Thursday, 26 November 2009

Educating future EU Council Presidencies ─ Czech example

Today and tomorrow the Trans European Policy Studies Association TEPSA and the Real Instituto Elcano arrange a conference on the Spanish EU Council presidency 2010, which starts the 18 month trio presidency Spain-Belgium-Hungary. See Spain: Presidency of the EU Council 2010 (Grahnlaw, 25 November 2009).

In addition to the ongoing Swedish presidency, past presidency experiences are valuable for the politicians and the administrations in the member states preparing to take on the responsibilities.

Czech EU Council presidency

Piotr Maciej Kaczynski

Piotr Maciej Kazcynski wrote Lessons from the Czech EU Presidency (CEPS Commentary, 4 September 2009; 2 pages), in the first six months of 2009. Kaczynski lists five major errors:

• The presidency was politically (but not administratively) terminated when the Topolanek government was toppled without being immediately replaced.
• Neglecting unofficial contacts in Brussels, including lack of interaction by Czech civil society actors.
• The mix of national and European politics, with lack of domestic political peace, including uncertainty about the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
• Promoting national instead of European issues (or at least arguments).
• Not tailoring the presidency to the real capabilities of the Czech Republic, leading to flawed delivery.

From these filures, Kazcynski draws lessons for future EU Council presidencies.


Daniel Esparza

Daniel Esparza evaluated the Czech EU Council presidency in Reflexiones sobre la Presidencia checa en la UE: ¿la “peor de toda la historia” o crisis de identidad generalizada? (Real Instituto Elcano, ARI 157/2009, 17 November 2009).

The circumstances were difficult: the economic and financial crisis, the EU’s institutional and Lisbon Treaty difficulties, the Gaza crisis and the Russian gas crisis.

The lecturing of Europe by the Topolanek government during the “first presidency” was not well received by the bigger EU member states. In Europe, the activities of president Vaclav Klaus and the ODS party in government labeled the Czech Republic much more “eurosceptic” than it is.

During Jan Fischer’s caretaker government, the “second presidency” was seen as serene, calm, diplomatic and professional.

According to Esparza the Czech EU Council presidency made certain progress in its substantial priority areas ─ economy, energy and EU in the world ─ but the arrogance shown by president Klaus lecturing the European Parliament and to some extent by prime minister Topolanek made few friends among the EU institutions, although Topolanek worked hard for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Czech presidency occurred during a period of general identity crisis in the European Union, post the fall of the Soviet Union and Communism and EU enlargement. Some have hankered back to the halcyon days of the EEC, especially “eurosceptics” in Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic (who rejected the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). Others have tried to adapt to new challenges and circumstances in a globalised world, by strengthening the EU’s ability to act and compete in the world (eurofederalists).

The Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union will be unforgettable, despite substantive progress during these six months. Still, the europhobic reputation of the Czech Republic caused by Vaclav Klaus and some anti-EU politicians is unfair to the majority of the Czech political parties and the population. Jan Fischer’s caretaker government had time to repair some damage with professionalism and diplomatic tact, and it later contributed to the solution of the political and institutional crisis of the European Union.


Sieps midterm assessment

A third and detailed reference to the Czech EU Council presidency is a mid-term assessment, published before the end of the presidency, namely David Král, Vladimir Bartovic and Vera Rihackova: The 2009 Czech EU Presidency: Contested Leadership at a Time of Crisis (Swedish Institute for European Policy Sudies, occasional papers, SIEPS 2009:2op; 91 pages).


Czech EU relations

Those who are interested in the relations between the Czech Republic and the European Union in general, can read the blog post Czech EU mysteries explained (Grahnlaw, 26 November 2009), which refers to the European Policy Institutes Network (EPIN) paper by Mats Braun: Understanding Klaus – The Story of Czech Eurorealism (EPIN Working Paper No. 26 / November 2009; 11 pages).

Ralf Grahn

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