The tradition of Christmas or New Year messages varies in EU countries. In most, it is the head of state who delivers the message, most frequently on New Year’s eve.
France: Preparing for the EU election
In France, the president, currently François Hollande, traditionally delivers not one, but several messages - to the French people, to the government, to the army, to the diplomatic corps, to the business and to press, not missing also the personnel of the Elysée palace.
Some more wishes are expected in January, with no less than 12 ceremonies expected overall to address different parts of the nation.
On substance, French president François Hollande focused heavily on economic issues and unemployment in his various New Year wishes.
While assessing that unemployment's growth pace has been slowing, he announced a new "responsibility pact" for companies, promising less taxes for those creating jobs. This was in fact an idea suggested by the employers’ union, the Medef, a few months ago.
Hollande also referred to the European elections to be held throughout the EU in May, saying that they should focus on growth and unemployment, and not on austerity and national egoism. This was seen as a clear reference to the Front National rise in polls seen as a threat for national solidarity.
“France will have to make decisions following the renewal of the European Parliament. But until then, I wish, that with our German friends, we launch initiatives,” said Hollande in his wishes to the government.
Germany: Promoting family values
In her annual video address on 31 December, German Chancellor Angela Merkel chose the human touch, advising her fellow compatriots to take a lead in achieving success for the nation. "Commitment, dedication and togetherness," on the part of individuals, said Merkel, were behind any success.
The German chancellor, who her compatriots call ‘Mutti’ for her motherly ways, said that the government viewed families as being at the "heart of society", and was dedicated to providing "the best possible education for children and young people".
Mentioning Europe, Merkel said the progress of Germany depended on the progress in the continent.
Spain: Recession 'behind us'
In crisis-hit Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy thanked the Spanish people "for their understanding, their common sense, their courage and their responsibility in tackling the last part of this stage which has been so harsh, so long and so difficult".
He added that the recession was now “behind us” and that "in the second half of the year the Spanish economy had recovered growth once again, albeit modestly". He did not mention the EU’s help in overcoming the crisis.
As regards the announcement of the referendum on the independence of Catalonia, Rajoy restated his position. "This referendum is unconstitutional and hence cannot be held."
Italy: Making better use of EU money
More explicit about the European Union was Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, whose country will take over the rotating EU presidency in the second half of this year.
Stopping short of praising the present government of Enrico Letta, he said that it was trying to recover and make use of billions of euros, especially earmarked for the country’s south, which risked being lost.
The Italian president also made reference to the economic crisis hitting his country, saying that the exit from the crisis would be more decisive if a common action for the revival of the economic growth and for creating new jobs is put in place and implemented.
Napolitano recalled the traditional values of peace and solidarity of the EU and said that together with the other member states, Italy would work under its presidency to spread those values in a globalised world.
Poland: 'Enormous amount of EU money'
The Polish president, Bronisław Komorowski, also made reference to EU funds in his New Year Address, stressing the “positive effects” of his country’s EU membership and “the enormous amount of money” that it secured for the 2014-2020 budget period.
Indeed, Poland is by far the biggest recipient of cohesion funds, with €72.5 billion. The country in second place, Italy, will receive €29.2 billion.
According to Komorowski, the achievement of the Polish negotiators is a great opportunity to speed up the development of the whole country as well as the individual counties or cities.
"These resources are an opportunity for all of us – political views and leanings notwithstanding. And it depends on everybody to spend them wisely! […]”, he said (see full text and video)
Britain: Jesus and the Prophet
Not all leaders refer to the EU in their messages. The Christmas message by UK Prime Minister David Cameron made no mention of Brussels, but spoke of Jesus Christ, Prophet Isaiah and Pope Francis.
Slovakia: Celebrating EU accession anniversary
Slovakia’s President Ivan Gašparovič hardly mentioned the EU in his New Year speech, besides the fact that 2014 will mark the 10th anniversary of his country joining the EU.
Indeed, on 1 May 2004 Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Malta and Cyprus joined the EU. Gašparovič only underlined the importance of the country being a reliable partner of NATO, the EU and in the eurozone, which his country joined five years ago, on 1 January 2009.
For her part, Angela Merkel looked back to the more distant past, noting that 2014 would be the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II and a quarter of a century since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Romania: New EU neighbours
Romania’s President Traian Băsescu mentioned not only his nationals in his new year message, but also the citizens of Moldova, a country where Romanian is widely spoken.
Băsescu congratulated the Moldovans for having initialled an Association Agreement with the EU, adding that both Romania and Moldova belonged to the European space through the language, the culture and the history that unite them and also through the values and aspirations that the two countries share.
Recently Băsescu said that after Romania’s EU accession, its next big project should be the unification with Moldova, a statement which raised eyebrows in the neighbouring country and in EU circles.
Czech Republic: EU ‘stupidities’
The most colourful message can probably be attributed to Czech President Miloš Zeman, who said that the European Union should “stop dealing with stupidities and details, such as energy saving bulbs, and begin to deal with substantive matters, such as the continuation of European integration“.
Zeman, who took office last March, replacing the Eurosceptic Václav Klaus, further said that he had promised to improve relations between his country and the EU institutions, and that now the EU flag was flying in the Prague Castle, where the presidential office is located.
But the Czech president, who has a folksy manner and a well-publicised appetite for sausages and alcohol, has more immediate worries in national politics. Three Czech parties have formed a governing coalition, but Zeman has indicated that he might refuse some of the candidates for ministers.