A guide to the Czech EU presidency: What to expect as Czechia takes the helm

The country's leadership has expressed confidence in leading the European countries in times of crisis, but rocky times may be ahead.

Kathrin Yaromich

Written by Kathrin Yaromich Published on 01.07.2022 14:46:00 (updated on 01.07.2022) Reading time: 5 minutes

From July 2022, Europe will be led by the Czech Republic as the country assumes the rotating six-month presidency in the Council of the European Union from France. As the leadership changes in Brussels, residents of Czechia have commemorated the occasion with a series of parades and events.

Under the Havel-inspired slogan of the presidency 'Europe as a task,' the Czech presidency is off to a rocky start. With Russia waging the war on Ukraine, Europe spiraling into an economic crisis, and energy supplies towering over the EU's agenda, the 'task' will not be an easy one.

On top of the shared European challenges, the Czech Republic has been recently shaken up by a course of domestic quandaries – from the corruption scandal to soaring inflation.

Nevertheless, the country's leadership has expressed confidence in leading the European countries in times of crisis.

"I would be very pleased if our EU presidency led to our country being perceived not as a country that seeks to catch up to the West, but as an EU member state with no ifs, ands, or buts," the minister of EU affairs Mikuláš Bek told DW. "To do so, it is enough to exercise the role of the presiding country with professionalism."

During the six-month period, Czechia will chair meetings at every level in the Council, ensuring continuity and policy coherency. Bek said that Czechia does not aim to dominate the debate, like France or Germany, but rather to follow the lead of Denmark and Sweden who knew what it takes to be a good moderator.

What are the priorities of the Czech Republic?

The priorities of the presidency were considerably influenced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When taking up office in December, Bek spoke about controlling the impact of the coronavirus crisis, climate change, migration, and security.

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine has rocked many our certainties, weakened and uncovered weaknesses of the security architecture in Europe, which we will have to newly and, above all, actively seize and develop, not just as observers relying on others," said Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

During its presidency, the Czech Republic will focus on five closely linked priority areas: managing the refugee crisis and Ukraine's post-war recovery; energy security; strengthening Europe's defense capabilities and cyberspace security; strategic resilience of the European economy; and resilience of democratic institutions.

All the pillars include long-term strategic interests and priorities of the Czech Republic and the values the Czech Republic has promoted for a long and of which it is proud, added the prime minister.

The official website of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU presents five closely interlinked priority areas.

Managing the refugee crisis and Ukraine’s post-war recovery

One of the primary focuses of the presidency for Czechia is managing the fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prague wants to secure money for Ukraine and defend the country “using all instruments and programs offered by the EU, including the strengthening of sanctions,” writes the official website of the Czech Presidency.

In addition to the support of Ukraine, Prague’s focus will be on mobilizing and coordinating “all available resources and expertise” to deal with the largest refugee wave since World War II and ensure successful long-term integration of refugees, most of whom are children and women.

Although Czechia lists the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine as another priority task, it might be too early to put the item on the agenda. The talks of the recovery plan for Ukraine would only be held if the war were over, but with no end to Russian aggression in sight, the project seems unrealistic.  

Energy security: eliminating dependence over decarbonization

Breaking the dependency on Russian gas, oil, and coal is another key priority of the Czech presidency. Prague will also be responsible for “the implementation of the regulation of gas reserves, i.e. filling storages in the run-up to winter”. The Czech government will be under pressure to make sure gas-storage levels across the bloc hit 80 percent by November as planned

The Czech leadership made it abundantly clear that their focus will lay on securing the energy supplies to Europe and eliminating the EU’S dependency, rather than decarbonizing the economy. In fact, the ‘green’ aspect is likely to be the most dividing one in terms of reaching agreement in the sphere of energy security.

Central and Eastern European countries will insist on allowing gas and nuclear to be used to make hydrogen and count as sustainable investments. Although most countries are opposed to hiking efficiency and renewable targets, a coalition of hard greens, anti-nuclear, and renewable-rich countries, such as Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Austria, and Luxembourg, will likely push for strict definitions.

Although Minister Bek said that the Czech government will not ignore the green agenda, the official website states, “the Czech Presidency will focus especially on the thorough implementation of the main short-term objective, i.e. remove dependence on Russian fossil fuels.”

Defense, economic resilience, and democracy

With the rising instability on the continent, reinforcing security and strengthening defense capabilities become the top priority of the presidency. The Czech Republic will lead the EU’s partnership with NATO and aim at reducing technological dependence and addressing cyber threats.

The Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine have caused a massive inflation shock, increased market uncertainty, and exposed the fragility of global supply chains. Russia’s aggression has led to the greatest disruption of commodity markets in the last 50 years, forcing the EU to minimize its dependency on hostile states. Pushing for free-trade agreements could open up more commerce opportunities for the EU and diversify resources.

Lastly, strengthening democratic institutions' resilience and respecting and boosting freedoms and European values will constitute a key priority area for Prague.

Secondary importance

Although the Czech Republic is taking on such a loaded presidency, the country’s government seems to keep its focus on domestic affairs.

“European policy was never on the top of the list for Czech voters,” Žiga Faktor, head of the Brussels office at the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, told Politico. “The new government first wants to stabilize its position domestically.”

The government also does not seem keen on promoting its role in Brussels. In May, it decided to save the money on advertisement by scrapping the respective contract for media space purchase in online and print media.

Nevertheless, a series of events took place in Prague marking the start of the presidency and the government intends to communicate via TV commercials and radio as well as on social media and the official website.  

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