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The Czech Presidency at mid term

Date: 06 April 2009

As the Czech EU Presidency enters its second half, it is time to assess its results achieved so far.

The development of events has shown that the Presidency chose its main priorities – the Economy, Energy and Europe in the World – correctly. The dozen points below summarise the greatest achievements across the three “E’s”.

Energy

1. The Czech Republic as a crisis manager. At the very start of its Presidency, the Czech Republic significantly contributed to the resolution of an exceptionally serious gas crisis involving Russia and Ukraine in a mere 17 days. The performance of the Czech Presidency during the gas crisis was appreciated by its partners in the EU

2. By way of liberalisation… The Czech Republic has brought to a successful conclusion a legislative package that further liberalises the European energy market, removes existing barriers and may lead to lower energy prices for consumers. The Czech Presidency also greatly advanced discussions about a single electricity transmission rate, to ensure fair and transparent conditions for transmission system operators.

3. …and greater security. The Czech Presidency has also achieved the development of a crisis mechanism and a revision of the energy strategy, whereby greater energy security will be ensured for the EU. With a EUR five-billion package as part of the European Recovery Plan, the Czech Presidency ensured agreement among the Member States concerning gas linkage and storage projects in Central and Eastern Europe. It co-organised a successful conference on gas infrastructure in Ukraine, thanks to which up to five billion euros could be devoted to the modernisation of Ukraine’s gas lines, through which this key raw material flows to a number of EU countries.

The Economy

4. No to protectionism; together for a Europe without Barriers. An extraordinary summit that the Czech Presidency convened on 1 March confirmed Europe’s will to tackle the economic crisis in a united way. Under Czech leadership, the European leaders pledged that measures taken by individual countries will not be detrimental to others and will not infringe on the EU internal market. Aid to the car industry, including a scrapping bonus system, as well as recovery measures for the banking sector, will be coordinated under the supervision of the European Commission. The summit also confirmed the significance of international cooperation (WTO, G20).

The conference “5 Years After” was also held in Prague, to review the impact of the EU enlargement. At the conference, top-level experts analysed a study elaborated by the European Commission at the initiative of the Czech EU Presidency. The study showed that the enlargement has had a positive effect on the entire EU, which should serve as inspiration for the EU not to relent in the process.

5. The European Council – a summit of results. The spring European Council meeting was short and effective, primarily due to the prior preparation and intensive negotiations. The EU leaders approved all five of the five proposals tabled. These included: 

  • EUR 5 bn. for infrastructure development and energy security (including 200 million for the Nabucco project)
  • Increasing the guarantee to help countries that have payment balance problems, to 50 billion
  • A proposal for a voluntary EUR 75 bn. loan to the International Monetary Fund
  • Approval of a common European position for the G20 meeting
  • Approval of the Eastern Partnership initiative.

A detailed analysis of the summit was also provided by the prestigious Brussels think-tank EPC (www.epc.eu). 

6. Yes to fiscal prudence. The European Recovery Plan, under which EUR 400 billion will be invested in 2009-2010, will respect the rules of the internal market. The member states have pledged to return to adhering to the Growth and Stability Pact rules as soon as possible.

7. Reduced VAT rate. On 10 March 2009, the ECOFIN Council achieved an agreement that had been stalled on EU level for many years. The agreement means the creation of a brief list of primarily locally provided services which are highly labour-intensive, in which all Member States should have the permanent opportunity to apply a reduced VAT rate. This measure is to help Europe fight the economic crisis and should also have a positive effect on employment.

8. Putting an end to labelling. We have managed to convince the EU and the world that Central and Eastern Europe is not an economically homogenous area and that distinctions must be made between countries. Assistance to individual countries should therefore be targeted and based on real indicators.

