The Czech Republic – neglecting implementation because of treaty ratification hangover?

The Czech Repub­lic was the last coun­try to rat­i­fy the Lis­bon Treaty. The late and dra­mat­ic Czech rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the treaty has been fol­lowed by a cer­tain “treaty rat­i­fi­ca­tion hang­over” which has man­i­fest­ed itself through lit­tle media inter­est in the imple­men­ta­tion process of the treaty. At the same time, the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try, with a low pro­file care­tak­er cab­i­net in office, has had the con­se­quence that the coun­try lacks a clear vision of its pri­or­i­ties dur­ing the imple­men­ta­tion phase. How­ev­er, to the extent that there is a coher­ent Czech view on the imple­men­ta­tion, this is a per­spec­tive that tones down the poten­tial polit­i­cal dimen­sion of the new offices and insti­tu­tions intro­duced by the treaty, and prefers to view them as tech­ni­cal­i­ties. From the Czech per­spec­tive, the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil should be a mod­er­a­tor, while the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS) is prefer­ably dis­cussed as an expert team and not as a real diplo­mat­ic cor­pus, a Euro­pean min­istry of for­eign affairs or some­thing along those lines.

From the Czech offi­cial per­spec­tive it was essen­tial that the first Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil should be a per­son viewed rather as a mod­er­a­tor than as a strong polit­i­cal leader. Her­man Van Rompuy was, from this per­spec­tive, a good choice, even if part of the polit­i­cal elite prob­a­bly con­sid­ered him too much of a Euro-fed­er­al­ist. Espe­cial­ly the Civic Democ­rats (ODS), who were in gov­ern­ment until spring 2009, have a very inter­gov­ern­men­tal­ist vision of the EU. How­ev­er, the first reac­tions to the appoint­ment of Van Rompuy were rather pos­i­tive, even if politi­cians, jour­nal­ists and experts all agreed on one point – they knew very lit­tle about this man.11See, e.g., Černý, Adam: “Her­man Kdo” z Bruselu [“Her­man who” from Brus­sels], 23 Novem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://hn.ihned.cz/c1-39162900-adam-cerny-herman-kdo-z-bruselu (last access: 24 June 2010). Even after his ini­tial months in office, some com­men­ta­tors remained scep­ti­cal about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of this unknown Bel­gian get­ting some­thing done in his new posi­tion. How­ev­er, his involve­ment in solv­ing the Greek eco­nom­ic cri­sis was in gen­er­al viewed rather pos­i­tive­ly; at least, he was not con­sid­ered to be the one to blame for the alleged­ly slow EU reac­tion. Politi­cians in gen­er­al have remained pos­i­tive or at least want­ed to give Van Rompuy more time before com­ment­ing on his work.

It should also be not­ed that the Czech media has start­ed refer­ring to the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil as the “Euro-pres­i­dent”. This non-pre­cise vocab­u­lary is also com­mon among well-estab­lished and respect­ed news­pa­pers and week­lies. It is like­ly that this increas­es the pres­tige of the office in the eyes of ordi­nary Czech cit­i­zens, but it is ques­tion­able what effect it has on their under­stand­ing of the EU and the gen­er­al under­stand­ing of the sec­ond “EU Pres­i­dent”, i.e., the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Commission.

There was a large debate on the con­se­quences of the Lis­bon Treaty for the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy in the Czech Repub­lic pri­or to the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the treaty. In par­tic­u­lar, this debate was intense before the first Irish ref­er­en­dum on the treaty, when it still looked like­ly that the treaty could come into force pri­or to or dur­ing the Czech Pres­i­den­cy of the first half of 2009. The debate at this time was rather self-cen­tred and focused on the ques­tion of whether the Czech Pres­i­den­cy would be a “full-wor­thy” pres­i­den­cy or not. Espe­cial­ly the Civic Democ­rats remain crit­i­cal of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil and of the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy rep­re­sent­ing the EU abroad. From the ODS’ per­spec­tive, there is the risk that they will pri­mar­i­ly rep­re­sent the big states of the EU, and there­fore, where it is pos­si­ble, they pre­fer the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy to still play a role.22See, e.g., Von­dra, Alexan­dr: Češi neb­u­dou žábou na pra­meni [The Czechs will not be a fly in the oint­ment], 26 May 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.cz/cr-v-evropske-unii/interview/alexandr-vondra-cesi-nebudou-zabou-na-prameni-007532 (last access: 24 June 2010).

