Beginning in January 2009 the Czech Republic will hold the rotating European Union Council Presidency. Delegates from around the EU will be pouring in for meetings and working groups; setting policy and making decisions on behalf of the European Union. Expats.cz will be offering a series of articles on the Czech EU presidency in the run up to the “takeover.” In this, our first, we take a general look at what exactly the EU presidency is.
The European Union is a massive institution. We are going to deal with the Council of the European Union, as this is what the Czech Republic will be president of. France currently holds the presidency; a position which is rotated between countries every six months. Following the Czech Republic, Sweden will take the reins in July 2009. After the latest EU enlargement in January 2007 (when Bulgaria and Romania were admitted) the Council signed a new Treaty setting the rotation for which country will hold the presidency through 2020. The Czech Republic is the second “new” member to hold the presidency; Slovenia was the first last January. The Council does have a more “permanent” person to keep an eye on things; the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union. Javier Solana´s job is to act on behalf of the Council in third party discussions and in the foreign policy realm plays a role in formulating, preparing and implementing policy decisions.
The Council is the main decision making body of the EU. Its members are made up of ministers from each of the 27 member states. Who is actually participating depends on what the topic is. So, for example, if they are debating foreign policy; you´ll see the foreign ministers from all the EU countries in attendance. If it´s an agricultural issue; the agricultural ministers will be there. Among the Council´s duties are passing laws, usually in conjunction with the European Parliament; they define and implement the EU´s foreign and security policy and they coordinate broader economic policies among the member states. They usually meet in Brussels.
So what´s the president of the Council´s role? They coordinate the Council´s work; organize and chair all meetings and negotiate compromises. They also promote legislative and political decisions. An 18-month plan is usually hammered out by the three countries that´ll be holding the presidency in said period. The Czech Republic worked with France and Sweden to come up with a strategic and operational program they´d like to accomplish. Usually, under these general themes, presidents come in with an agenda of their own. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had a plan to tackle energy and climate change; immigration; agriculture and food safety and defense and security. He kept busy on the international front following the Georgia Russia conflict this past summer and the more recent worldwide economic crisis. The specter of the Lisbon Treaty being ratified is also hanging over these presidency cycles. If all member states complete ratification during the Czech (or future) presidency; internally not much will change as the president will still manage internal operations of the EU. But externally, the EU would be represented by a new, permanent president.
The Czech Republic´s motto for their presidency is “Europe without barriers.” With this dictum, they hope to break down the barriers they say still exist between member states including the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. They also want the motto to be representative of the external openness of the EU to the rest of the world. This “competitive and open” theme translates into the presidential priorities which are enhancing the internal market and liberalizing trade policy. They´ll also focus on themes from their joint program with France and Sweden which include sustainable and secure energy; the EU budget; agricultural and structural policies; cooperation in justice and home affairs as well as foreign affairs, transatlantic, Western Balkans and Eastern Europe relations.
Generally speaking, holding the Council presidency isn´t just an administrative or talking head post. The president (and his/her country) has an important job in furthering the concerns of member states as well as influencing the activities of the entire EU. The president is also the “voice and face” of the entire EU to the world.
For more information on the European Union, Council of the EU or the Czech presidency; keep watching Expats.cz or visit one of these websites: www.europa.eu; www.euroskop.cz; www.vlada.cz or www.mzv.cz.