Ukraine set to dominate Czech EU presidency

Ukraine set to dominate Czech EU presidency
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala: "Russia's aggression has also undermined the fundamental pillars of our economy – energy security, supply chains – at a time when we have literally started to breathe again after COVID-19."
By bne IntelliNews June 16, 2022

The Czech government has presented the five key priorities for its rotating presidency of the EU, which begins on July 1: the resolution of the refugee crisis and the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine; energy security; the strengthening of the EU's defence capacities, both in the military and cyber security area; the strategic resilience of the European economy; and the resilience of democratic institutions. 

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shaken many of our certainties, weakened and exposed the weaknesses of the security architecture in Europe, to which we will have to take a new approach and, above all, develop actively, not just as observers relying on others," said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

The Czech presidency will by launched by a joint meeting of the government and the European Commission in the town of Litomysl. The opening ceremony will take place on July 8 in Prague with a concert at the Rudolfinum Hall. The motto of the Czech presidency is "Europe as a task: rethink, rebuild, repower".

Fiala said he considers the motto apt and said Czechia is committed to the European task. "A common Europe, its building, its creation, its good shape that serves the development of individual national societies, is our common task," he said. In his view, the Russian aggression in Ukraine in particular has shown that security, freedom and democracy are fragile values that must be defended against aggressors. "Democracy is a daily task, the fight for freedom is a daily task," he stressed.

In the context of EU enlargement and the conflict in Ukraine, Minister for European Affairs Mikulas Bek, who will be responsible for the presidency, said Czechia will focus on discussion about changing unanimous approval to qualified majority voting in some areas of EU foreign policy. Without this change, progress on enlargement or anti-Russian sanctions cannot be effectively made due to the opposition of some countries, such as Hungary. However, "nobody wants to abandon unanimity altogether," the minister stressed.

"We must make every effort to focus on Ukraine's post-war reconstruction and help Ukraine on its path to the European Union," said Fiala. "But Russia's aggression has also undermined the fundamental pillars of our economy – energy security, supply chains – at a time when we have literally started to breathe again after COVID-19. It is therefore our fundamental duty to ensure Europe's strategic resilience in all these areas. Food security for citizens, for example, should remain a certainty. The availability of strategic materials and products, such as medicines and other things, should be a priority," he explained.

He also noted that the EU member states are likely to discuss a solidarity fund for Ukraine's post-war reconstruction, which is an idea promoted by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

In the energy area, Czechia will focus on the Repower EU package, which opens the way to joint gas purchases and the completion of the energy system. In terms of strengthening European defence capabilities, the key issues for a discussion within the EU are to be cyber security and the security of supply chains in the field of ICT.

As for the strategic resilience of the European economy, Czechia plans to shift the discussion from strategic autonomy carried out by the current French presidency towards a certain degree of openness to countries with similar values, the minister said. The Czech presidency, and the Swedish presidency which is to follow, are expected to help unfreeze negotiations on trade treaties with, for example, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and Latin America. "The loss of opportunities in Russia must be balanced by opening up new opportunities in other parts of the world," Bek said.

Czechia will also deal with the European Commission's proposal on media pluralism and will moderate a debate on the rule of law. "We will also be raising other topics in the area of the rule of law, such as the prosecution of war crimes," the minister explained.

According to the PM, all the areas include the long-term strategic interests and priorities of the Czech Republic and the values that the Czech Republic has long held and is proud of. "Together with our European partners, during our six months at the helm of the European Union, we will strive to be stronger together and to use our strength to the benefit of those who need it," he noted.

"Our unique historical experience with the Russian occupation has taught us that we can face difficult moments, help each other and stand up for what is right. After three years of preparation, we will take on this task with confidence and with the knowledge that we are responsible for the outcome," Fiala added.