Between July 1 and December 31 2022, the Czech Republic assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The priorities of its six-month presidency were determined mostly by ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine. They include the management of the refugee crisis, the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine, energy security, the strengthening of European defense capabilities, security of cyberspace, the strategic resilience of the European economy and the resilience of democratic institutions. What have been the major outcomes of the Czech presidency?

The Council of the European Union (the Council") has the power to adopt the EU legislation and its budget. It also coordinates certain national policies and conducts the EU's foreign and security policy. It is made up of ministers from the Member States and meets according to the subject under discussion. For example, finance ministers deal with economic and financial matters. The country holding the presidency sets the topics to be addressed by the Council. In addition, it chairs and organizes meetings of the Council and its preparatory bodies and represents the Council before other EU bodies.

Sanctions against Russia and aid to Ukraine

The Council suspended an agreement on facilitating the issuance of visas to citizens of the Russian Federation. For Russians wishing to enter European countries, this results in a fee increase from 35 to 80 euros, the obligation to submit additional documents, an extension of the visa processing time and stricter rules. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic suspended the issuance of visas for Russian citizens in February and, as of 25 October, denied entry to Russians with Schengen visas who come to the Czech territory for tourism, sport or cultural purposes.

The Council also approved two more sanctions packages against Russia, which are intended to increase pressure on the Russian Government and economy. The measures include, for example, a ban on the import of Russian gold, the export of steel products from Russia and the provision of architectural, engineering, and legal services to Russia. The Council expanded the sanctions list to include additional entities and increased the list of goods subject to restrictions that could contribute to strengthening Russia. The duration of the restrictive measures was extended until September 2023.

Regarding assistance to Ukraine, the EU decided in the spring to donate 9 billion euros to Ukraine in order to ensure the functioning of its critical infrastructure. Of this financial package, six billion euros has already been disbursed. The remaining amount will be part of a new 18 billion euros package for 2023.

In addition to financial aid, the informal meeting of Justice Ministers, which was also attended by a representative of Eurojust, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and the Ukrainian Minister of Justice, addressed the issue of collecting and preserving evidence of crimes committed in connection with Russian aggression. The representatives assessed the steps taken so far and discussed the path forward.

The energy crisis and its solutions

The Council has repeatedly addressed the energy crisis caused by the restriction of gas supplies from Russia to Europe. The most significant outcome of the discussions is the adoption of a regulation 2022/1854 of 6 October 2022 on an emergency intervention to address high energy. Energy ministers also agreed on measures to introduce a mechanism for joint gas purchases, strengthen solidarity measures in the event of gas shortages and limit energy price fluctuations. 

“The Council's agreement to adopt the RePowerEU investment package worth almost half a trillion crowns is a clear success of the Czech Presidency, for which this new chapter of the financial strengthening of national recovery plans is a key priority, particularly considering our 97% dependence on Russian gas at the beginning of this year", commented Finance Minister, Zbyněk Stanjura, on the outcome of the negotiations.

Access negotiations

During the Czech presidency, Croatia's accession to the euro area was finally approved. The country started using the euro from 1 January 2023, but the kuna is still available during a transitional period in 2023. Accession negotiations have also officially started with North Macedonia and Albania, which applied for membership in 2004 and 2009 respectively.

The opening of accession dialogues with North Macedonia was blocked by Bulgaria due to disputes over language and history. Now the Macedonian Parliament has confirmed the agreement and all the procedural steps have been completed. The EU has a strong interest in the integration of the Western Balkans in order to ensure peace and stability in the region.

Environment and regulation of the online space

In November, the Czech Republic represented the EU at a UN climate change conference aimed at negotiating terms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5°C. The EU is on track to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The most significant outcome of the summit was an agreement to set up a fund to finance drought, flood, fire and other global warming impacts for particularly vulnerable, developing countries.

In the second week of December, the UN Conference on Biodiversity, where the Czech Republic represents the EU, began. It discussed the Global Biodiversity Framework beyond 2020, a key strategy for conserving and restoring the world's biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade. Among the proposed targets are restoring at least 20% of degraded ecosystems and reducing the introduction of alien species.

On the negotiating table is the "Fit for 55" package, which introduces initiatives to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The Czech Presidency has been very successful in the negotiations, with preliminary approval already achieved in three of the five key areas, such as new rules for better use of forests as natural CO2 sinks. It is expected that the whole package will be approved before the end of the Czech Presidency.

Noteworthy, some development has also been made in the area of digital policy. The "Digital Decade" policy programme, which sets out the objectives the Union wants to achieve by the end of this decade, has been formally approved. These objectives relate, for example, to sustainable digital infrastructures, digital transformation of businesses or digitization of public services.

In addition, a Digital Services Act was approved to curb the spread of illegal content and protect users' fundamental rights. The law sets out obligations and creates responsibilities for providers of intermediary services such as social media, online marketplaces and internet search engines, with stricter rules applying to larger providers. For example, online marketplaces will now have to fight against the sale of illegal products, and services and platforms will not be allowed to offer targeted advertising based on the use of minors' personal data.

Europe is a task: the motto of the Czech EU Presidency

The motto of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council was "Europe is a task", which was a call to accept responsibility and act on the basis of values of conscience. The Presidency sought to live up to its motto by addressing a number of challenges such as the refugee crisis and post-war reconstruction in Ukraine, energy security, cyberspace security, the resilience of Europe's economy, and democratic institutions.

 

Sources

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Albania and North Macedonia launch EU accession talks. (2022, July 19). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/albanie-a-severni-makedonie-zahajily-pristupove-rozhovory-s-eu/.

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EU extends individual sanctions for violations of territorial integrity for another six months. (2022, September 15). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/eu-prodlouzila-individualni-sankce-za-porusovani-uzemni-celistvosti-o-dalsich-sest-mesicu/.

EU adopts another set of sanctions against Russia. (2022, October 6). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/eu-prijala-vuci-rusku-dalsi-soubor-sankci/.

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Energy ministers agree to launch joint gas purchases in Brussels. (2022, November 24). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/ministri-energetiky-se-v-bruselu-dohodli-na-spusteni-spolecnych-nakupu-plynu/.

Ministers agree on rules for more energy efficient buildings. (2022, October 25). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/ministri-odsouhlasili-pravidla-pro-energeticky-efektivnejsi-budovy/.

Ministers agree on ambitious mandates for upcoming environmental summits. (2022, October 24). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/ministri-se-shodli-na-ambicioznich-mandatech-pro-nadchazejici-environmentalni-summity/.

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Council adopts full suspension of visa facilitation with Russia. (2022, September 9). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/rada-prijala-uplne-pozastaveni-usnadneni-udelovani-viz-s-ruskem/.

Council approves Digital Services Act protecting users' rights online. (2022, October 4). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/rada-schvalila-akt-o-digitalnich-sluzbach-chranici-prava-uzivatelu-online/.

EU digital ministers meet in Brussels. (2022, December 6). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/v-bruselu-jednali-ministri-eu-pro-digitalizaci/.

COP 27 climate conference started in Egypt. (2022, November 7). EU2022.CZ. Retrieved from https://czech-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/cs/aktuality/v-egypte-zacala-klimaticka-konference-cop-27/.

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Photograph

[1] Prime Minister Fiala on the priorities of the Czech Presidency. Members discussed priorities of the Czech Presidency with Prime Minister Fiala, by European Parliament, 6 July 2022, source: Flickr, CC BY 2.0 / CC BY 4.0.