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Czech Republic embraces new role in European Council

A view of Prague. (Renata Pernegrová/YJI)

Hořovice, CZECH REPUBLIC – For the first time since 2009, The Czech Republic has the presidency of the European Council, and a chance to make a difference beyond its borders.

In its six-month term, the slogan for the Czech presidency is, “Europe as a Task,” which means that the country is approaching this time as a chance to do some important work to improve the European Union.

The Czech government divided the country‘s priorities into three main directions: a resilient and open Europe, a competitive and sustainable Europe and a dynamic European labor market.

Because of the Russian invasion into Ukraine and the ongoing war there, the Czech Republic is also supposed to focus on providing help to Ukraine, deal with high inflation in many European countries and stand up to the climate crisis – which is not a popular cause in the Czech Republic.

But national leaders are optimistic.

The official logo of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency.

“I believe our government can manage the presidency honorably and make the Czech Republic more visible in Europe,” wrote Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala on Twitter when the country took over from France, which previously held the presidency.

Kristina Drbohlavová, a university student studying economics in Pilsen, a Czech city about 100 km from Prague, said six months is too little for any change.

The country holding the presidency doesn’t have enough time to push ahead with something significant, according to Drbohlavová.

Drbohlavováis also concerned that the EU presidency could overshadow some important domestic problems which, she said, the Czech government should be dealing with to avoid failure.

The EU presidency isn’t necessary, Drbohlavová said, but if it is here to stay, the country in the leadership role should be chairing not just the European Council, but also the other main institutions in the EU structure.

The Czech Republic, a small country in the middle of Europe, last hosted one of the most important institutions in the EU in 2009. But domestic political issues disrupted its presidency and people generally refer to it as a disaster.

With a different, pro-European government today, expectations are high.

If the presidency is evaluated as a success in the end, it will be a big win for the government and may change the skeptical view that many Czech citizens have of the EU.

According to the news website Seznam Zprávy, almost 32% of people older than 70 don‘t think the Czech Republic should be a member of the EU, and just 33% of them think the country should remain in the Union. The poll shows that skepticism toward the EU is tied to the age of the respondents – with more than 71% of Czech citizens over 30 appreciate Czech membership in the EU.

A day before The Czech Republic became the chairing country, Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský received a symbolic relay from French President Emmanuel Macron. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson was there, too, because her country will follow The Czech Republic and chair the EU Council for six months beginning January 1, 2023.

At the first event celebrating the Czech presidency – held in Litomyšl, a beautiful castle town in the East of Prague – Czech officials laid out their goals. Guests included Ursula Von Der Leyen, the head of the EU Commission and Charles Michel, the chairman of the European Council.

Renata Pernegrová is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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