The Czech Presidency answers the most frequently asked questions

What are the Czech Presidency's priorities with regard to the conclusions of the December European Council Summit? How will the Czech Republic manage the financial crisis? Prime Minister Topolánek answers your questions.

1. What are the priorities of the Czech Presidency and how do they follow up on the conclusions of the December summit of the European Council?

After bilateral consultations with the representatives of the EU Member States and the presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament, the Czech Presidency has formulated its priorities, summed up by the motto ‘A Europe Without Barriers’, as ‘the 3 E’s’ – Economy, Energy and External Relations.

Due to the agreement on the energy-climate package, on the economic recovery and financial crisis solution plan and on foreign policy the December Summit enables the Union to take further in the first half of 2009 the above mentioned ‘3 E’s’: ensuring energy security through diversification of sources, strengthening Europe’s competitiveness through promoting research and development and SMEs, developing the ‘Eastern Partnership’ and continuing the integration of the countries in the Western Balkans.

In the area of transatlantic relations, which the Czech Republic considers the basis of the international security policy, it is significant that the Council of the EU in the light of existing global threats has pronounced itself  in favour of full complementarity with NATO, i.e. in favour of mutual covering of military and civilian needs during joint operations and cooperation on larger projects.

2. How do you see the French Presidency and its outcomes? Don’t you think that it will be difficult to follow the expressive style of French President Nicolas Sarkozy?

France, and especially its President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has done a great job. The French Presidency had to face two unexpected events: the Russia-Georgia conflict on the diplomatic level and the financial crisis on the economic level. 

The matter-of-fact way in which the French President managed to lead the Member States’ governments to key agreements in December under these circumstances, is very inspiring for me – so I appreciate even more that it was Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as representatives of the European institutions and other Member States, who directly expressed his support for the Czech Presidency.

Our meetings have always been held in a friendly and open atmosphere, due to which we have managed to agree upon a smooth handover of the Presidency, as well as upon France’s

3. How will the Czech Republic proceed to eliminate negative effects of the financial crisis – Will it be able to as a country which has not adopted the euro?

The Czech Republic appreciates that the EU countries reached an agreement under the French Presidency. The financial crisis and its impact must be tackled both by emphasising the preservation of existing economic rules (Stability Pact) and free market principles (without protectionist measures) and by respecting differing positions of the Member States. The Czech Presidency wants to do its utmost to maintain confidence in the market system and support reform of the existing global institutions (such as the IMF). The fact that the Czech Republic has not adopted the euro gives it the opportunity to moderate the ongoing debate on the single currency without passion. We are not directly hit by the recession of the euro area, but we can sense its impact – in exports, for instance. A joint solution is therefore in our interest.

4. How important is the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty for the Czech EU Presidency? And, in this context, how do you perceive the criticism from President Václav Klaus?

The ratification process for the Lisbon Treaty continues: at European level, following the Irish request, the summit guaranteed the sovereignty of the Member States in security and tax policy matters. Therefore, Ireland has the possibility to repeat the referendum that took place in June 2008 when the Irish voters refused the document since it lacked these safeguards. This may happen during the Czech Presidency.

The Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic has given its opinion on the six points concerning the Lisbon Treaty referred to it by the Senate and did not find them in conflict with the Czech Constitution. This made it possible to continue the ratification process in both chambers of the Parliament. The Chamber of Deputies is expected to give its opinion on the document on 3 February 2009. At the same time, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) recommends to press for a priority adoption of the international treaties on the US anti-missile shield.

I do not see the differing opinions on the Lisbon Treaty, or direct criticism of it, as something destructive – on the contrary. I believe that even the arguments of the ‘devil’s advocates’ can only be beneficial for the debate about the future of the European Union. Indeed, public opinion polls show that the impact of an open exchange of views on the perception of the Lisbon Treaty is rather positive.

5. During the Czech Presidency, the new US administration will take office. Will the plans for the anti-missile systems in the Czech Republic and Poland change? Even the EU Member States are not unanimous on this issue…

The new US administration will certainly change its foreign security policy priorities including military projects and operations. However, I do not think that the role the USA plays in today’s international system will change dramatically.

Members of Barack Obama’s government have indicated that they will seek to ensure the highest possible efficiency of the anti-missile system, which is also in the interest of the Czech Republic. New arguments may even help convince citizens who have not yet made up their minds and politicians in both the Czech Republic and the rest of the EU that the project is a meaningful one and dispel Russia’s concerns. In my view, Moscow’s attitude so far and its threats to deploy missiles in the Kaliningrad Region aimed at the Czech Republic and Poland in case the anti-missile shield is built, are examples of unjustified intimidation.

