What is the EU Presidency? 

The EU Presidency is generally understood as the chairing of the Council of the European Union by one Member State. The Presidency rotates between the Member States every six months. During this period, the country holding the Presidency is the ‘voice and face’ of the EU, speaking for all 27 Member States. It also prepares and manages meetings of the Council of the EU, represents the Council at meetings with other EU institutions (the European Parliament and the European Commission) and, last but not least, represents the Union in external relations, e.g. in international organisations and talks with third countries.

During a Presidency 3,000 meetings at various levels, from highest to lowest, are held in Brussels, in the country holding the Presidency, and elsewhere in the world. On average, approximately 25 meetings need to be organised every day.

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Why is the Presidency important and challenging at the same time? 

This is undoubtedly one of the most challenging tasks resulting from EU membership. The Presidency coordinates the adoption of policy decisions and mediates compromises between the European Union’s Member States.

If the Czech Presidency is successful, it will enhance the standing of the Czech Republic within the EU and in the world in general. The Presidency is a test of the Czech Republic’s diplomatic and organisational skills. The Czech Republic’s prime objective is to stand the test and underline its role as a capable, developed country enjoying a solid position among other EU Member States.

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The Czech Presidency motto – A Europe without Barriers  

This motto, approved by the Czech Government in February 2007, expresses the Czech Republic’s desire to remove the remaining obstacles between EU Member States, in particular with regard to the internal market – the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital, including the complicated EU and national legislation. These barriers make it impossible to fully exploit the potential of individual countries and the European Union as a whole. The motto also expresses Europe’s openness to the world.

In 2009, Europe will also mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the fifth anniversary of the historic enlargement of the European Union. In this respect, the Czech Presidency’s motto also has a symbolic dimension.

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What is the Trio Presidency and its 18-month programme? 

Three consecutive Presidencies collaborate on a joint 18-month programme in order to ensure better continuity in the work of the Council of the EU. This cooperation includes agendas that are ‘inherited’ and that have not been brought to a conclusion under one Presidency.

The Czech Republic forms a Trio with France and Sweden, covering the period from 1 July 2008 to 31 December 2009. The Czech Republic officially launched policy negotiations with its partners in Prague in September 2007.

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What is the Council of the EU? 

The Council of the EU (formerly the Council of Ministers), often reduced to the ‘Council’, stands alongside the European Commission and the European Parliament as one of the key players in the European decision-making process. Together with the European Parliament, it is responsible for adopting EU legislation and other decisions. The Council is composed of national ministers representing their Member States.

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What is the difference between the European Council, the Council of the EU and the Council of Europe? 

How does the Council of the EU differ from the European Council and the Council of Europe? The European Council is the supreme body of the European Union, whose meetings are attended by the highest-level political representatives of all Member States (prime ministers or presidents). Its main task is to guide the development of European integration and find common political solutions to topical issues.

The Council of Europe is not an institution of the European Union. It is an autonomous international organisation formed in 1949 that is dedicated to the protection of human rights and parliamentary democracy. It has 47 member countries and is based in Strasbourg. The best-known institution of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights.

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What are the Presidency’s priorities? 

Each Presidency starts its term by presenting its priorities (the key objectives it intends to achieve during the Presidency) to the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. These objectives are based on the current situation in the EU and reflect the challenges that are faced by the Union and that are important for the country holding the Presidency.

In selecting its priorities, the Czech Republic is not left to its own devices, but has to take into account the European Commission’s plans and the interests of France and Sweden, with whom it has drawn up a joint programme. The Czech Republic also needs to consider the long-term direction taken by the EU and the global political and economic developments expected during the term of its Presidency.

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How were the Czech Presidency’s priorities shaped? 

In February 2007 the Czech Government approved a working paper to serve as the basis for the  debate about the priorities of the Czech Presidency – pro-reform, but consensual. Members of Parliament and Senators sitting on the foreign and European committees of both chambers of Parliament, Czech MEPs, the Association of Regions of the Czech Republic, the Union of Towns and Municipalities, social partners and experts from the academic, non-profit and business communities were asked to contribute to the debate. The document on the Czech Presidency’s priorities was subsequently reworked to incorporate their comments and suggestions and was approved in October by the Governmental Committee on the EU. It was then posted on the Government’s website.

