Czech Republic assumes EU Presidency


Brussels : The Czech Republic, for the first time since joining the European Union (EU) in 2004, takes over the six-month rotating EU Presidency from France Thursday.

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While the six months of the EU French Presidency were essentially marked by a series of international crises, such as the situation in Georgia, the global economic crisis and recent events in Gaza, the Czech Republic is expected largely to focus on European issues such as the Lisbon Treaty and oversee European Parliament elections in June.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has said that his country’s EU Presidency will concentrate on “the three Es” — economy, energy and external relations.

However, the Czech Republic’s EU Presidency begins with the world’s attention focused on the crisis in Gaza. EU foreign ministers had held an emergency meeting on Gaza in Paris on Tuesday and decided to send a delegation to the Middle East next week.

The Czech Republic is considered to be one of the close supporters of Israel in the EU. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said recently that as EU President, the Czech Republic would push its partners to strengthen relations between the 27-member union bloc and Israel.

Last week, he was quoted saying that Israel had the right to defend itself against rocket attacks launched by Hamas.

The first-ever summit between the EU and Israel could be held in the first six months of 2009.

Some analysts here are expressing concern about the Czech EU Presidency, because President Vaclav Klaus is not only considered a “Eurosceptic,” but is also against the Lisbon Treaty and the euro, and is critical of EU policy on climate change.

The Czech Republic is one of the three EU countries, including Ireland and Poland, which have not yet ratified the Lisbon Treaty.

Moreover Topolanek’s governing coalition is unstable, as it lacks a clear parliamentary majority which is also causing a headache in Brussels.

Also from today, Slovakia becomes the 16th EU country to adopt the euro.