European Commission gathers in Litomyšl as Czech EU presidency kicks off

The small Bohemian town of Litomyšl became a metaphorical “centre of Europe” this Friday as the Czech government met with European Commission leaders to discuss the country’s plans for its six-month-long EU presidency. Following the meeting, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing a special concert for both delegations in the town that was the birthplace of famous composer Bedřich Smetana.

Photo: Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union

Carrying umbrellas that sported the official Czech EU presidency logo, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Litomyšl shortly after noon on Friday, amidst an unusually strong downpour.

The Czech Republic’s head of government was attended by his cabinet and Mrs von der Leyen brought most of the College of Commissioners as the two groups met to discuss the Czech Republic’s plans for chairing the Council of the European Union – a body which represents the governments of member states – during what is expected to be a very important six month period for the EU.

After a joint working lunch, the two groups held bilateral talks. Petr Fiala spoke with Ursula von der Leyen. Meanwhile, individual government working groups presented their priorities to respective commissioners.

Věra Jourová | Photo: Josef Vostárek,  ČTK

At a subsequent press conference, Mr Fiala first praised the work of the previous presidency holder France in seeking common ground among EU member states following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Finding an end to the war in Ukraine and rebuilding the country is “the key to solving the problems that the EU is currently facing”, Mr Fiala said, adding that the Czech Republic is aware of the difficult tasks and challenges it will face while chairing the Council of the EU.

Aside from Ukraine, the Czech government considers energy security as a major priority to focus on during its presidency. EU unity and coordination between member states is key in successfully tackling this challenge, Mr Fiala said.

The President of the European Commission agreed with the Czech prime minister that the situation in Ukraine and energy are the most important areas to focus on. She spoke in detail about related EU fund packages and strategies aimed at tackling them, such as the REPower EU and Next GenerationEU plans, and stressed the need to find agreement between the Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament on such measures.

Among those present at the meeting was also Czech Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová, who has said in the past that the presidency is a great opportunity for the Czech Republic to get closer to the centre of EU events.

Not all commissioners were able to attend the talks. For example, the head of EU diplomacy Josep Borrell or Climate Action Commissioner Frans Timmermans excused themselves from the trip.

Later in the afternoon, the speakers of both chambers of Czech Parliament, Markéta Pekarová Adamová and Miloš Vystrčil, joined the gathering as well.

The official inauguration ceremony for the Czech EU presidency was originally supposed to take place on July 8, in Prague’s Rudolfinum concert hall.

Smetana's Litomysl Opera Festival  | Photo: František Renza,  Czech Radio

However, a request from the European Commission to get down to business as soon as possible led the Czech government to end up choosing the UNESCO-listed Italian Renaissance Litomyšl Chateau as the inauguration site.

The Czech Republic’s Europe Minister Mikuláš Bek told news site that, upon inspection, it was found that the local chateau is perfectly sufficient for the meeting. Security is being ensured by around 200 police officers posted around the city.

Litomyšl is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, and Petr Fiala made sure to show the house in which Smetana was born to Mrs von der Leyen. The town is currently also hosting the annual classical music festival Smetanova Litomyšl.

A special “Concert for Europe” is scheduled to be performed for the government and EU representatives in the evening hours by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Aside from works by Smetana, the orchestra will also perform Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 and Josef Suk’s symphonic poem Praga.

The evening will also see the opening of a photograph exhibition for the wider public in the local monastery gardens which marks 18 years of the Czech Republic’s membership in the European Union.

The Czech Republic has announced its list of priorities for its upcoming presidency of the EU Council which is set to run for six months starting July 1st. They are:

1.  Managing the refugee crisis and Ukraine’s post-war recovery

2.  Energy security

3.  Strengthening Europe’s defence capabilities and cyberspace security

4.  Strategic resilience of the European economy

5.  Resilience of democratic institutions