Czech presidency gets end-of-term report

July 16, 2009

The Czech Republic has got what amounted to a disappointing end-of-term report from the European Parliament.

In a debate this week on the six-month Czech presidency of the European Union, Prime Minister Jan Fischer said that although the first six months of 2009 would go down in EU history as a demanding period, Prague had got through “without major hiccups”.

Few people in the assembly seemed to agree. Deputies said there had been some successes, but overall were underwhelmed.

“The Czech presidency will not go down in history in the way that we had hoped,” said Alexander Lambsdorff, a German from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats.

“What we would have liked the Czech presidency to achieve in terms of challenges has unfortunately not happened,” said Rebecca Harms, a German member of the Greens. “Unfortunately your country was weak.”

Holding the presidency was never going to be easy for a relatively small and new member state with a eurosceptic president in Vaclav Klaus.

Matters were made worse by two crises in January – Russia’s gas price dispute with Ukraine and an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip - and the fall of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s government midway through the presidency.

Topolanek upset the European Parliament by saying U.S. efforts to end the economic crisis were a “path to hell” and Klaus prompted a walkout when he addressed the assembly.

There was also criticism of an artwork that was erected at EU headquarters but was later removed. The map of Europe by a Czech artist depicted Bulgaria as a toilet and Romania as a Dracula theme park. 

Even so, the parliament’s feedback was not all bad. Fischer won praise for his work after taking over the government and the presidency. Some deputies said Prague had done well in standing up to protectionist moves and hailed its work in securing agreement on an overhaul of financial regulations and on measures intended to encourage Irish voters to back the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty.   

“The Czech presidency proved a mid-sized country and so-called new member state can really do a very good job,” said Jan Zahradil, a Czech member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group.

But overall the assessment was damning. Expectations are much higher for the Swedish presidency for the rest of the year.

“The Czechpresidency has followed a depressingly familiar pattern,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party. “What we’ve got is an over-regulated model that is serving us very badly during the depths of a recession.”

He, however, singled out what he called one wonderful moment – when Klaus accused EU leaders of not listening to European citizens and told them some “home truths”, prompting some members of the assembly to walk out.

“At least for Vaclav Klaus, we thank you very much for the last six months,” Farage said.

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