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15. 4. 2010 14:37

Prague urges reality check on 'Europe 2020' plan, 15 April 2010

The EU's draft ten-year economic strategy, dubbed 'Europe 2020', needs to be ambitious in the face of global competition but must first and foremost be a ''realistic document'', Czech Minister for European Affairs Juraj Chmiel told in an interview.

Chmiel criticised the European Commission's original proposal for containing too many objectives.

"The first version we got early this year contained a large amount of different numbers – the goals we were expected to accomplish. And we did not like it."

The Czech government, he said, wants clear, realistic commitments in the final strategy. "If we have a limited set of realistic goals - and we already see the three agreed so far as realistic - I will be satisfied," he said.

EU heads of state and government rubber-stamped the Commission's proposed Europe 2020 strategy at a meeting in March but delayed sensitive discussions on education and poverty, two of five headline goals set out in the original proposal.

"The biggest problem for us was the poverty goal because it did not have any explanatory value and it was not clear where the goal came from," Chmiel said.

The March EU summit agreed increasing spending on research and development to 3% of GDP, reaching an employment rate of 75% and framing key objectives on climate change and energy policy.

The Czech minister expressed satisfaction that some of the specific numbers were removed from the draft and that the final text does not contain "potentially counterproductive commitments".

However, the minister stressed that the poverty and education debates were ''the most controversial parts of the strategy" and said the Czech leadership would oppose placing excessive emphasis on some sectoral policies.

Moreover, he believes the document currently lacks specific competitiveness, entrepreneurship and work productivity goals – areas he sees as key for economic growth.

Chmiel, who said the Czech Republic's position on Europe 2020 would be formed in May following a series of expert group meetings, concluded: ''In the next decade, we will face enormous competition from China and the United States, so we definitely need plans – and these must be ambitious but realistic.''

EU diplomatic corps must be fully 'transparent'

Giving his views on the European External Action Service (EEAS), the minister sees the ''utmost transparency of its formation'' as essential following the controversial appointment of Jo?o Vale de Almeida as the EU's ambassador to Washington.''The appointment of the EU's ambassador to the USA without the awareness of the member states is exactly the way it shouldn't look,'' he warned.

In a recent interview with EurActiv, Almeida said the Commission would push for transparent staff recruitment procedures at all levels of the EU's new diplomatic service. He gave assurances that only the ''best and brightest'' would be selected.

He said the Czech Republic – which is aligning its position with Slovakia, Hungary and Poland – backed the proposed system, whereby a third of employees would come from the member states, a third from the Commission and a third from the Council secretariat.

As for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton's proposed structure of the EEAS, Chmiel said: ''It is simple – the service would operate on a Brussels level and in the individual countries […] However, the choice of the staff, the budget, parliamentary surveillance and its common praxis are going to be the most important phase in forming the EEAS".

Asked whether he supports quotas for each country, he said the most important thing was to ensure that the EEAS is composed of experts. ''The Czech Republic could offer great people in some specific areas, but does not need to have them [...] in others,'' he explained.

Galileo satellite programme and Citizens' Initiative

Chmiel also discussed the EU's planned Galileo global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and affirmed the Czech Republic's desire to be given the seat of its supervisory authority.

He said Czech ministers would like to see a decision by the end of the Spanish EU Presidency in June and suggested that Spain was "slightly holding back" the process to avoid accusations of bias should the seat be handed to Barcelona.

The Czech Republic was the only new member state which announced its interest in having one of the agencies but did not get it so far. The longer it takes to decide, the more probable it was that the "temporary seat could become permanent," he warned, adding: ''We have the support of many countries."

The minister also commented on the European Citizens' Initiative introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, which allows citizens to trigger an EU legislative request with one million signatures.

Chmiel warned that the EU may have to raise the necessary quorum to try and prevent abuse by extremists. He also stressed the importance of ex ante control, which enables citizens to assess in advance whether an initiative has a chance of success. ''The objective is to reduce the bureaucracy to a minimum and to effectively control the initiative mechanism at the same time.''

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