EPRS Guest Blogger By / July 4, 2022

Priority dossiers under the Czech EU Council Presidency

Czechia is a parliamentary republic with a head of government – the prime minister – and a head of state – the president.

© kaprikfoto / Adobe Stock

Written by Isabel Teixeira Nadkarni (Legislative Planning and Coordination Unit, Directorate-General for the Presidency).

INTRODUCTION

Czechia is a parliamentary republic with a head of government – the prime minister – and a head of state – the president. The current Prime Minister is Petr Fiala, from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). He has been in office since November 2021 and was preceded by Andrej Babiš (2017-2021), the founder of the party ANO 2011. Czech President Miloš Zeman was first elected to the post in 2013 and had previously served as prime minister, from 1998 to 2002.

The supreme executive body is the government. It is led by the prime minister and appointed by the president of the republic. The president also appoints other government members based on the prime minister’s recommendations. Before it is installed, the government must win a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies.

The Spolu alliance, formed for the 2021 legislative election, was composed of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), KDU-ČSL (Christian and Democratic Union), and TOP 09 (Tradition, Responsibility, Prosperity). It currently governs the country in a coalition with the Pirates and Mayors’ alliance.

The Czech Parliament is bicameral. The upper house is the Senate (81 members elected for six years) and the lower house is the Chamber of Deputies (200 members elected for four years). There are currently seven parties in the Chamber of Deputies:

  • ANO 2011 (ANO) – 72 members
  • Civic Democratic Party (ODS) – 34 members
  • Mayors and Independents (STAN) – 33 members
  • Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL) – 23 members
  • Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) – 20 members
  • TOP 09 – 14 members
  • Czech Pirate Party (Pirati) – 4 members

All of these parties except the SPD also have seats in the Senate, where the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) and the Green Party (Z) also have seats. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) holds no seats in the Chamber or the Senate but has one elected member of the European Parliament and representatives at regional level.

Czechia will hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU for the second time. The previous time was in the first half of 2009, coinciding with the last months of the sixth legislative term of the European Parliament and with the European elections, held between 4 and 7 June 2009.

The programme of the Trio formed together with France and Sweden has as its thematic priorities to protect citizens and freedoms; to promote a new growth and investment model for Europe; to build a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe; and to promote Europe’s interests and values in the world.

PART A: POLITICAL PRIORITIES OF THE CZECH PRESIDENCY

The Czech Presidency comes at a crucial time for the EU, faced with the challenges posed by the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Politically, the current security and geo-political situation will have an impact on the work of the Presidency and could well dominate the coming six months. Many issues will need to be addressed, particularly in the field of defence, refugees, displaced persons, financial aid and the accession perspective for Ukraine.

The ramifications of the war, including its impact on energy policy and the ‘Fit for 55’ package, on the EU’s economic recovery and its democratic resilience, as well as on the unity and internal dynamics of the Union, are likely to be high up on the agenda.

The motto of the Czech Presidency, ‘Europe as a task’, is inspired by a speech delivered by former Czech President Václav Havel in Aachen, at the Charlemagne Prize ceremony, in 1996. The triple challenge is to ‘rethink, rebuild, repower’ Europe.

The Czech priorities for the second half of 2022 will focus on the following topics:

  • Managing the refugee crisis and Ukraine’s post-war recovery,
  • Energy security,
  • Strengthening Europe’s defence capabilities and cyberspace security,
  • Strategic resilience of the European economy,
  • Resilience of democratic institutions.

In light of the developments brought about by the Ukrainian refugee crisis, the Presidency aims to take work forward on the Pact on Migration and Asylum, presented by the Commission on 23 September 2020 (both Parliament and Council still have to adopt their respective positions on the proposals). The Czech Presidency will build on the principles of solidarity, efficiency and flexibility in this area.

The Fit for 55 climate package will also be high on the Czech Presidency’s agenda. Ensuring access to affordable, sustainable and reliable energy sources is one of the biggest challenges the EU is facing. In the next six months, the green and digital transitions will continue to be in the spotlight, but also security, in particular the implementation of the Strategic Compass, approved by the Council on 21 March 2022. The Czechs are due to take forward the Versailles agenda, based on the declaration adopted by EU leaders on 10-11 March 2022, which outlines how the EU can bolster defence capabilities, reduce energy dependency and build a more robust economic base.

The Czech Presidency will lead crucial legislative files in the Council, such as those in the Fit for 55 package, through interinstitutional negotiations and will be closely involved in the initiatives aimed at mitigating the impact of the energy crisis in Europe, including the RePowerEU plan. An important aspect is the diversification of sources including logistics, energy savings and acceleration of the transition to low-emission and renewable energy sources. The Presidency will work on the implementation of the regulation of gas reserves, i.e. filling storage facilities in the run-up to winter, and the promotion of voluntary joint purchases, so that the EU uses its combined weight in a similar way as with the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines.

