For the first six months of 2009, the Czech Republic will be the second new EU member after Slovenia to hold the rotating presidency of the European Union. But that may not be the only prestigious function filled by the country in that period - Prague is also hoping to secure one of the non-permanent positions on the United Nations Security Council from 2008.
The Czech Republic will assume the presidency of the European Union in January 2009. A year earlier, Czech diplomats may also become important players in global politics, with the Czech Republic seeking to get a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council. Given that the EU presidency is alone a demanding project, as well as one that requires extensive preparation; wouldn't the Czech Republic have too many irons in the fire? Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova says everything should go smooth.
"The United Nations Security Council and the presidency of the European Union are two different things. The presidency is a task for the whole administration while the temporary membership in the United Nations Security Council is a task for only a part of our Ministry."
Czech foreign policy priorities, compared to those of the EU as a whole, have traditionally been different when it comes to some sensitive regions such as the Middle East and Cuba. If one of these regions requires Security Council attention during the Czech term, Czech diplomats might find themselves in the position of pursuing different goals at the UN and in the European Union. According to Deputy Minister for European Affairs Jiri Sedivy, the Czech administration will do everything to prevent this.
"This is a rather hypothetical question. I believe we will do our best to harmonize our national position within the EU and indeed to avoid a potential conflict between the EU, or our performance or our position within the EU and in the Security Council."
But would a possible difference really pose such a problem? Perhaps not. During the Iraqi crisis, for example, some EU member countries were closer to the U.S., while others were heavily opposed to the American intervention in Iraq. Jan Karlas of Prague's Institute of International Relations says the EU presidency will give the Czech Republic a chance of having a greater say in forming of European foreign policy.
"There are differences among all the EU member states and the foreign policy of the EU is always a compromise and the Czech Republic will have a fair chance to influence this compromise during negotiations on the EU foreign policy positions. I think that the Czech Republic will have enough capacity to act within the EU and also to ally itself with other countries to make the final EU position acceptable."
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