Two former chancellors are taking on a leadership role in Europe from July 2022. They are the political scientist Petr Fiala, chancellor of the University of Brunn in the period 2004-2011, and the musicologist Mikulas Beck, his successor at the university in the period 2011-2019 and current Minister of European Affairs of the Czech Republic. The two men maintain a friendly relationship to this day. Under their guidance, the University of Bryn had emerged as one of the most important educational institutions in the Czech Republic, with a popularity comparable to Berlin or Vienna in international evaluation tables.
Fiala and Beck will try to demonstrate similar successes in the political arena. Since July 1, the Czech Republic holds the rotating presidency of the EU and wants to be seen as a Western country, not as a part of Eastern Europe, as was the case until now. “I would be especially happy if our presidency results in us not giving the image of a country that is trying to reach the standards of the West, but of a country that is a self-evident part of the West, without conditions and footnotes,” says Mikulas Beck to DW. “To do this, it is enough to carry out our duties with professionalism”. Even small things, such as consistency in meeting start times, will determine whether the Czech Republic can play a role comparable to that of Denmark or Sweden, emphasizes Mikulas Beck.
Ukraine is a top priority
The new, apparently pro-European government in Prague realizes that much depends on developments in Ukraine. “It is not an issue that displaces all the others, it is one more serious pending issue that is added to all the others,” emphasizes the Czech Minister of European Affairs. After Poland, the Czech Republic is the country that provides the largest possible military aid to Ukraine. This includes armored and military helicopters. Alongside. the Czech Republic hosts 350,000 Ukrainian refugees on its territory.
For next winter, the absolute priority will be to deal with the energy crisis, which has been caused by Moscow. “The credibility of the EU itself will be judged from there, this is an even bigger challenge than the fight against the coronavirus pandemic”, Mikulas Beck estimates. In his view, a key condition for a successful energy strategy will be securing the appropriate amount of floating terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage.
Five priorities for Prime Minister Fiala
In mid-June, Prime Minister Petr Fiala detailed to journalists the five main priorities of the Czech presidency: energy security, settlement of the refugee crisis and post-war reconstruction of Ukraine, strengthening of defense capacity in Europe and in cyberspace, strategic fortification of the European economy , strengthening democratic institutions. “Europe as a mission” is the central slogan of the Czech presidency, inspired by the country’s pro-European former president Vaclav Havel.
Fiala, a pro-European and devout Catholic in a country where only 12.7% of the population professes to belong to a known religion, became prime minister in November 2021 as head of the center-right Spolu (“Together”) coalition, succeeding populist and Euro-skeptic Andrei Babis. “The mission of the Czech presidency is not to promote the interests of the Czech Republic,” he says. “Our mission is to work towards compromises in the name of European unity.”
Although the French presidency has managed to close the issue of granting Ukraine and Moldova “candidate country” status, the Czech presidency remains on its own agenda, which envisages a colossal Summit in Prague in October with the participation of all member states , but also of many countries that are not members, such as Ukraine or Iceland. It will be the biggest European summit ever. With this event, the Prague government continues where it left off during the last Czech presidency in 2009, when the founding act for the Eastern Partnership was signed in Prague. The aim was to strengthen political and economic relations with six countries of Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus: Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus (which, however, has suspended its participation since June 2021).
Last minute scandal
Shortly before the start of the Czech presidency, however, shadows of a scandal appeared that burdened the Fiala government. According to the indications so far, the scandal concerns officials of the STAN political party, the second largest of the five that make up the governing coalition. The case is reminiscent of the resignation of Mirek Topolanek’s government in 2009, in the middle of the Czech EU presidency. This time the responsibility was taken by Education Minister and STAN vice-president Petr Gazdik, who hastened to submit his resignation in order “not to jeopardize the cohesion of the governing coalition shortly before the start of the EU presidency”, as he said. However, unlike Topolanek, who did not have a sufficient parliamentary majority in 2009, Petr Fiala currently has a stable majority of 108 out of a total of 200 seats.
Edited by: Yiannis Papadimitriou
Source: Deutsche Welle