Starting the 1st of July the Czech Republic is holding, for the second time since its accession to the EU, the rotating Presidency in the Council of the European Union. It is an honour and it is a duty.

In January 2009, the start of our first EU Presidency was overshadowed by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine over gas deliveries. As a result of that dispute, millions of Europeans were left without gas supplies in the middle of the harsh European winter. This time we are taking over the Presidency role, the challenge is far greater. Since February 24th the Russian military is plundering the territory of its neighbour, killing tens of thousands civilians, destroying cities and villages and sending shock waves across the globe by blocking Ukraine food export so vital to dozens of countries all over the world. Therefore naturally, the war in Ukraine and its consequences will be at the top of our presidency agenda.

I am fully aware that we cannot limit ourselves to Europe and its immediate neighborhood. For almost 10 years Czechia has been very active in efforts to stabilize the Sahel region and we shall continue to work on that task during the upcoming six months. The Indo-pacific region is, for many reasons, becoming an increasingly important pole of geopolitical gravity. The EU has adopted its Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific last year and it is only logical that the cooperation with the region is also one of the priorities of the Czech Presidency. The Transatlantic link remains the main pillar of our foreign policy while security and defense cooperation constitutes the most important element of the transatlantic bond.

In addition to this engagement, I would like to highlight that the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean are key partners sharing many common values and interests. Strengthening our relation is a strategic priority in the world where democracy and rule of law are so threatened. Pressing challenges affect us all.

In May, as a prelude to our presidency we hosted the International Ibero-American conference entitled “the Czech Republic and Ibero-America - Promoting Development, Prosperity and Democracy”. The conference focused on current issues of cooperation between the two regions including joint efforts to overcome global challenges and was attended by prominent guests. The conference took place within the Ibero-American week proving once again that both regions were firmly related.

The modernization of agreements with Chile and Mexico and progress on complex MERCOSUR agenda represent our key priorities towards Latin America. Surely, we will not forget the Caribbean. Signing the new EU - OACSP (Organization of African, the Caribbean and Pacific States) agreement has our genuine support. We must joint forces. We simply cannot miss this opportunity to finalize these agreements and neglect their strategic value. We consider it especially significant in the context of current supply chain and energy vulnerabilities.

I am convinced we should cooperate more closely within the UN and the WTO to enhance growth, employment and eco- nomic ties. The current crisis makes bolstering of our trade cooperation even more vital. Mutual benefits of our partnership are clearly manifested in bi-regional trade and investment. There are many fields in which we can strengthen our cooperation such as small and medium-sized enterprises or digital agenda. We will focus on trade, investment and sectoral cooperation. Supporting Latin America and the Caribbean in countering climate change, tackling health issues and fighting against poverty and inequality are both in LAC ́s as well as in the EU ́s interests. These are prominent global issues in which our cooperation is essential.

The Russian aggression has completely changed the geopolitical situation, while proving once again that great majority of Latin America and the Caribbean are reliable partners. Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean emerge as the two most like-minded regions sharing history, cultural affinity, strong contacts and belief in effective multilateralism. Though geographically apart, we build our partnership on shared values and principles.

I very much appreciated the solid front of Latin America and the Caribbean towards pressing challenges. Nevertheless, we cannot take the region ́s position for granted. Personal relations are vital, and we will support people-to-people contacts as well as high-level political dialogue. First and foremost, we will uphold efforts for resumption of high-level EU - CELAC dialogue.

The strategic communication is crucial nowadays. We will enhance our efforts to explain the EU ́s position, to counter Russia ́s narrative which blames EU and NATO for its invasion of Ukraine and severe impacts it has on many countries that depend on imports to feed their populations. We will continue to assist to fight Russia ́s disinformation and to keep outreach efforts.

Last but not least, having had the formative experience of many decades of lack of freedom it is only natural that resilience of democratic institutions became one of our priorities. In this context I would like to bring to mind our president Václav Havel, who was the main champion of these principles. President Havel visited a number of Latin American countries and addressed the Latin American Parliament - “Parlatino” in 1996. We will continue develop his legacy and stand up for democratic principles and the rule of law.

Strengthening bi-regional partnership will surely bear fruit on both sides of the Atlantic. Let me conclude on a personal note: in my office I have a statue of the “Niño Jesús de Praga”/Infant Jesus of Prague, immensely popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. Yet another evidence that our ties are unexpectedly close.

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