9. Agreements with the European Parliament. The Czech Presidency negotiated a number of major legislative proposals with the European Parliament and the Member States, which have a direct impact on the lives of EU citizens, including: 

  • "The Third Energy Package", which regulates the rules for the functioning of the energy market, creates clearer conditions for investment in the energy sector, the inter-linking of networks and improves the position of consumers.
  • “The Aviation Package”, which will tear down the existing barriers in air traffic in the EU, reduce flight distance and duration, reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, remove one of the causes of flight delays and create room for fare    reductions;
  • “The Road Package”, which will simplify access to the road transport (passenger and freight) market and remove the administrative burden put on carriers and unjustified barriers to entering the international market;
  • “The Social Security Coordination Package”, which will facilitate citizens’ mobility throughout the EU, speed up the processing of applications by people who live abroad, remove certain barriers and modernise the exchange of information among authorities in 27 Member States;
  • “The Eco-label, Eco-design, and EMAS”, which will lead to a further expansion of energy-efficient products and services that are friendlier to the environment and remove administrative burdens and facilitate trade inside the EU;
  • “The GSM Directive”, which will remove needless legislation and facilitate the development of the most modern information and communication technologies. 
  • “The “Solvency II” directive, which replaces legislation that is three decades old, will significantly change the form of the insurance sector. It had been discussed for several years. Its main contribution is that it increases requirements as to the capital adequacy of insurance companies and introduces an early warning system  with regard to a lack of capital that could harm insured clients.
  • The Roaming Regulation, thanks to which the rates for voice roaming, SMS to and  from EU countries and data roaming, will be reduced up to 2012

Europe in the World

10. Eastern Partnership. This strategic initiative was adopted under the Czech EU Presidency, with a financial support of 600 million euros. It is one of the key achievements of the Presidency in its “Europe in the World” priority, and an important tool for cooperation and the enhancement of relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. 

11. Gaza as a test for the abilities of Czech diplomacy. It would not have been realistic to hope to resolve a dispute that has gone on for over half a century. Nevertheless, human lives were at stake, so we immediately sat down at the negotiating table and attempted to mediate between the two quarrelling parties, in order to find the easiest route to a ceasefire. We helped open up a route for the freeing up of humanitarian corridors. 

12. Europe in the world; the world in Prague: A series of major high-level summits was successfully arranged, particularly the EU-USA summit and the summit with China. 

***

Foreign visitors, journalists, and politicians rate the organisation of all of the events of the Czech Presidency as being very good. That is, of course, the result of the hard work, long-term preparation and good cooperation between all actors in Czech state administration.

The Czech Republic had announced that it desires to be, above all, a team player, and to moderate the discussion fairly. We have lived up to that. In the very first weeks, we demonstrated on the political battlefield that we respect the principles and European rules of the game and that we are able to fight for them vigorously and effectively in the interest of the whole. In doing so, the Czech Presidency also lived up to its motto: a “Europe without Barriers”. For this, it earned the respect and appreciation of other Member States as well as the European Commission and Parliament.


The Czech Presidency in numbers

1. The Czech Republic is only the second post-Communist country – the first one was Slovenia – to hold the Presidency. Together with France and Sweden, the Czech Republic makes up the so-called Trio Presidency – the second Trio in the history of the EU. The first Trio was formed by Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. France held the Presidency before us and Sweden will take over after us.

2. At the end of June, the Czech Republic will have headed the EU for six months, i.e. for a total of 182 days (1 January – 30 June 2009). It is a relatively short period, but may have a long-term impact on our reputation in Europe and the world.

3. By June 30, the Czech Republic will have chaired more than 3,000 meetings on different levels in the Czech Republic, in Brussels or elsewhere in the world. Every working day around 25 meetings are chaired by Czech civil servants or diplomats. The Prague Congress Centre will have hosted some 130 one- to three-day meetings – sometimes more than one in a single day.

4. 146 diplomats at the Permanent Representation preside over a total of 150 EU Council working groups which meet at least once every month and are made up of experts in different fields from all EU Member States.

5. The vast majority of the civil servants (some 1,500) who are employed by the Presidency had to pass an initial test of at least one foreign language (English, in most cases) and most of them also passed a test of a second foreign language, usually French.

6. During the first half of the Presidency (until 31 March 2009) 1,130 working group meetings, 18 Council meetings and 2 European Councils, one of them informal, took place in Brussels under Czech leadership. In the second half the Czech Republic will chair another 1,128 working group meetings, 17 Council meetings and 1 European Council.

