oldest motor vehicle company in the world. And they are now exploring the frontier of clean innovation. There is an immense potential of Czech industries. This country of inventors and innovators has been for centuries the beating heart of European manufacture. And now, you are bringing your great history into the future.
And with the European Green Deal, Europe is at your side. European businesses are developing new ideas and solutions. What they need to scale up now – and this is very important, it is not only the invention, but the scaling-up of the product – is predictability to plan their investment and to go forward. A clear route that sets the direction of travel. And this is exactly what the European Green Deal is delivering. When we embarked on this journey four years ago, we set a clear vision for Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. We cast this vision into our Climate Law. And we gave ourselves targets with a reliable roadmap. This was also possible thanks to Czechia. Under your Presidency of the Council of the European Union, dear Petr, you played a critical role in passing our Fit for 55 legislation, the main pillar of our European Green Deal. This is what European companies were waiting for: reliability and predictability. A strong sense of direction from Europe, so that they could invest, plan and innovate. Thank you so much for your contribution in making this happen.
But the European Green Deal was never only about rules. It was backed by massive investment – you all know NextGenerationEU, our EUR 800 billion investment plan and REPowerEU, up to EUR 270 billion of investment – to speed up the transition to a clean economy of tomorrow. And we have seen the transformative power of these investments, for example in our energy sector. We all remember when Putin tried to use natural gas to blackmail us, Europe’s answer was the European Green Deal. Here in Czechia, for instance, you have used European resources to make your buildings more energy efficient. And in the first year of the war, you have installed almost four times more solar capacity than in the year before. It is because of this impressive progress that your government has rightly decided to double your solar energy target for 2025. Today, Europe, for the first time in our history, generates more electricity from wind and sun than from gas. So renewable energy is not only good for our planet, but it is home-grown, it creates good jobs here and it is good for our energy independence and security.
And the European Green Deal is transforming well beyond our energy sector. Since the very outset, one of our key principles was to bring everyone on board. Let me give you two examples from right here in Czechia, on energy-intensive industries and coal-mining regions. Let us start with the energy-intensive industries: Glass production is a national pride of Czechia. And rightly so. Europe cherishes these great national industrial treasures. And today, with the Volta project, we are investing in cleaner glass production. We are supporting the electrification of existing flat-glass furnaces so that they can cut emissions by more than 75%. And this is vital to make the European flat-glass industry competitive, also in the clean economy of tomorrow.
The second example has to do with those regions that need greater investment before they can embrace a cleaner future. Like the three coal regions of Czechia – Karlovy Vary, Ústí and Moravia-Silesia. I know that many local communities are concerned about their future. Because thousands of people work in lignite mines and in the coal sector. This is why we have to make it our utmost priority, under the European Green Deal, to invest in those regions, to ease the transformation. Our Just Transition Fund is investing EUR 1.6 billion here in Czechia, with a strong focus on creating new hydrogen valleys in the very same regions now relying on coal. We are investing all along the clean hydrogen value chain, from production to storage, from transport to industrial applications. And these investments will create thousands of future-proof good-paying jobs. This is the essence of the European Green Deal – to deliver, as you said, as our new growth strategy, for all industries and all regions in Europe.
But our job is far from done. European business is still grappling with a set of challenges that hamper innovation, and you mentioned some of them. Allow me to briefly touch upon three of them: Indeed, first, high energy prices. We have not forgotten the summer 2022, at the height of the energy crisis unleashed by Russia, gas prices were ten times higher than today. Today, energy prices in Europe are back to pre-war levels. That is an achievement due to our unity in the European Union. Otherwise, we would not have made it. But the price we pay for energy is structurally still higher than in other continents. And this is an issue for our global competitiveness. The solution is within reach. It depends on the energy mix of each country. And here, to be very clear: This is and will remain a national prerogative. We know for example that nuclear plays a central role in Czechia’s energy system. It is important as a base load. We respect that. And we know that it will continue to require investment to play an important role in the Czech energy transition, without any question. The same goes for renewables. If the share of renewables in our energy mix continues to rise at the current pace, we will soon be protected against the high prices of imported fossil fuels because renewables are so much cheaper. So we must stay the course, to make cheap and clean energy available for Europe.
Second, on unfair competition. Too often our European companies face the competition of heavily subsidised foreign players. Think about the auto industry. Czech carmakers are now investing heavily in new lines of electric vehicles – rightly so. That is the future. But at the same time, global markets are flooded with cheap Chinese electric cars. And their price is kept artificially low by huge state subsidies. This is why we are launching an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China. European companies will always be ready for true competition – competition on cost effectiveness and quality. But it has to be fair. And we will protect European companies from unfair competition.
And finally, each economic sector of course faces specific challenges in its own clean transition. Some industries struggle with the slow pace of permitting, you know these topics. Others with excessive reporting obligations. Most industries are facing difficulties in the access to raw materials or to a skilled workforce. With our Green Deal Industrial Plan, we are addressing those challenges across economic sectors. But I think the time has now come to engage with each and every industrial ecosystem. This is why we are launching a new series of Clean Transition Dialogues with industry. And this includes of course the Czech industry. We want to address the specific issues that individual sectors have, dealing with the European Green Deal, dealing with competitiveness, dealing with global challenges. Because we are in this together.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Czechia is a country of reformers and pioneers. It is the birthplace of electric trains and of the word ‘robot’. Czechia is the place where tradition and modernity, so past and future, have always danced with each other. You have everything you need to be a European leader in the clean economy of tomorrow: You have a solid industrial base; you have the ingenuity to leap forward; you have a phenomenally skilled and highly educated workforce. So let us seize the opportunities of the European Green Deal. The future of Czech industries is in your hands.