The Czech Republic inches ever closer to January 1st, 2009, when – for the first time – it will take the helm of the European Union. The agenda for the EU presidency over the next eighteen months will be shared between France, the Czech Republic and Sweden, and the deputy minister for European affairs Alexandr Vondra is hosting his French and Swedish colleagues this week to put the finishing touches to a 70-page document setting out EU policy.
Membership of the European Union has grown to an unwieldy 27 nations, and so the priorities for the revolving presidency are decided by groups of three countries, who together form a sort of EU relay team. From June 1st until the end of 2009, the French, the Czechs and the Swedes will be in charge of the EU roadmap, with the three countries each spending six months in the driving seat. It’s France’s turn until Christmas, when they hand over the wheel to the Czechs. Jean-Pierre Jouyet is France’s State Secretary in charge of European affairs:
“As you know, this joint programme is the outcome of work which began nine months ago here in Prague. I think now we have a new and beautiful baby, with good proportions – 70 pages and so on – and the parents are happy.”
The parents might be happy, but unfortunately that healthy baby is being kept very much under wraps. Before it can be made public, the Union’s policy roadmap for the next 18 months must first be approved by the EU’s 27 foreign ministers at their summit in Brussels in three weeks’ time. Alexandr Vondra told reporters after the meeting that the EU’s programme will be one of reform and would ensure continuity. But how much can three countries really change in eighteen months? Cecilia Malmström is Sweden’s Minister for European Affairs:
“Of course we cannot alone change the European Union fundamentally, but we can make progress and we can make sure that the European Union is better suited to make decisions and to be more citizen-friendly than it is today.”
Many have tried and many have failed to bring the EU closer to its citizens and only time will tell whether the French, Czechs and Swedes make any progress on that front. But Czech officials know that from January 1st to June 30th 2009, all Europe’s eyes will be on Prague and how its centre-right government – headed by the rather euro-sceptic Civic Democratic Party - cope with being in charge. To paraphrase Jean-Pierre Jouyet, they’ll be hoping the Czechs don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
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