Czechia takes over the Council of the European Union’s rotating presidency on Friday 1 July. The Czech presidency is likely to differ in style from the outgoing French presidency, given Czechia’s more Eurosceptic stance on certain issues, but key priorities will remain largely similar.
France’s presidency oversaw the passing of key legislation such as the DMA and DSA, which will curb the power of the tech giants, and increased financing for startups as well as a revised approach to cybersecurity in the form of the NIS2 file.
Meanwhile, the Czechia has signalled that security will be its main priority given that it takes the helm of the EU Council at a time when Europe is going through its most serious security crisis since World War II.
European defence cooperation as well as NATO will be key, rather than the green transition, particularly given that many Czech’s fear that green policies will have a negative economic impact.
Energy is likely to be another focus given the withdrawal of Russian gas as the EU27 will scramble to build energy reserves ahead of winter. In addition, maintaining European unity in the face of Russian aggression and supporting Kyiv will be important for the Czech Presidency.
A ‘realist’ approach
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be the main concern of the Presidency, but the Czechia is likely to bring a very pragmatic approach to EU policy, rather than big plans for reforming the union.
Ondrej Ditrych, Director of the Institute of International Relations in Prague, speaking to La Libre, states that in Czechia people do not necessarily think about institutional solutions to problems, pointing out that the Czechia opposed the reformation of EU treaties following the Conference of the Future of Europe.
A complicated relationship
Czechia has had a complicated relationship with the EU ever since it joined in 2004, and it is one of the bloc’s most Eurosceptic member states. According to a study by Behavio research agency in 2020, only 33% of Czechs believe that EU membership was a good thing, while only 47% would vote to remain in the EU.
Despite opposition to the EU, the country has benefitted from access to the single market as the country relies heavily on its exports, of which, 80% go to the rest of the EU. In addition, the country has benefitted from EU funds, with Reuters reporting that some €40 billion EU funds have gone to it.
“There is the historical aspect: we were governed from abroad for a long time, first by Vienna, then by Moscow. Now some people see Brussels as another distant power, making decisions for us,” said Ziga Faktor, from the think tank Europeum, in La Libre.
The flames of Euroscepticism were further stoked by the previous Czech president Andrej Babis, who came to power in 2017 using anti-elitist and far right rhetoric, despite being the second richest man in the country. Babis was accused of corruption and embezzling EU funds. A referendum on EU membership, however, never materialised itself into a key priority.
A different outlook
The current Czech government is a coalition of mostly pro-EU parties consisting of Top 09, the Pirate Party and the Civic Democratic Platform. The Prime Minister Petr Fiala comes from the conservative Civic Democratic Platform, but is from a moderate wing of the party.
The next six months could change how Czechs view the EU. “The figures show that when a country holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, it can increase the popularity of the Union among citizens,” said Martin Buchtik, Director of STEM group, in La Libre.
“For the Czechia, it is not necessarily about stimulating a positive attitude, but about creating an attitude. Because the basic problem is that we do not understand the EU. If you don’t understand something, you don’t trust it.”