Czechs in the EU: Czechia’s performance at the helm of the EU

Ursula von der Leyen and Petr Fiala

The Czech Republic has only had two presidencies so far in the course of its membership in the European Union. The first Czech presidency in 2009 was complicated by the fall of the government, when a caretaker cabinet had to step in and complete it. The country’s second stint at the helm of the European Union, in 2022, was much more successful. In the last edition of our series Czechs in the EU, I discuss the country’s performance at the helm of the EU with Viktor Daněk, Deputy Director of the Europeum Institute for European Policy.

Photo:  Office of Czech Government

Viktor, Czechia took over the second presidency at a very difficult time. In February of 2022, war broke out on the European continent when Russia invaded Ukraine. The European Union member countries pitched in to help the embattled country. Member states had to deal with the side-effects of the war -- an ensuing refugee wave and soaring energy prices, among others. You followed all this in Brussels as a correspondent for Czech Radio. How did this development affect the Czech Presidency?

“Well, politicians, diplomats, government experts, and others have to prepare the presidency way in advance - so did the Czechs, of course, but the Russian aggression was a turning point. It was a breaking point even, I’d say, because it changed everything. The French presidency took the first hit. Then it was the Czechs’ turn, when they took over. It was a situation that was unprecedented, as diplomats said to me at the time. They had to throw a lot of political priorities and preparations into the bin and start over. However, at the official launch of the presidency in Litomyšl in eastern Bohemia, Prime Minister Petr Fiala said he was convinced that Czechia would manage in this very tough situation."

Illustrative photo | Photo:  Daina le Lardic,  © European Union 2022 - EP

Petr Fiala: "We take up the presidential sceptre with humility and a determination to maintain continuity. I firmly believe that the Czech Republic will build on the French successes and live up to its commitments for the benefit of Europe and its citizens. We are living through difficult times, but I am convinced that just as we have managed past crises, we will manage these new ones as well."

Viktor, what were the main tasks awaiting the Czechs in Brussels when they took over?

"The main task was to keep the European Union united. This might sound like a very simple thing, but in practice, we saw that it was quite difficult, mainly because of Hungary that repeatedly tried to block proposed measures - for example sanctions against Russia. Moreover, for some time, Hungary blocked financial aid to Ukraine.

“Alongside that, Czechia had to manage the crisis in the energy sector, with high prices, and a lot of the solutions on the table were not supported by influential member states. For example, Germany resisted, for some time, the proposal to put a price cap on gas.

“Furthermore, Czechia inherited plenty of draft legislation from other presidencies, proposed laws that were quite sensitive, and it was necessary to bring them to a successful conclusion. For example, the whole package of climate measures known as Fit for 55."

Needless to say, the Czechs had to hit the ground running when they took over the second time around. Where did they succeed and what do they fail to achieve?

"Czechia successfully negotiated support for three sanctions packages against Russia. It also managed to finalise three packages of measures in the energy sector that were quite important. Towards the end of the Czech presidency, energy prices were actually the lowest since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Moreover, it also managed to find a solution in this spat with Hungary about the European funds that were blocked. Furthermore, it managed to negotiate its support for other loans to Ukraine. And we should also mention that Czechia negotiated more than 30 legislative proposals including the majority of climate legislation.

Visa | Illustrative photo: Czech Television

“But there were obviously also things that weren’t successful. For example, the most important one, I would say, was the attempt to negotiate a Schengen area enlargement, which was not successful. Romania and Bulgaria wanted to gain entry and they only succeeded in doing so this year.

“I would mention one more thing, and that was communication with the Czech public about the European Union. I think that this presidency afforded huge potential that was not put to good use.

“But the recognition of Czech successes was quite positive, not only in Brussels, but also elsewhere in Europe. For example, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised Czechia in the following way."

Ursula von der Leyen :“We always thought that Czechia is amazing and the last six months proved that - in any respect. You’re even amazing when you are at the presidency of the EU Council. But this country has much, much more virtues.“

“I also like this quote from the Vice-President of European Commission Frans Timmermans, who on the occasion of the last press conference in Brussels, said that Václav Havel always said that he dreamed about a time when terms like “east” and “west” would just be empty words. According to Frans Timmermans, Czechia managed to prove that this is indeed so.

High praise, indeed. Viktor, we spoke about the problematic first Czech presidency, which was complicated by the fall of the government. How will the second Czech presidency be remembered in Europe?

European Political Community meeting held at Prague Castle in 2022 | Photo:

“Well, it is a sad fact that presidencies are always forgotten over time. However, there are some unique, historic moments that are in our collective memory, even though the presidency has ended. For example, when we talk about the first Czech presidency, there is an important initiative called Eastern Partnership that exists to this day. In the case of the second presidency, the more recent one, it was the historic first summit of practically all European countries, except Russia and Belarus. It was held at Prague Castle, at the initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron, and actually created a tradition that continues until today.

“But I think that the most important thing about presidencies is the possibility to realise how influential one member state can be in forging the direction of the European Union, and not only at the time of its presidency.”

Authors: Viktor Daněk , Daniela Lazarová
run audio


  • Czechs in the EU

    This year's European Parliament elections coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Czechia’s accession to the European Union. How active have Czechs been in the EU?

  • European elections 2024

    In Czechia elections to the European Parliament will take place on June 7-8, 2024. Which parties are running in the elections? What are their top priorities?