Exchange of experience with Eastern Neighbors important for EU Czech Deputy Premier

France, Strasbourg, Jan. 28 / corr Trend A.Maharramli / Trend interview with Czech Deputy Premier on European Affairs Alexandr Vondra

Trend Agency: Could the Czech Republic keep up with the pace set by France's EU presidency during its first presidency amid ongoing international crisis and pending ratification of Lisbon Treaty?

Czech Deputy Premier Alexandr Vondra: The Presidency is not a race, it is a duty and responsibility that every Member State has to carry out the best it can and to the benefit of the EU as a whole. The first weeks of the Czech Presidency have clearly demonstrated that the Czech Republic is up to the job. The Gaza conflict as well as the Russia - Ukraine gas crisis have been a harsh test of our capacities. Together with the Commission we have handled the gas crisis quickly and professionally. Even though the Gaza conflict is of a very different nature and needs to involve other international players such as the U.S., we may say that the first EU mission lead by Karel Schwarzenberg intervened at an early stage of the conflict and has brought progress. Solving unexpected critical situations is the most difficult task of the Presidency and we deal with that very well. Of course, we understand our position in real context. We are a middle-sized country and the only second country leading the Union from EU10. We do not pretend to be a Super Power and we set only realistic goals. But we have proved already that EU can count on us.

Regarding the Lisbon Treaty - the ratification is a democratic process the pace of which is determined by elected representatives of the people - our Parliament. The Presidency, on the other hand, is in hands of the government. There is no reason why delays in ratification should weaken our Presidency in any manner. The commitment of the government to act as a responsible and honest broker for the EU has been voiced out at several occasions. The Czech Presidency is ready to work on legal warranties that Ireland has asked for, provided it ratifies the Lisbon Treaty. We will do it in a manner that will be acceptable both for Ireland and for other Member States so as to have the final proposal ready for the European Council in June.

Q: What should the Czech presidency succeed in?

A: The priorities of the Czech Presidency have been unveiled at the beginning of January and they define very clearly the areas of high importance for the Czech Presidency: Energy, Economic and Europe in the world.

First - in the light of the gas crisis that has unveiled the vulnerability of EU vis-a-vis energy dependency, we should adopt quickly short, mid- and long-term measures that would prevent such crises from recurring. Diversification of energy sources, routes and suppliers belong to them and the countries of the Caspian region could play a very significant role in this respect. We will organise a so called Southern Corridor Summit that should enable us to launch a successful dialogue - not necessarily limited to energy issues - with countries of the Caspian region.

Second - the crisis has also shown how important it is for EU share good practices - especially with Eastern neighbors. The Czech Presidency will launch the so-called Eastern Partnership, that should allow EU to give more political attention to its Eastern partners.

Last but not least - economy. EU is facing a serious economic recession as a result of the financial crisis. It will be the task of the Czech Presidency to help with implementation of measures that should help us out of the recession - be it various short-term stimuli or structural reforms.

Q: Could the Czech President's Euroscepticism have a negative impact on this presidency?

A: It is the government, not the president, who presides over the EU Council. The responsibility for the success or failure of the Presidency goes also with the government, not the president. I am sure our European partners distinguish that very well. I however share the view with the president, that free critical debate and variety of opinions belong to the very fundamental values on which the European integration is founded. We should not ban opinion that diverges from mainstream - we must win by arguments. It is a very simplistic view to label Czechs as Euroseptics - skepticism is, indeed, out national characteristic and is very much linked with our historical experience. But asking questions and shaking accepted truths does not mean being anti-European. The Presidency is a perfect opportunity to prove that.

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