Preparations for EU presidency in full swing

Photo: CTK

The Czech Republic is to take up the EU presidency in January of next year and preparations are in full swing to make sure that everyone - at every level - is fully equipped for what is undoubtedly the biggest diplomatic challenge in the country’s modern history. Last week cabinet ministers themselves underwent two days of training with EU pros.

Photo: CTK
Czech cabinet ministers may have felt like they were back at school last week going from one class to another as they received media-training from Financial Times editor George Parker and Czech-born Eliška Coolidge Hašková, former assistant to five US presidents. Three former European commissioners and the General Secretary of the EC Catherine Day gave them practical advice as to the running of the commission. A press briefing following the two-day event at Stirin Chateau on Friday started with a burst of hilarity as Prime Minister Topolánek helped the General Secretary to adjust her microphone:

“Thank you Mr. Prime Minister, I think that is just the kind of cooperation the European Commission wants to have with the Czech presidency. It takes both of us to make it work….I think this presidency will take off at a particularly challenging time, but I think it is also an opportunity for the Czech Republic to bring its particular flavour and its ideas and concerns to the centre of the European Union. It is also an opportunity, throughout these six months, to bring the rest of the European Union to the Czech Republic. And I know that you will be having a lot of visits from ministers and government officials. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to join together and to understand each other better and as I said in the seminar this morning I can assure the government that the commission will be on their side, supporting the presidency throughout the six months of the first half of next year.”

Former European commissioner Leon Brittan praised the fact that the Czech government had asked for advice – the only EU member to do so. He pointed out that no matter how well prepared a country was practical tips former officials could always prove useful.

“Although of course you can read in the rule-book how it works and what the presidency is supposed to do what we have been able to provide today is practical advice from our own experience of how it really works in practice, giving examples of how the presidency in cooperation with the commission and the other member states has been able to achieve results. And my main message has been that to be successful you have to have a clear idea of your priorities but you also have to be ready, to be flexible in the face of changing events.”

The problems surrounding the Lisbon Treaty indicate that the Czech EU presidency will be a challenging task. The presiding country is expected to seek unity of the 27 member alliance and the heads of working groups for various areas will have to be skilled negotiators in order to achieve agreement on as many issues as possible – allowing the EU to move ahead in various areas of common EU policy.

Petr Gandalovič
Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovič said that one piece of important advice from former commissioners was for the presiding country to keep a cool head:

“Our guests here gave us a private warning about needing to keep things in perspective because keeping a 27-member alliance on track can often prove a daunting task.”

The motto of the Czech EU presidency is “Europe without barriers” and Czech officials hope that by the time they hand over the presidency to Sweden in July of 2009 they will have something to show for their efforts.