When Cather­ine Ash­ton was appoint­ed High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy, it was com­ment­ed in pos­i­tive terms by Czech Prime Min­is­ter Jan Fis­ch­er, because of the good col­lab­o­ra­tion with then Euro­pean Com­mis­sion­er for Trade Ash­ton dur­ing the Czech Pres­i­den­cy.33CeskeNoviny.cz: CzechRep con­sid­ers Van Rompuy, Ash­ton good choice – Fis­ch­er, 19 Novem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/tema/zpravy/czechrep-considers-van-rompuy-ashton-good-choice-fischer/408443&id_seznam=20781 (last access: 24 June 2010). Some were of the view that it was a nat­ur­al choice that the posi­tion was giv­en to a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a big state. Ash­ton has been crit­i­cised for her fail­ure to inform the mem­ber states pri­or to the appoint­ment of the EU ambas­sador to the USA. One of the Czechs’ gen­er­al demands is the need for greater trans­paren­cy. This is con­sid­ered impor­tant espe­cial­ly in rela­tion to the EEAS. The Czech Repub­lic has tried to har­monise its posi­tion on the EEAS with those of the oth­er three coun­tries in the Viseg­rad group, i.e., Poland, Slo­va­kia and Hun­gary. One of the goals of the group was to make sure that small and new mem­ber states would also be rep­re­sent­ed in the EEAS, and, in order to obtain this, a third of the EEAS staff should be recruit­ed from the mem­ber states.44Chmiel, Juraj: EU by měla být více “user friend­ly” [EU should be more user friend­ly], 12 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.cz/cr-v-evropske-unii/analyza/juraj-chmiel-eu-by-mela-byt-vice-user-friendly-007353 (last access: 24 June 2010). The prime moti­va­tion for the Viseg­rad coun­tries is the fact that they are under­rep­re­sent­ed in the EU’s senior man­age­ment in gen­er­al, and regard­ing exter­nal rela­tions in par­tic­u­lar. As an exam­ple, it can be men­tioned that, of 130 Euro­pean Com­mis­sion del­e­ga­tions, only one was led by a senior diplo­mat from the new mem­ber states at the end of 2009.55Khol, Radek: Kla­sická bilaterál­ní diplo­ma­cie se vznikem vnější služ­by EU nezanikne [Clas­si­cal bilat­er­al diplo­ma­cy does not dis­ap­pear with the Exter­nal Action Ser­vice], 15 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.cz/evropske-instituce/interview/radek-khol-klasicka-bilateralni-diplomacie-se-vznikem-diplomaticke-sluzby-eu-nezanikne-007372 (last access: 24 June 2010). Anoth­er Czech demand was that the EEAS should not lead to a cost increase.66Novinky.cz: O posty ve vznika­jící diplo­mat­ické službě EU usilu­jí i Češi [Even Czechs aim at posi­tions in the emerg­ing EU diplo­mat­ic ser­vice], 15 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.novinky.cz/kariera/197595-o-posty-ve-vznikajici-diplomaticke-sluzbe-eu-usiluji-i-cesi.html (last access: 24 June 2010).

On the issue of the Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive, the Czech gov­ern­ment has demand­ed a high­er min­i­mum num­ber of cit­i­zens than orig­i­nal­ly pro­posed. The gov­ern­ment wants to see the same min­i­mal per­cent­age lev­el applied to all coun­tries and prefers a one per­cent thresh­old. The rea­son is that the gov­ern­ment believes that a low­er thresh­old would open the way for extrem­ist groups to mis­use the ini­tia­tive. The Czech gov­ern­ment also sup­ports the idea of an ex ante pos­si­bil­i­ty for cit­i­zens to check whether their pro­pos­al is admis­si­ble in case they man­age to gath­er the required num­ber of sig­na­tures before they start this process.77Chmiel, Juraj: EU by měla být více “user friend­ly” [EU should be more user friend­ly], 12 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.cz/cr-v-evropske-unii/analyza/juraj-chmiel-eu-by-mela-byt-vice-user-friendly-007353 (last access: 24 June 2010).

    Footnotes

  • 1See, e.g., Černý, Adam: “Her­man Kdo” z Bruselu [“Her­man who” from Brus­sels], 23 Novem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://hn.ihned.cz/c1-39162900-adam-cerny-herman-kdo-z-bruselu (last access: 24 June 2010).
  • 2See, e.g., Von­dra, Alexan­dr: Češi neb­u­dou žábou na pra­meni [The Czechs will not be a fly in the oint­ment], 26 May 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.cz/cr-v-evropske-unii/interview/alexandr-vondra-cesi-nebudou-zabou-na-prameni-007532 (last access: 24 June 2010).
  • 3CeskeNoviny.cz: CzechRep con­sid­ers Van Rompuy, Ash­ton good choice – Fis­ch­er, 19 Novem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/tema/zpravy/czechrep-considers-van-rompuy-ashton-good-choice-fischer/408443&id_seznam=20781 (last access: 24 June 2010).
  • 4Chmiel, Juraj: EU by měla být více “user friend­ly” [EU should be more user friend­ly], 12 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.cz/cr-v-evropske-unii/analyza/juraj-chmiel-eu-by-mela-byt-vice-user-friendly-007353 (last access: 24 June 2010).
  • 5Khol, Radek: Kla­sická bilaterál­ní diplo­ma­cie se vznikem vnější služ­by EU nezanikne [Clas­si­cal bilat­er­al diplo­ma­cy does not dis­ap­pear with the Exter­nal Action Ser­vice], 15 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.cz/evropske-instituce/interview/radek-khol-klasicka-bilateralni-diplomacie-se-vznikem-diplomaticke-sluzby-eu-nezanikne-007372 (last access: 24 June 2010).
  • 6Novinky.cz: O posty ve vznika­jící diplo­mat­ické službě EU usilu­jí i Češi [Even Czechs aim at posi­tions in the emerg­ing EU diplo­mat­ic ser­vice], 15 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.novinky.cz/kariera/197595-o-posty-ve-vznikajici-diplomaticke-sluzbe-eu-usiluji-i-cesi.html (last access: 24 June 2010).
  • 7Chmiel, Juraj: EU by měla být více “user friend­ly” [EU should be more user friend­ly], 12 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.cz/cr-v-evropske-unii/analyza/juraj-chmiel-eu-by-mela-byt-vice-user-friendly-007353 (last access: 24 June 2010).

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.