At the December summit, the EU Member States agreed that the global threats identified in 2003 in the European Security Strategy are still relevant, but new risks keep appearing. Defence cooperation must inevitably take place at international level. Indeed, 21 of the EU Member States are also NATO members, and NATO already committed itself to building an anti-missile shield several years ago.

6. How important will the Western Balkans be for the Czech EU Presidency?

The Western Balkans is geographically and historically a natural priority for Czech foreign policy and logically also for the Presidency: we want to contribute to the progress in the accession negotiations with Croatia and also support the continuing integration of other countries in the region.

It will be only the level of preparedness of these countries that will determine how fast they will manage to integrate into the European structures. From the Czech point of view, only further integration can solidify the fragile stability of the region.

The Czech Republic has, along with several other EU countries, recognised the sovereignty of Kosovo – emphasising that the same rules apply for Kosovo as for all other countries. On 9 December EULEX, a European civil mission, was started after great difficulties. We want to make it is as efficient as possible.

7. How strong is the mandate of the Czech Government regarding the Presidency at a time when forces in the Czech Parliament are balanced and the European Parliament is facing elections?

The Government coalition and the strongest opposition party are willing to agree on a calm progress of the Presidency – in order not to make it a hostage of political struggle, but to make it a success. Agreement on the Treaty of Lisbon and the antiballistic missile defence system is fundamental at present. Now it is in the interest of both parties to solve technicalities, such as to agree that when a number of ministers, who are also MPs, are absent from the Parliament, the same number of opposition MPs abstain from voting.

The EP elections mean that the Czech Presidency has only three months for practical legislative cooperation with MEPs. According to the resolutions of the December summit, it is in the first half of 2009 that the President of the European Commission will be elected. We adjusted the programme of our Presidency accordingly and the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Commission expressed their support.

8. The slogan of the Czech Presidency aroused controversial reactions – did you expect that?

The slogan was meant to draw the attention of the Czech public to the EU Presidency and, judging from the response in the media, it was a success. The slogan is very self-confident in Czech, which is not so apparent in another language, but when we see personalities respected around the world playing with the sugar cube, we are reminded that the sugar cube is a traditional Czech product, which has become a household item on all continents. So we still have something to offer even today. The English translations of the slogan varied from the harsh ’We will give Europe a taste of its own medicine’ to the literal ‘We will make it sweet for Europe’. Now they will have to come to terms with the second part of the campaign, when the original slogan obtains a new and unequivocally positive meaning.

9. The Czech Presidency published its priorities, but delayed a detailed programme – why?

The detailed programme of a Presidency is traditionally not published well in advance. If the Czech Republic had done that while France still holds the Presidency, it wouldn’t have been polite or wise, I think. If Presidencies are to build on one another, they must draw on what the preceding Presidency prepared. The Czech Government included in its programme both long-term policies of the EU-27 and their current needs. We see the December summit as a solid bridge for a smooth transition from the French to the Czech Presidency.

However, regarding the preparations of priorities and the planning of a detailed programme, it must be called to attention that the Presidency must be ready for any sudden change caused by unforeseeable events –the Russia-Georgia conflict and the financial crisis showed this clearly enough in the last six months.

10. How well is the Czech Republic prepared for the Presidency from a technical and administrative point of view?

The Czech Government started to prepare for the Presidency in 2006. At the political level, it concerned a progressive formulation of priorities and harmonisation of national and European interests. At the technical level, it meant making sure that the administrative and organisational capacities are sufficient.

In 2007, the Czech Republic invested 200 million CZK, a year later 900 million, and we count on another billion crowns for the Presidency itself. The ministries have another 1,400 million at their disposal, which includes costs they would pay anyway as part of the EU agenda, so the state budget won’t suffer from it.

Over 1500 people, with a working knowledge of English and in some cases of French, will work for the Presidency. Some 400 jobs were created temporally and they will disappear before the end of 2009. This also applies to some positions in the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the European Union in Brussels, where the number of employees doubled from 110 to 220. The regions where the events will take place often take part in the preparations. The Ministry of the Interior has adopted a special measure to ensure the security of all participants.

Last update: 16.8.2011 15:57

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