Prague seeks continuity in next EU presidency

From 1st In July, the Czech Republic will take over the EU Council Presidency from France, giving it responsibility for hosting meetings and determining the agenda of the EU Council of Ministers until the end. of 2022.

At the beginning of July, it is only the second time that the Czech Republic will preside over the Council of the EU, its first presidency in 2009 coming only five years after its accession to the EU. At that time, internal political debates and priorities helped shape the Czech agenda. This time around, however, it looks like the next six months will be defined less by efforts to promote the country’s priorities and more by outward-looking diplomatic activities.

Nevertheless, the presidency is awaited with great interest by the international media, as it represents an opportunity for the Czech Republic to strengthen its position within the European family. Moreover, since the United Kingdom left the European Union, the Czech Republic is looking for new partners in Western Europe. Undoubtedly, the Presidency of the European Council will represent the ideal opportunity to lay the foundations for new and more lasting diplomatic relations. A few weeks before the transfer of power, the main priorities of the Czech presidency are, unsurprisingly, to begin the reconstruction of Ukraine, to improve energy security, to respond to concerns about the Western Balkans, to advance the common defense policy and issues relating to cybersecurity with, in particular, a focus on electronic identification.

A delicate international context

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 triggered a series of events that made inevitable changes in the agenda set by the three consecutive presidencies of France, the Czech Republic and Sweden, including in with regard to the rules of the recovery plan.

Indeed, the impact of the war in Ukraine has shifted attention in Europe towards crisis management and future reconstruction. In the Czech Republic, 300,000 Ukrainian refugees, the majority of whom are women and children, have arrived since February. This represents a new challenge for the country, which is not used to managing migratory flows on its soil. Prague must organize housing and schooling, while losing valuable Ukrainian manpower, the men having left the country to join the ranks of the army of kyiv.

But beyond dealing with the internal implications of the war, the Czech Republic will therefore have to lead European work on the subject, with the ambition of arriving at a common position on Russia and Ukraine.

Several medium- and long-term challenges

Despite the commitment of the trio of presidencies to advance several files aimed at promoting the interests and values ​​of Europe in the world, it will no doubt be necessary to adapt this one and a half year program to the current geopolitical context. The initial objective of organizing an ambitious industrial policy, which aimed to reduce the Union’s dependence on third countries, will now have to take into account the very real challenges posed by the disruption of global supply chains linked to COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. At the same time, the plan to make European industry more sustainable, greener, globally competitive and resilient in the medium to long term will undoubtedly be driven by the need to transform existing infrastructure, especially in terms of access to energy.

Changing priorities

A characteristic of rotating presidencies is that a long-term programme, often drawn up over a year or more, must be reconciled with short-term imperatives. For example, in 2008, the French presidency had to adapt its program to deal with the financial crisis and the Georgian conflict. Likewise, the 2022 presidency has had to deal with the aftermath of the COVID crisis and the war in Ukraine, while trying to push through a heavy legislative and regulatory agenda.

Digital single market, energy and climate measures, common defense policy… Progress has not been lacking on the major initiatives negotiated by the European Parliament and the Commission. For the Czech Republic, the Portuguese Presidency of 2021 seems to represent the standard to be respected. Aware that European leadership remains shaped by the Franco-German alliance, Prague is positioning itself as a mediator between Paris and Berlin at a time when key issues such as energy security, brought to the fore by the conflict in Ukraine, are causing concern among the 27 Member States.

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Berta D. Wells