Strengthening the single market, boosting innovation and competiveness, and reducing dependence on hostile or unstable regimes will be paramount for the resilience of the European economy. The European Chips Act, which aims to bolster Europe’s competitiveness and resilience in semiconductor technologies and applications, is a key proposal for the Czech Presidency, alongside the Artificial Intelligence Act and cybersecurity. It will also strive for the adoption of the European Digital Identity Wallet (a secure and trustworthy pan-European tool for proving a citizen’s identity) and the creation of an efficient and fair data market.

In 2022, the Single Market celebrates its 30th anniversary. Taking into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the single market and the challenging geopolitical context, the EU will need to identify further growth potential and address businesses and consumers’ concerns. Measures to ensure food security inside and outside the EU in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine should also be considered during the coming months.

Furthermore, the Czech Presidency plans to focus on a number of trade agreements, with South American countries, Australia and New Zealand. Cooperation with Indo-Pacific partners is also due to be a priority issue, particularly in areas such as cybersecurity, supply chain security and space.

On social policy, the Czech Presidency will continue with the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Trio committed itself to improving working conditions, including in the digital economy and for people working through platforms, to tackle gender inequalities in the labour market, including through measures to close the gender pay gap and through the promotion of equal opportunities for women and men to reconcile work, family and private life.

As regards democratic resilience, the Czechs aim to focus on media freedom (the Commission is due to present the European Media Freedom Act proposal in the third quarter of 2022), on transparency in financing political parties in the EU and on the rule of law, including in Hungary and Poland.

Still on the topic of democratic resilience, the Czech Presidency is expected to make progress on the proposal on Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) and on the proposal on transparency and targeting of political advertising.

In relation to the ongoing hearings under Article 7(1) TEU concerning Poland and Hungary, in a resolution approved on 5 May 2022 the European Parliament urged the upcoming presidencies to organise the hearings ‘regularly and at least once per presidency’. It called on the Council to ensure that hearings under Article 7(1) TEU also address new developments, including those related to violations of fundamental rights. The Council has so far organised five hearings on Poland and, by the end of May 2022, four hearings on Hungary within the framework of the General Affairs Council (GAC).

The Western Balkans region is also due to be among the regional priorities of the Czechs.

PART B: TOPICAL INSTITUTIONAL ISSUES

Conference on the Future of Europe

The follow-up of the Conference on the Future of Europe’s final report – with 49 proposals to reform the EU, including Treaty change – delivered to the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on 9 May 2022, will also need to be carried out by the Czech Presidency. In the 18-month programme of the Council, the French, Czech and Swedish Presidencies state that, based on the political conclusions of the Conference, ‘they will begin implementing them, as appropriate’.

The Czech Presidency aims to make use of these ideas and to create a space for the continuation of the debate. While implementing the European Year of Youth 2022, the Presidency will put emphasis on improving dialogue with young people and promoting their participation in political/policy processes.

EU budget for 2023

The draft general budget for 2023, presented by the Commission on 7 June 2022, will have to be negotiated between the Czech Presidency of the Council and the European Parliament by the end of this year. Uncertainty in the economic outlook persists, in the light of factors such as supply chain disruption, high energy prices, rising inflation and the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the consequences of the war in Ukraine.

The EU budget will continue to mobilise significant investments to boost Europe’s strategic autonomy, the ongoing economic recovery, safeguard sustainability and create jobs. It should prioritise green and digital investments while addressing pressing needs arising from recent and current crises. Additional proposals to finance the impact of the war in Ukraine both externally and internally are due to be tabled later in the year, on the basis of a more precise assessment of needs.

Furthermore, in its resolution on general guidelines for the preparation of the 2023 budget, approved in plenary on 5 April 2022, Parliament stresses that ‘a revision of the current MFF [Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027] is indispensable’, calling on the Commission to ‘assess when an MFF revision would be appropriate’.

Reform of the Electoral Act

Following Parliament’s legislative resolution on the reform of the EU’s electoral law, adopted on 3 May 2022, the Czech Presidency is due to steer negotiations in the Council, where unanimity will be needed on this matter. The formalisation of the lead candidate (Spitzenkandidat) process and the introduction of a Union-wide constituency, from which 28 members of the European Parliament would be elected (transnational list), are among Parliament’s proposals.

Programming of legislative priorities: Joint Declaration

It is also under the Czech Presidency that the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission should agree on the joint programming of legislative priorities in the form of a Joint Declaration, signed by the three Presidents, which is expected to cover 2023 as well as the first half of-2024, to coincide with the next European elections. The Czech Presidency will also carry on with the implementation of the Joint Declaration 2022, as negotiated at the end of the Slovenian Presidency.

The need to address the consequences of the war in Ukraine and the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe are among the issues that should be reflected in the Commission work programme (CWP) for 2023. The current situation and the need to adopt emergency measures may require that the Commission postpones some of the initiatives planned for 2022 (the Commission has committed itself to duly inform Parliament of any delays).


Read this briefing on ‘Priority dossiers under the Czech EU Council Presidency‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.


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