Speech by President von der Leyen on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Czechia's accession to the European Union

Dobrý večer,

vážené dámy a pánové,

President Pável,

Prime Minister Fiala,


I am so glad to be here in Prague with you to celebrate 20 years of a historic European success and to have the honour to stand on the same stage with the Czech Philharmonic orchestra – what a big honour and what a special moment.

The Prague Castle has been witness to the long and winding history of Europe. Today, it sits atop a city which symbolises our Union – full of tradition and culture but also innovation and youth. Europe's culture, Europe's music, as we will hear tonight, Europe's industrial revolutions have been shaped in this land. But for decades the Iron Curtain kept us apart. The slogan of the Velvet Revolution was ‘back to Europe'. And this is exactly what you did 20 years ago when you retook your place in our European family.

I am not here to remind you how your membership of our Union has transformed this country. You see that every day. You attract students from all over the world, tourists, and investments from all over Europe. And you export almost 5 times more than 20 years ago. Today, half of all public investments in Czechia come from the European budget. Yes, Europe has made you stronger. But you have made Europe so much stronger too. And this is why I am here tonight. I want to thank the Czech people, for your contribution to shaping our Union of today.

The Czech spirit, and the story of how you fought for your freedom, have been an inspiration for all Europeans – and for me personally. This is why when I was first voted in as President of the Commission in 2019, I brought with me, to the speech in the Parliament, a famous quote by Václav Havel. Václav Havel has said: ‘Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.' In these years, I have seen the Czech people put these words into action: You have been one of Ukraine's staunchest supporters – not because it was easy, but because it was right. You have led the ammunition initiative – not because it was easy, but because it was right. You are hosting the most Ukrainian refugees per capita – not because it is easy, but because it is right. Under the Czech Presidency's leadership, we broke free from Russia's energy blackmail. And it certainly was not easy, but it was right.

This country of inventors and freedom fighters has always shaped Europe's history. And today, you are shaping Europe's future towards a more competitive Europe, towards a peaceful and secure Europe, towards a truly united Europe.

Long live Czechia, and long live Europe.