Journalist: Czech presidency kept EU united at very difficult time

Czechia’s six-month presidency of the European Union is slowly coming to a close. Petr Fiala’s cabinet took over the role at a challenging moment, with Russia still waging war against Ukraine and energy prices rocketing. So what have been the main achievements of the Czech presidency? That’s a question I put to Filip Nerad, head of the international news department at Czech Radio.

Ian Willoughby and Filip Nerad | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

“I would say generally it was keeping the EU united during these very difficult times.

“Because you still have the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the energy crisis and the EU discussed a lot of measures to deal with these things.

“And even though there were some problems, some disagreements, in the end the Czech presidency reached an agreement and kept the EU united.

“From this general point of view, I think that was the biggest achievement.”

Photo:  Office of Czech Government

Was there anything, or any area, where you felt that they could have done better, that they may regret the way things went?

“I think definitely in communication and with regard to how to sell the EU presidency to Czechs.

“I think that was the weakest point of this EU presidency.

“Because they did a good job at EU level; from the European point of view, they did very well.

“But from the Czech point of view, I think many Czechs don’t even know that there is any EU presidency.

“The only visible events were these two summits at the beginning of October, here in Prague, but otherwise you can’t hear about these successes of the presidency.”

The legacy of the last Czech EU presidency in 2009 was the Eastern Partnership. Is there anything from the current, soon to end, presidency that will remain when it has ended?

“Yes, we have a European project called the European Political Community, which started here in Prague at the beginning of October.

“I think that will be the legacy, because it seems that the participant countries are willing to go on.

“So hopefully that will be the legacy that we will see after years.”

Jozef Síkela | Photo: Office of Czech Government

The government was installed roughly six months before the presidency began. Several cabinet members were not very experienced. Which of them, for you, have performed particularly well during the presidency?

“I would name Minister [Jozef] Síkela.

“Because he was an almost unknown person – he was a bank manager, but almost no-one knew him before he entered this government.

“He had to run many energy ministers meetings. If I counted correctly, there were some nine meetings, including four or five extraordinary meetings, to react to the energy crisis.

“What I heard from diplomats was that he was very active, he was calling on all sides, sending messages to his counterparts in other countries and trying to reach compromises.”

Flags of the Visegrad Four countries | Photo: archive of Polish Parliament

Do you have any sense that the Czech presidency of the EU over the last six months has impacted the international image of the country at all?

“Definitely, and I would say in a positive way.

“Because in recent years the Czech Republic was seen as part of the Visegrad Four, as a kind of EU trouble-maker which normally only says ‘no, we disagree’ – and brings no solution.

“Now it has changed. It was the Czech Republic, Czech diplomats, who brought these solutions, who came with compromises, how to reach agreements.

“And I think that the EU partners see that even the Czech Republic can be a reliable partner who can bring positive things.

“It’s good for the Czech Republic to have this position – and now the goal should be to keep it and not to waste it.

“Because if we return back to only criticism and neglecting things, it can bring us back to this EU trouble-makers role.

“And I think that is not what should be the aim of our government and of the Czech Republic.”

Author: Ian Willoughby
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