7. In the Czech Republic there will have been a total of 350 different official meetings, including 14 informal meetings of ministers (5 in the regions – in Brno, Hluboká, Litoměřice, Luhačovice and Mariánské Lázně). Of these, 8 informal meetings have already been held, and another 6 will take place in the second half, namely the informal meeting of Ministers of Finance in Prague on 3 -4 April, the informal meeting of Ministers of the Environment in Prague on 14 – 15 April, the informal meeting of Ministers for Regional Development in Mariánské Lázně on 23 – 24 April, the informal meeting of Ministers of Transport in Litoměřice on 28 – 30 April 2009, the informal meeting of Ministers for Competitiveness in Prague on 3 – 5 May and the informal meeting of Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries in Brno on 31 May – 2 June. An extremely important event due to its double scope – in comparison with a normal informal meeting - is the 14th joint meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Ministers of the Rio Group in Prague on 13 – 14 May.

8. Outside Prague a total of some 50 events of pan-European importance will have been held, e.g. in Ostrava, Olomouc, Kutná Hora, Plzeň and Hradec Králové.

9. Each ministerial meeting is attended by dozens if not hundreds of foreign journalists, depending on the theme of the discussions. Traditionally summits and meetings with third countries attract most media attention. More than 1,000 journalists can be present.

10. Over 600 cultural events will have taken place under the auspices of the Czech Presidency in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe and the world. The government earmarked more than CZK 80 million for this purpose in 2009. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for instance, doubled its budget for cultural events from CZK 30 to 60 million in 2009 while the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs will have spent more than CZK 20 million on cultural events.

11. During the six months of the Presidency some 30,000 foreign visitors, primarily diplomats, politicians and ministers, will have come to the Czech Republic.

12. With its almost unlimited number of potential applications, its artistic creativity, its simplicity and its absence of pathos, the logo of the Czech Presidency expresses its motto - “A Europe without Barriers”. At the same time it contains the entire colour range of the flags of the Member States of the EU – i.e. eight colours – reflecting the motto of the EU, “United in Diversity”.

13. On 6 January 2009, at the beginning of the Presidency, the Czech Republic announced the so-called three E’s – its main priorities, the economy, energy and Europe in the world. They turned out to be well chosen because the most important events in the first months of the Presidency took place in these very areas (the gas crisis, the economic crisis and the summit with Barack Obama…).

14. The Czech Presidency drawing contest for children on the theme “The Czech lion cub as king of the European safari” and “For six months, the Czech Republic becomes captain of the European team” attracted 600 original children’s drawings at the end of June 2008. In December 2008, Deputy Prime Minister Vondra awarded prizes to the winners, whose drawings can be seen on the website of the Czech Presidency.

15. Some 70 liaison officers take care of foreign VIPs from the minute they land until they leave the Czech Republic again. Most of them are students or graduates from Czech universities with outstanding organisational and language skills, knowledge about etiquette and immunity to stress.

16. Around 30 hostesses (20 for ministerial meetings, 8 for meetings at the Prague Congress Centre and 4 at the airport) help ensure a smooth organisation of meetings in the Czech Republic.

17. During the Presidency it is necessary to take care of transporting foreign delegations. A fleet consisting of the car models Škoda Superb, VW Phaeton and Audi A8, as well as VW Multivan minibuses, was rented for a symbolic CZK 1. The standard car fleet for a meeting is 27 Škoda Superbs, 4 VW Phaetons, 4 Audi A8s and 40 VW Multivan minibuses. The standard car fleet is extended by another 35 cars and 35 Multivans for ministerial meetings in the extended format, e.g. the EU-USA summit or the meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers with the countries of the so-called Rio Group from Latin America.


The Entropa installation, which is on display in the EU Council building until the end of the Czech Presidency (30 June 2009), has become an artistic highlight. Every day, about 200-300 visitors come to the Council building to see the sculpture during their stay in Brussels. All in all, over 20,000 people have seen Entropa during the first three months. Throughout the Czech Presidency, the saying goes: "If you haven't seen Entropa, you haven't seen Brussels".


Contact:

  • Michaela Jelínková, Spokeswoman of the Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Tel.: +420 224 002 796, GSM: +420 724 258 939, E-mail: eu-media@vlada.cz
  • Jan Slíva, Spokesman for Coreper II and COPS, Tel.: +32 2 2139 332, GSM: +32 475 734 263, E-mail: jan_sliva@mzv.cz
  • Radek Honzák, Spokesman for Coreper I, Tel.: +32 2 2139 245, GSM: +32 475 734 018, E-mail: radek_honzak@mzv.cz