Since last week, Germany took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union from Croatia—the youngest Member State. Their main priorities include the recovery after COVID-19 as well as the fight with climate change. Another important goal is digitization. Two years from now, the presidency will be in the hands of Czechia, which will take over this venerable position from France. Hence, Czechia will have a unique opportunity to be heard in the Union.
Budget of the Czech presidency
Unfortunately, at this moment, it is crystal clear that the ambitions of the Czech presidency are diminished by the adopted budget: The government allocated only 1.24 billion CZK (roughly 46.5 million EUR). Compared to 2009 (the first Czech presidency), the government spent 3.75 billion CZK, which is more than 140 million EUR (4.3 billion CZK—or 161 million EUR—when accounted for inflation). Given the date of the adoption, it is not possible to blame COVID-19 for this cut by 70%. On this particular point, I agree with Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomáš Petříček and Ambassador for the EU Jabub Dürr, who criticize the meagre amount of money alocated for the presidency.
How about other countries?
How does the position of Czechia compare to other Member States that are in preparations for their presidency of the Council? For instance, Slovenia (making up one-fifth of the Czech population and economy) is planning to spend 80 million EUR. Unlike Andrej Babiš, who defends the cuts, Slovenian politicians are aware of the potential of a successful presidency of the Council. Also Slovakia invested roughly 70 million EUR, which is over 23 million EUR more than what the Czech government plans.
The government underestimates the importance of the Czech presidency
The bottom line is: if we want to be heard more on the European level, we have to invest the money to pay experts to effectively coordinate the Council proceedings. At the end of 2022, many important topics will become current, such as the future Internet regulation, environmental protection, and industrial policy. These could alter the nature of the European economy and society. Hence, the Czech government have to do everything they can to make the presidency of the Council a success.
After all, the memories about our previous presidency, when the government fell, are not great. This is one of the many reasons why two years from now, we should do our best for a successful presidency and to correctly set the priorities. With one third of the money compared to 2009, trainees replacing experts, and on-line conferences instead of physical negotiations in Brussels, we can hardly meet these targets.