12/12/2008

Debriefing/briefing on French and Czech EU Presidencies

 

Conference organized on December 12, 2008
At the Egmont Palace
by
the Institut MEDEA Institute, le European Movement International, the Egmont InstitutePublicis Consultant

Debriefing/briefing on French and Czech EU Presidencies

 

“Hats off to the French presidency!” said Pat Cox, president of the International European Movement, during a debate on Friday, December 12th in Brussels, on the challenges raised by the European Union over the last six months and those that lie ahead during the next twelve months.

At the meeting held on the sidelines of the Federal Assembly of the European Movement, the French Minister of Agriculture, Michel Barnier, has spoken about the six-month lasting French presidency of the EU Council, Milena VICENOVÁ, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU, described the spirit in which Prague addressed his presidential first half and Secretary of State Belgian Olivier Chastel did the same for the action that will be led by the Belgian presidency in the second half of 2010.

The three speakers confirmed the initial determination of their countries to address their respective Presidency in a spirit of collegiality and continuity. « A presidency is the link in a chain, » said Michel Barnier.

Olivier Chastel said his government will prepare its Presidency of the second half of 2010 by dealing with the expectations of European citizens. « Belgium wants to make its presidency the occasion to listen and inform citizens to regain their support. Mr. Chastel recalled that the stakes of this presidency were still uncertain as the future of the Treaty of Lisbon was not established yet and that 2009 would see a new parliament and a new commission. However, Belgium will be facing an institutional challenge: the establishment of the Treaty of Lisbon if it is accepted or to « save some parts » of the Treaty, if it is rejected.

Belgium’s aim will be to improve the communication of the EU towards its citizens. With the growing importance of the European Parliament, we thought that the so-called « democratic deficit » of the EU had been eliminated but in 2004, participation to European elections was only up to 45%. To reduce this gap between the EU and its people, Belgium has decided to involve the civil society in this presidency through solicitations of advisory bodies, seminars and debates and a discussion forum on the Internet.

Belgium will also challenge the presidency in a team with Spain and Hungary. Common logo and site to the three states will be in place for 18 months.
Finally, key themes of this presidency in 2010 will focus on:
• The Treaty of Lisbon
• The Social Agenda of 2010
• The financial crisis
• The program « Justice” in The Hague
• The post- Kyoto perspectives at the end of 2009
• financial prospects
• The European Neighborhood Policy

Mr. Barnier stressed that Paris had approached this task with « humility and determination ».  As proves, Michel Barnier highlighted the agreement on the « climate package », the Union’s response to the financial and economic crisis – including the Paris summit between the Heads of State and Government of the euro zone and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown – and responsiveness of the Twenty-seven in an « international disturbed context”, especially during the Georgian crisis.

In summary, said Barnier, this semester has led European citizens to realize that, in times of crisis, the European Union could meet their protection needs better than each of its Member States could.

Barnier said that France had taken the presidency with four priorities in mind:

  • the immigration pact,
  • defence, 10 years after St Malo, an area which has been at the heart of discussions with the operation in Somalia “Atalante” ,
  • Agriculture and climate-energy package.
  • Regarding foreign policy, Mr Barnier stressed that « Europe has been there » and that during the crisis in Georgia it has truly been actor and spectator.

About the Union for the Mediterranean, the minister estimated that the European project may not be sufficient in itself and that the EU could not remain indifferent to its neighbours. He stressed the success of the summit on July 13th that led to « unexpected presences » of heads of state.  Finally, the minister called for the establishment of a « social market economy » based on governance and regulation to address the global crisis.
The priorities of the Czech presidency next fall are expected to follow the same dynamic. Beyond managing the aftermath of the financial and economic crisis and the energy challenge, Prague will also, as Mrs VICENOVÁ said, ensure that the European elections and the appointment of the next Commission will be a success. To this end, the Czech Republic wished to reassure that the Treaty of Lisbon is ratified.

Mrs Vincenovà explained that the Czech presidency would be based on three “E”: economy, energy and external relations. To rebuild economies that are severely affected by the crisis, she believes that the EU should reject protectionism and avoid too much regulation. Concerning energy, the Czech Republic wishes to focus on the particular issue of diversification of sources and supplies.

The strengthening of the Neighbourhood Policy with the countries of Eastern Europe and the strengthening of transatlantic relations as well as the Western Balkans will also be the priorities of next months’presidency.

Finally, Ms. Vincenova reiterated the importance of 2009 which will see the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.