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Czech Republic’s EU presidency starts

On Friday the Czech Republic had become, for the second time, the head of the presidency of the Council of the European Union. The other two members of the trio are France and Sweden.

Petr Kaniok

The presidency rotates among all Member States on a regular basis, for six-month periods. The Czech Republic had its first chance in the first half of 2009; this year’s turn will last until 31 December. Petr Kaniok from the Department of International Relations, Faculty of Social Studies, describes the role of the presiding country. 

Starting today, what tasks lie ahead for the Czech Republic for its presidency, and what is its significance?
The presidency of the Council of the European Union is a role which each member state gets to hold once in 13 years. This fact alone proves that it is a unique event. The presiding state chairs all sessions of the Council, an EU body where negotiations among member states take place. The Council is chiefly concerned with the legislation of the EU at all levels – from expert to political. Therefore, the presidency means chairing thousands of meetings and negotiating compromises among member states. The presiding state must follow and be familiar with the standpoints of all EU members and formulate, based on the development, an outcome that would satisfy everyone. This is probably the main goal and purpose of the presidency – to actively formulate and negotiate compromises. Once the Council agrees, the presidency represents it in negotiations with the European Parliament; another key player in the adoption of the EU legislation. It is safe to say that as long as the presidency is skilful, attentive and capable of negotiations, they can influence a lot, and oftentimes in a manner very much favourable for the presiding country. That being said, the EU political system is quite robust and it would be naïve to think that even the most effective presidency could change its direction completely.

Czech Republic has selected the motto Evropa jako úkol (Europe as a task) for its second presidency. 
This motto is certainly much better and more appropriate than the provocative and in-your-face motto from 2009 (Evropě to osladíme). The current motto refers to the legacy of Václav Havel, a politician widely respected in Europe. Evidently its purpose is to send a message that the Czech Republic wishes to build the reputation of a constructive team-player partner, and that it is not going to alienate and lecture anyone. 

How important is the presidency for any member state in the context of European politics?
The presidency has the potential, through its focus on performance, to oxygenate the state administration, at least the segment concerned with EU matters. It can “suck in” new and motivated people; while those already involved may receive new impulses for their work. It is also an impetus for the political spectrum as a whole as it focuses on the EU-related agenda more during the presidency, which allows them to gain valuable experience. In simple terms, the presidency has significant “European-booster potential”; and any new contacts and know-how can effectively be used going forward, as long as the state administration manages to retain talented people.

Czech Republic will focus on five priorities for its presidency. What priorities would you like to point out?
Let’s not overestimate priorities in general. The five topics being defined does not mean that the presidency will focus all of its efforts and strength to these topics alone for the sake of splendid results. Instead of naming specific topics, I would point out the fact that the priorities are consensual; they conform to the issues which the EU knows require attention (with the conflict in Ukraine being a unifying element) and they are something that the Czech Republic has promoted on a long-term basis: typically, energetic safety, interest in Eastern Europe and reduction of dependency on countries like Russia or China.

How will the presidency reflect on your curriculum in the fall semester?
This presidency will certainly be widely discussed during our seminars and lectures; and I am really excited about that. As long as you can discuss the European integration within these very practical contexts, it is more interesting and more attractive for lecturers as well as students.