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How does the Presidency work in practice? 

The Presidency is in charge of seeing to the organisational and technical arrangements for all meetings of the Council and its working parties responsible for discussing EU legislation, and calls and chairs these meetings. It also prepares the agenda and determines the order in which the items will be discussed, based on its own priorities. Another significant task of the Presidency is to seek generally acceptable compromises. In important discussions on controversial topics, where individual countries may have divergent views, the Presidency plays the role of a negotiator trying to reach a consensus. This role will mainly be in the hands of the Czech ministers and, within working parties, it will be the responsibility of Czech chairpersons of these parties, nominated by individual ministries from among their officials and posted to Brussels.

The Presidency acts on behalf of the EU in talks with third countries and international organisations and represents the Council of the EU in negotiations with other EU institutions, especially the European Parliament and the European Commission.

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Who coordinated the preparations for the Presidency in the Czech Republic? 

In February 2007, a coordination service was set up within the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic; Alexandr Vondra, the Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs (*), has been appointed by the Government to run this service. His team is responsible for the general coordination and communication of the Czech Republic’s preparations for the EU Presidency. The Czech EU Presidency Section, headed by Jana Hendrichová, is responsible for the logistics and organisational aspects of the Presidency. Marek Mora is in charge of the European Affairs Section, which prepares the content of the Presidency, and sees to the coordination and analysis aspects of preparing Czech positions for meetings within the EU.

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How many officials are needed to ensure the smooth progress of the Czech Presidency? 

The state administration apparatus has taken on an extra 365 members of staff. This increased number of jobs in state administration is exceptional and temporary: it will make it possible to cope with the large numbers of meetings and sheer volume of work involved during the preparation and course of the Presidency. These administrative jobs will be phased out from the second half of 2009 and all of them will be terminated by the end of 2009.

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Who is responsible for interpreting and into what languages are meetings interpreted? 

Interpreting at informal ministerial meetings in the Czech Republic is provided by the European Commission’s own interpretation service. Interpreting at other, lower-level meetings will be arranged centrally via an interpreting agency. The number of languages involved will differ depending on the level and type of meeting.

Meetings at ministerial level will follow tradition, with interpreting from English, French, German, Italian and Spanish into all those languages. Under the Czech Presidency, interpreting will be expanded to include Czech for some meetings. The standard interpreting for lower-level meetings will be in English, French and Czech; some meetings may not require interpreters, depending on the practices established by the meetings in question.

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Does holding the Presidency entail an increased security risks? 

Hosting Presidency-related events does not inherently mean an increased security risk. This is because they are generally smaller-scale events than, for example, the 2000 Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group and the 2002 NATO Summit in Prague. The meetings to be held in the Czech Republic during the Presidency will be informal.

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Who is responsible for security during the Presidency? 

Responsibility for all security measures during Presidency events in the Czech Republic rests with the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic and its subordinate units of the Police of the Czech Republic. During ministerial meetings hosted by our country, security will be reinforced at meeting venues.

There will be a greater police presence and access to the specific venues will be restricted. There are also likely to be certain traffic restrictions to accommodate the transfer of delegates.

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Will the Czech Presidency only be about political meetings?  

Not at all. The official programme of the Czech Presidency is accompanied by interesting cultural events in the capital and the regions of the Czech Republic, as well as in Brussels and elsewhere. The tradition is for each Presidency to start and end with an opening and closing cultural event. The Czech Presidency will draw on its motto ‘A Europe without Barriers’ and will use the contrast between winter, when the Czech Presidency begins, and summer, when it ends. The Presidency will start with a gala concert of classical music and will end with an open-air music festival for the general public.

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(*) The Chamber of Deputies cast a vote of no confidence in the government of Mirek Topolánek on 24 March 2009. On 9 April Jan Fischer was appointed new Prime Minister.

Last update: 16.8.2011 16:02

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