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15. 1. 2008 13:52

Perspectives on the European Union Council Presidency-Challenges and Political continuity

Speech of Alexandr Vondra, Ecole National d´Administration, Strasbourg, January 15th, 2008

Dear Jean-Pierre, dear Hokan, dear Mrs. Keller, Mr. Boucault, ladies and gentlemen,

I am grateful for having the opportunity to speak in front of what I perceive as an essence of a convinced European audience. Well informed, bright and with no doubt demanding. I must admit that in the past I used to perceive ENA as a “factory for French bureaucrats”. But today, I must admit I was wrong. I have among the ranks of my collaborators a number of former ENA students and I must admit they are the brightest and by large the best. That´s why I would like to thank the French government for training these people and for sending them back to us to work for their country. Knowing their qualities, I am very much looking forward to an intellectually challenging and fruitful discussion today.

I am supposed to speak about the perspectives on the European Union Council Presidency. Czech Republic will be presiding over the EU for the first time in its history. Unlike France, we are a smaller country, unlike France we have earned our place in the family of European institutions just very recently. In the light of that, the task we will be facing is far bigger than one can imagine:

- we will not be presiding in politically easy times. As Hokan Jonsson has rightly said, we will actually be having the Presidency “from hell”. Our Presidency will be dominated by the electoral campaign of the European Parliament. The term of the current Commission will be approaching its end: one part of Commissioners will wish to renew their term – those will try to please all Member States. Other part of Commissioners will be planning their future back at home: those might be tempted to please only some of them. The reform stamina of both institutions will temporarily decrease and in any case we (the Czech Republic) will have to temper our ambitions for putting forward new proposals and leaving “our footprint”.

- we will not know the format of our Presidency until the very last moment – depending on how the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty will advance, we will have to be ready for various scenarios of how our Presidency will look in both political and institutional practice. We will have to be extremely flexible. I do believe however that by joining our skills – the Swedish planning skills and Czech ability to improvise – we will succeed.

- with very high probability, we will face the immense task of implementing the Lisbon Treaty. We will be those to put some flesh on the bones of the Treaty and bring new institutions into being. We will be setting precedents for EU´s future presidencies. That is an enormous responsibility.

- We will very likely have to deal with some of the most difficult policy issues – the Financial perspective for 2013-2020, the Reform of the CAP, the 3rd Energy Package. Each one of them separately would be a huge bite to swallow even for a more experienced Member State.

- also, last but not least, our Presidency will follow after France – with a very energetic President, with one of the most efficient diplomacies in the world, with a legacy of a founding member. We will have to work very hard.

We could see this set of circumstances either as a burden or as a challenge. I personally prefer the second. The presidency will be a test of Czech political skills, of our diplomatic capacities, of the maturity of our public service and most of all of our flexibility. If we succeed, we will do a lot both for Europe and for ourselves – we will establish ourselves definitively as a fully fledged and respected member of the EU. All this is to say that we are taking this challenge very seriously.

What will be our main task in terms of implementing the new format of the Presidency of the Council as foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty? You have received the insight from a representative of a big Member State, I will now speak from a point of view of a smaller / medium sized country. I see three main points for discussion
1) the question of balance, unity and efficiency
2) the question of motivation of political elites and visibility
3) the question of reform agenda and continuity

1) Balance and Unity
In order to ensure continuing support for European integration of both small and big, old and new Member States, the practice of the Presidency should reflect the consensual views and interests of all. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the presidency will be divided between the Member States ensuring the Presidency of the Council, and a permanent President of the European Council. In this respect a careful balance will have to be stricken between those who wished for a neutral chairman with more of a supporting role of and honest broker and those who would prefer a stronger political figure, showing more leadership and bearing direct responsibility for the development of the Union. This can be achieved both by the right choice of the candidate for the President of the European Council and by setting right practical framework for his actions. Slipping into any of the two above-mentioned extremes would mean loosing support of one part of the Member States, depriving the permanent President of legitimacy, of efficiency and thus damaging the EU. We should avoid that at any cost. We must ensure, that efficient communication and coordination channels are set between the permanent President, the 6-month Presidency and the team-presidency so as to ensure the greatest possible unity and coherence of the Presidency system.

2) Motivation of political elites and visibility
For Europe to work, the political leaders of the Member states must be taken on board. The current format of Presidency enabled political elites of Member States both to make Europe visible at home and to make themselves visible in Europe. Unless we want to risk rivalries between the 6-month Presidency of the Council and the permanent President of the European Council, we must ensure that the Heads of States and Governments of the 6-month Presidency have some influence on shaping European Councils and are not left only with political responsibility at home and in Europe but no visibility and impact whatsoever on the outcome of European Councils.

3) Continuity of the reform agenda
During the last five years we have invested a lot of energy into the institutional reform of the EU. Today it is time to move forward - the challenge is to focus on reforms which will make Europe more prosperous and competitive in the current global affairs. Institutional issues should not be on the “front page” anymore.
The reform must not become a mere slogan for selling our institutional work, it should symbolize our genuine efforts to make our lives better. When justifying our institutional changes we speak about efficiency, but quite often we think in terms of power and influence. But this is not what the people in our countries have primarily in their minds. We would like to use our 6 months to:
- Focus on implementing the Lisbon agenda to increase our competitiveness
- Deal with reviewing the financial perspective of the EU and the CAP
- Reform the integrated energy and climate policy
- Tackle the challenge of future enlargement
These priorities are with no doubt common to all three countries of our team Presidency – France, Czech Republic and Sweden. We all have reform governments. The reform agenda, which we are keen to pursue, is the main guarantee of political continuity of our Presidencies. This synergy has already proven true during the preparation of the 18-month programme of the Team Presidency that we´ve been negotiating with Jean-Pierre and Cecilia.

Apart from the continuity of the reform efforts, together with our partners the Czech Presidency will try to bring to Europe´s attention some important anniversaries, which we perceive as crucial
1) the 20th anniversary of the fall of the iron curtain, which has fundamentally shaped the face of today´s Europe and the world.
2) the 5th anniversary of the last big enlargement of the EU, which reunited Europe. We would like to have a look on the impacts of this enlargement not only on the new but also on the old Member States.

There are several more aspects to the question of Presidency, but I will stop here and I prefer to leave some room for debate. I would like to finish by saying that we are very much looking forward to taking over the Presidency of the EU together with our French and Swedish partners.
Thank you for your attention.

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