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Advent season is here.

The candles on the Advent wreath remind me of what we have been through during the year that is about to come to an end.

The first candle begins to burn with sounds of czardas and debates in the European Parliament over the Hungarian media law. At the beginning of February the European leaders got together to discuss energy but they were more weighed down by the situation in the euro area. In the middle of winter, we were all unexpectedly caught up in the middle of the Arab spring coming from Tunisia and Cairo. The power of Facebook and Twitter became apparent. Lampedusa, the Italian island, came alive with thousands of migrants. The extraordinary European Council on Southern Neighbourhood and the situation in Libya was only the fourth extraordinary Council summoned due to an international crisis over the past ten years (including summits on September 11, 2011, the war in Iraq and the war in Georgia). In the middle of negotiations, everybody was shattered by the news about an earthquake and destructive tsunami in Japan. Europe sent help to Japan and Vladimír Vlček, a member of the fire brigade, was appointed to lead the European rescue team. After Portuguese opposition had refused to approve the austerity measures, the Prime Minister, José Sokrates, resigned.

The second candle on the Advent wreath reminds me of negotiations on the assistance to North African countries. Some 1,000 refugees from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia sought asylum in Malta. The entire world watched Fukushima with fear. The German government adopted a resolution on closing all their nuclear power plants by 2022, at the latest, and stress tests of European nuclear power plants were being prepared. The finance ministers approved assistance to Portugal of 89 billion euros. There were ever-increasing debates on reintroducing the European mechanism of internal border controls within the Schengen area. Serbia "scored" by arresting Ratko Mladić. The Hungarian presidency successfully managed the challenging negotiations over a package of six legislative proposals on economic governance in the EU. Together with the Hungarian presidency, we drank a toast to Croatia, which is going to become the 28th Member State of the European Union on July 1, 2013.

I lit the third candle to honour Poland, already the third country of the Visegrad Four to assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union. It was not only the finance ministers who monitored this year's results of the European banks' stress tests. In 2011, eight of them failed – five Spanish, two Greek and one Austrian bank. The European Union and NATO officially welcomed the arrest of the war criminal, Goran Hadžić. The crisis in the euro area showed in Italy; once again, it jeopardized the fragile equilibrium of the financial markets. On Belgium's national day – July 21, 2011 – the euro area heads of state or government were expeditiously summoned. After seven hours of negotiations a decision was made – the private sector shall participate in addressing the financial crisis in Greece and it is necessary to strengthen the European Financial Stabilisation Facility. Despite the efforts of the Polish presidency, the approval to extend the Schengen Agreement to cover Bulgaria and Romania was not given.

The fourth and last candle reminds me that the burdensome situation in the euro area resulted in two October summits of the EU27 and the euro area. Short-lived calming of the financial markets was disturbed by the surprising words of George Papandreu, the Greek Prime Minister, concerning his intention to organize a referendum in Greece on accepting the EU assistance, followed by his resignation. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, was replaced by Mario Monti, and Lukas Papadimos assumed the office of Greek Prime Minister. The December dinner of the EU heads of state or government was concluded in the early morning with a resolution to sign an intergovernmental agreement between the euro area countries and some of the other EU member states regarding further strengthening of economic discipline and increase of funds of the International Monetary Fund. The ceremonial signing of the Accession Treaty with Croatia generated a contrast between the tired and anxious representatives of the EU Member States and the Croats, radiant with happiness.

The year 2012 will show whether the European Union can manage the euro area crisis. It will definitely not be easy and calm. Elections will be held in Russia, France, Germany and the United States of America. Let's hope the solstice will bring optimism and courage to make good decisions.

Milena Vicenová

Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU

Brussels, 15 December 2011

Foto: Diana Černáková