An Interrupted Presidency’s Cost

The Czech government of Mirek Topolánek – having lost a vote of confidence in the lower house of the Czech parliament at the end of March – is now on its way out the door. The new caretaker government headed by the former head of the Czech National Statistical Office, Jan Fischer, has submitted all the names of its ministers to Václav Klaus, the Czech president, and so is ready to take over. But what of the EU presidency, which after all the Czech Republic has had entrusted to it ever since the beginning of this year? That has largely been given up for lost, according to the Washington correspondent for the Czech Republic’s leading business newspaper, Hospodářské noviny, Daniel Anýž (Sad end to the presidency, USA summit postponed).

Let me take care to note here that that “sad end” cited in Anýž’s title does not refer to now, i.e. the first week of May, but rather indeed to what was supposed to be the “end” of the Czech presidency according to the calendar, namely the end of June. Anýž already knows that that is going to be sad, mainly because that was when the usual semi-annual US-EU summit was supposed to happen, this time in Washington, but the Americans have now let it be known that they want to postpone it to sometime in the fall, when the Swedes will be EU president. Now, you might well say that the Czechs already had their US-EU summit, and in Prague, which happened over the weekend of 4-5 April, following on from the London G20 summit during President Obama’s European trip. But that was officially an “informal” meeting; the US-EU get-together in Washington was really supposed to happen, as it always does, in June. But it won’t.

Meanwhile, Anýž notes that the phrase “Czech EU presidency” seems to have disappeared entirely from the American media. And he quotes an analyst from the German Marshall Fund (in Washington) that the Czechs basically lost three months off of their presidency by the change-of-government, and that leaves hardly enough time for any member-state to accomplish the desired EU agenda with which it would have started its presidency. At least the Czechs did take the ratification process for the Lisbon Treaty all the way up to the point where it only needs the president’s signature; this ensures at least “sad might-have-been” status in the eyes of fellow EU citizens, whereas a failure of ratification would have marked them as something considerably worse.

UPDATE: Here’s another cost of switching your government in the middle of your term as EU president: you stage summits and hardly anybody important bothers to show up.

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