Prague, 1 August 2022
Czech diplomats in Brussels have already achieved a number of successes during the first month of the Presidency. These included proposals approved by ministers of the Member States, an agreement at ambassador level, and negotiations with the European Parliament. It was the Czech Presidency that moderated the discussions at more than two hundred meetings and moved them towards concrete results.
The greatest success was achieved by Czech negotiators at the end of July. They succeeded in negotiating an agreement on gas demand reduction in a record six days from the presentation of the Commission’s proposal. It was approved almost unanimously by EU energy ministers at an extraordinary meeting. According to the agreement, the fifteen per cent gas savings are only voluntary for now, but they will become mandatory if there is an acute shortage. The goal of the adopted Council regulation is to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian gas, which is being used as a weapon to divide the EU-27.
Tightening sanctions against Russia and EU support for Ukraine
Assistance to war-torn Ukraine is a priority of the Czech Presidency. Therefore, under Czech leadership the ambassadors of the Member States approved the seventh sanctions package. This should further weaken Russia economically and thus support Ukraine in its struggle. The expanded measures include, inter alia, a ban on the import of Russian gold into the EU, freezing the assets of Sberbank, and imposing sanctions on other individuals and entities actively supporting the Russian aggression. At the same time, in their conclusions on foreign information manipulation and interference the EU Member States agreed to step up their activity in the fight against hybrid threats to the EU, not only from Russia.
In addition to sanctions, the EU Council also approved additional macro-financial assistance to Ukraine of EUR 1 billion. The war-torn country will also receive military materiel worth another EUR 500 million. Ukraine has received a total of EUR 2.5 billion for its defence since the end of February. Thanks to Czech diplomacy, it has also been possible to approve, through an accelerated procedure, a measure that allows the continued use of driver documents issued in Ukraine. In practical terms, this will simplify the daily lives of both millions of refugees and also the authorities, who will not have to issue them with new driving licences.
Support for countries and regions affected by the war in Ukraine
Czech diplomats also succeeded in negotiating a common position by all Member States on the FAST-CARE proposal. This aims to further assist EU regions that have received large numbers of refugees from Ukraine or are facing adverse economic impacts due to Russia’s aggression. The proposal should simplify the release of European funding in these areas. The Czech Presidency will start discussing it with the European Parliament in the autumn.
In the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, support for neighbouring Moldova is also important. Under Czech leadership, the Council has adopted a regulation temporarily liberalising trade with seven Moldovan agricultural products (such as tomatoes, garlic, apples and cherries). Moldova can thus at least double its exports to the EU for one year without any tariffs. Interior ministers also officially launched a platform to support Moldova on security issues. This will focus on topics related to migrant smuggling, weapons trafficking, human trafficking, cybercrime and drug trafficking.
July in numbers
- 4 Councils of Ministers in Brussels
- 6 Informal Councils of Ministers in Prague
- 9 Meetings of Ambassadors (COREPER)
- 7 Trilogues
- 23 Presentations of priorities to the European Parliament
- 232 Working group meetings
Achievements in the digital sphere
The Czech Presidency has also achieved great success in the digital sphere. During eight hours of negotiations with the European Parliament, which ended in the early hours of the morning, they succeeded in agreeing on the form of the Digital Decade Policy Programme. This sets out targets for the EU’s digital transformation by 2030, covering not only the digitalisation of enterprises and public services, but also improving the digital skills of the population. The agreement was then unanimously confirmed by EU ambassadors.
The Foreign Affairs Council also approved conclusions on digital diplomacy in July. On this basis, the EU will actively promote universal human rights and fundamental freedoms in the digital environment and access to human-centred digital technologies. The Digital Markets Act was the work of the previous French Presidency. It was finally approved by the ministers of the Member States in July under the Czech one. The regulation sets rules for large online platforms and prevents them from abusing their dominant market position.
Progress in access negotiations
The Czech Presidency will forever be associated with a historic day for the Western Balkans. On 19 July, an intergovernmental conference kicked off accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. After years of waiting, the two candidate countries can finally start negotiating their respective accession chapters, a major step on their path to the European Community. The integration of the Western Balkans into the EU is one of the priorities of the Czech Presidency.
There were also two major advances in finance in July. Ministers gave their final approval to Croatia’s accession to the euro zone. Croatians will start using the common currency, currently used by 19 EU Member States, on 1 January 2023. Ambassadors also found agreement on EU budget items for next year. The agreement of all Member State governments is still pending before the Czech Presidency starts negotiations with the European Parliament in September, the consent of which is also required.
Product safety and aquaculture
Czech negotiators also managed to find an agreement on the mandate for negotiations between the Member States and the European Parliament on general product safety. This is an update of older legislation that no longer meets the requirements of today’s digital age. The new regulation regulates the rules for e-shops and online enterprises, and should make shopping and purchased goods safer.
Ministers adopted conclusions on aquaculture at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in July. In them, the Member States agreed on the need to develop the production and competitiveness of the sector, whether marine or freshwater aquaculture.
Ten years since the last EU-Israel Association Council meeting, EU ministers agreed to resume these meetings and start preparations.
Informal Councils in Prague
The intensive work undertaken by politicians and diplomats was not only evident in Brussels, but also bore fruit at informal meetings in Prague. Many other topics were raised at them, such as strengthening the fight against child sexual abuse, protecting nature and biodiversity, digitising international judicial cooperation, increasing added value, innovation and competitiveness, investing in research, and strengthening the resilience of democratic institutions. These are not the only topics that ministers and diplomats will be addressing at European level in the coming months.
Source: Czech EU Presidency