Czechs seek to save face at last EU summit

Stefan Fuele, photo: CTK

EU leaders are currently meeting in Brussels for the last summit of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. Items on the agenda include the Irish government’s efforts to have the Lisbon treaty approved, and the appointment of the next European Commission head. This will be the first, and indeed last, European Council meeting chaired by the interim Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer. Ahead of the meeting, I met European Affairs Minister Stefan Fuele to ask him about the Czech delegation’s preparations for the summit, and what outcomes he would consider to be a success. Given that his predecessor Alexandr Vondra had a long time to ready himself for the presidency, and he had only a few days, I asked Mr Fuele first whether he felt adequately prepared:

“I think there is one huge difference. Sasha [Vondra’s] task was huge. Because it was not only about chairing the European Council, chairing the European Union, but it was also preparing the presidency team, preparing the priorities, discussing the various actors and institutions domestically to establish such arrangements and mechanisms so that the Czech presidency team was supported. So, I was privileged to jump in when all of this harsh job, this big job, had already been done by him and his great team which I inherited.”

But what would you say to claims that the fall of the government in March did a great deal to discredit the Czech EU presidency, and that your job has been to try and get some of that credibility back?

Stefan Fuele,  photo: CTK
“Let me put it diplomatically, we have not won anything by sending the previous government down and putting in charge a new one in the middle of the presidency, that is for sure. I think it is about the credibility of the Czech Republic, but taking into account the commitment of the new government, the commitment of the prime minister to finishing the presidency with flying colours, and also having this great presidency team that we can rely on, I think we will succeed.”

And what would you regard a successful Czech presidency of the European Union to have been? Or, in other words, so close to the end of the Czech presidency, would you say that it has been a success?

“I think it has been successful. If you try to ignore all of these speculative articles about our relationship to the French, the speculative articles about small countries not being able to chair the presidency, and if you look at the results, at the number of new policies, and how we were successful in promoting the idea of the ‘three E’s’. If you look at how we were successful at tackling within the European Union framework the economic and financial crisis, I think it was a successful presidency, and for this success to be complete, we need to have a good, and I hope, a great, European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday.”