Press Advisories

29. 1. 2009 12:14

Challenges of the Czech Presidency – “2G”, financial crisis, Eastern Partnership

Mirek Topolánek answers questions frequently asked by the media.

What are the Czech guidelines for resolving the conflict in the Gaza Strip? What can be done so that the significant decrease in gas supplies to the EU does not recur? The questions frequently asked by the media.

1. Literally within its first hours, the Czech Presidency was confronted with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza Strip – what are the Czech guidelines for resolution of this conflict?

I am afraid that no outside force can solve a conflict that has lasted in the Gaza Strip for the past 60 years in six months; and the Czech Presidency does not aspire to do so.

The experience of international organisations and individual countries, disregarding their composition and size, shows that the European Union may contribute to the preservation of the fragile truce between the Palestinians and Israel only to a limited degree. The disunited parties primarily need to agree on a cessation of hostilities – the European Union may only help the economic development of the region without missile attacks from the militant Islamic groups into Israel and without Israeli retaliatory military operations. In the long-term perspective, the EU is the major contributor to such a development but it is obvious that other global actors, such as the United States, international organisations, e.g. the G8 group, or countries in the League of Arab States, need to co-operate with the countries of the Middle East to provide stability.

This message is brought to the Middle East by the joint diplomatic missions of the Czech Presidency and the European Commission; and we aim for the next Presidency – the Swedish Presidency - to maintain the continuity.

2. The European Union is faced with interruptions in supplies of natural gas due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine; what measures is the Czech Presidency taking to resume full supplies of gas and to prevent a recurrence of this situation?

Already the first weeks of our EU Presidency have shown that the issues of energy security, i.e. one of our priorities, are being solved not at five minutes to twelve but five minutes after twelve. To emphasise the significance of our priorities we, with a cynical overstatement, could not have wished for more than the interruption of gas supplies through Ukraine but the consequences in some Member States were literally devastating.

It is almost unbelievable how vulnerable one of the strongest economies in the world is and how it can be undermined by a bilateral commercial dispute between two supplier partners who ceased to fulfil their obligations to it as a result of a mutual dispute. The crisis is a painful reminder that the European Union must interlink its internal energy networks in a more efficient way and create alternative supplier corridors of energy sources. In this respect, I define independence as independence from both source and transit, and most of the Member States agree.

However, the price for this recognition is very high. I am not speaking only of economic losses that reach the extent of an economic catastrophe in countries like Slovakia but also of the weakened credibility of Russia and Ukraine as strategic partners. Their reputation will be restored in a slower and more complicated manner than the gas supplies themselves; and this is an argument that we emphasise in our meetings as well as the necessity to observe international agreements.

3. As the first country holding the EU Presidency, the Czech Republic has had a very vexing experience with the former Russian Federation – will this be reflected in the present relations with Russia?

Indisputably, Russia is a partner of the European Union in the political and economic sense of the word. The fact that the Czech Presidency considers the transatlantic relations to be of key importance and emphasises the need for the best possible relations with the new American administrative does not mean that it is negative vis-?-vis Russia.

Let me use an example: I have recently spoken on the phone with former American President George W. Bush while participating in a five-hour meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. I personally delivered their mutual greetings and then I returned to the negotiations on the resumption of supplies of Russian gas to the European Union.

What I mean is that our opinions on a number of issues, for instance the system of American anti-missile protection in Europe, may differ. However, this does not lessen the importance of cooperating with Moscow in other areas. The agenda of the Czech Presidency features a “Troika” summit with Russia and it is clear that the topics of these talks will include the Eastern Partnership within which the Presidency wants to strengthen relations with the republics in the Caucasian-Caspian region.

4. In January this year, Slovakia introduced the single currency. The Czech Republic, meanwhile, has had as much time as Slovakia, but has not adopted the euro yet. Isn’t it a disadvantage for a country presiding over the EU, especially in terms of dealing with the global economic crisis?

Adopting the euro is not a race – and we could not win it, anyway, but seriously: today, probably no Czech economist of renown would recommend abandoning the Czech koruna for the euro. And I don’t see it as a priority either – I think it is much more important to adhere to the rules set out in the Stability Pact and the convergence criteria. This is what we are striving for and we also keep evaluating our preparedness for the euro. I think that setting a date as a political objective regardless of the real state of the economy is irresponsible. Having said that, we may fix a possible date as soon as this autumn.

The fact that the Czech Republic is not a member of the eurozone does not weaken our Presidency in any way, not even now, as we are expecting secondary impacts of the global financial crisis. We are going to participate both in the meeting of the eurozone countries and for instance in the G20 summit. Here, our position is well known. We are advocates of functional monetary rules that have proved themselves useful in good times and we want to uphold them in bad times as well.

I dare say that our experience of the bank crisis in the late 1990s will be of greater use for our Presidency and will prove more helpful when looking for arguments than the adoption of the euro at the same time as Slovakia would have been.

5. The elections to the European Parliament will take place under the Czech Presidency and will probably be immediately followed by the election of the new President of the European Commission – will you try to influence this choice in any way?

For the Czech Presidency, the EP elections mean above all that we have less time for discussing and adopting EU legislation. Also, there will be the election campaign of the MEPs – after all, this was already noticeable in some of the speeches during my visit to the European Parliament in January – and there will be discussions in the political groups and EU Member States over the new President of the European Commission. However, this must not influence our work, even though it is obvious that for example the conciliation procedure that we are facing because of the disagreement between the European Parliament and the Council over the length of the working week will be marked by pre-election atmosphere to a significant extent.

However, the Czech Presidency is too busy working on its priorities as well as current issues and our work is too serious for us to lose time asking ourselves “what it will be like when there is no longer...”. At the moment, our cooperation with the European Commission is very good and I believe that it will be a similar situation for the Swedish Presidency, too, regardless of who is the new President.

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