Edita Hrdá: The Czech EU presidency will be an opportunity to bring Brussels to Prague

Every year, at the close of the summer Czech ambassadors posted around the world are invited to Prague for consultations on foreign policy and economic diplomacy. The week of intensive negotiations is closely followed by the media since it is a reliable pointer as regards the country’s position on matters of global importance.

The catastrophic scenario evolving in Afghanistan and the possible repercussions for the rest of the world; plans for post-Covid recovery and the freeze in Czech-Russian relations – those are some of the “hot” issues being discussed in the couloirs of the Czech Foreign Ministry.

The foreign policy stands being formulated have an added significance in view of the fact that the Czech Republic is preparing to take over the rotating EU presidency in the middle of 2022, a role that will allow it to set the agenda of the Council of Europe and take a lead role in finding solutions to these problems.

Edita Hrdá | Photo: Czech Foreign Ministry

Addressing the meeting of diplomats, Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhánek said the goal would be to work for a “strong, resilient and sustainable Europe" which would nurture good relations with the US. He said it would also be an opportunity for the Czech Republic to strengthen ties with like-minded member states and, as far as possible, project its own priorities in the further development of the EU. Edita Hrdá, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU, says the country wants to make the best of the opportunities that present themselves.

“We would like to showcase the Czech Republic as a good member of the family, a good member of the EU, somebody who is flexible and who sees what is important. I think we are considered a very constructive, very pragmatic country which has clear principles, but is always ready to compromise when we see that a compromise is needed.”

Although the country’s priorities will be finalized by the next government, which will emerge from October’s general elections, several areas have already been outlined in the course of preparation.

With an export-driven economy, the Czech Republic’s chief economic priority is the common market– fighting against protectionism, improving infrastructure and removing any hurdles to the free movement of goods. Security-wise, the country is expected to highlight the question of EU border protection in view of the threat of uncontrolled migration and that of energy security.

Another issue Prague hopes to bring to the fore is the integration of the Western Balkans, which it says is in the EU’s best economic, political and security interests. In fact there are hopes that a deadline could be set during the Czech presidency for Serbia’s accession.

Jakub Kulhánek | Photo: Office of Czech Government

There is likewise growing concern about the situation in Afghanistan, which threatens to escalate into a massive refugee crisis. According to Foreign Minister Kulhánek, if this happens, the issue of migration should be addressed primarily in the country of origin, or in neighbour states, a position the Czech Republic has fiercely defended in the past.

Although some of these issues may prove thorny, the Czech Republic is determined to show itself as a good negotiator with a constructive attitude.

Edita Hrdá says that while the EU presidency will be an opportunity to present Czech culture and the country’s natural and architectural gems to the broad EU public, it is equally important to better acquaint Czechs with the workings of the EU.

“It is very important to bring Brussels to Prague. We are part of the EU family and our people need to see that how we decide here about certain issues is reflected in Brussels. It is not about someone coming from Brussels, to tell us what we have to do. It is us deciding inside Brussels structures. I think it is important to show people here what is done in Brussels, how the EU functions and how our people benefit from the country’s EU membership.”