Czechs dilute EU presidency message, logo

The logo of the Czech EU Presidency and its accompanying motto ‘Europe without barriers’ were officially unveiled this week in what appears to be something of a retreat from a previous message, ‘We’ll make it sweet for Europe’.

The visual identity of the upcoming presidency was unveiled to the media and the public by Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and his deputy Alexandr Vondra at a press conference at the Veletržní Palace in Prague on Wednesday (12 November). 

As well as the logo, the ministers revealed a number of other designs to be used on government cars and at all official venues for the duration of the presidency, including a map of Europe, with each member state represented by their abbreviations (UK, DE and so on) displayed in national colours. 

Czechs ‘like to play’… 

“The unified visual identity of the Czech EU Presidency is, above all, amusing and light-hearted: definitely not boring. The same goes for the logo, which captures the nature of the Czechs: they like to play; they are original, modern and open,” said Deputy Prime Minister for EU Affairs Vondra. 

Earlier this year, the Czech government had broadcast an ambiguous TV advertisement which featured sugar cubes to symbolise their EU presidency under the motto ‘We’ll make it sweet for Europe’ (EURACTIV 12/09/08). 

Seeking to explain the advert, David Král of the Europeum Institute for European Policy in Prague recently suggested that “non-conformism and a certain sense of provocation have something to do with the Czech character”. 

Inspired by a famous statement by Klaus, who said the Czech Republic might dissolve into the EU like a cube of sugar in a cup of tea, Král believes the government might also have chosen the symbol used in the advert to say something different. “Yes, we might dissolve, but in the end it’s the sugar that influences the final product,” he explained. 

…and are certainly ‘no spoilsports’ 

For its part, the Czech government believes the logo and ‘Europe without barriers’ motto unveiled this week, proves that “the Czechs are no spoilsports”. 

“The visual style of the Czech EU Presidency shows that the Czechs are no spoilsports, that they do not shy away from bold action, and that they have a style of their own. I think that all this will help us brighten up long meetings during our presidency,” said Deputy PM Vondra. 

‘Three Es’ encapsulate presidency priorities 

Prime Minister Topolánek used the occasion of the logo’s presentation to outline the priorities of his country’s EU presidency, namely the economy, energy and external relations, and insisted that his government would adopt a “flexible approach” to addressing issues of common concern. 

Topolánek announced the Czech Republic’s intention to focus on the economy and particularly the European response to the financial crisis. Regarding energy, security issues and the further development of the climate and energy package feature high on his ‘to do’ list. 

As for external relations, the Czech EU Presidency intends to focus on deepening the bloc’s transatlantic ties (EURACTIV 12/09/08), particularly in the wake of Barack Obama’s victory in the US presidential elections on 4 November (EURACTIV 05/11/08). Moreover, the government hopes to strengthen the Union’s eastern dimension, notably by making progress on enlargement to the Western Balkans and Croatia in particular. 

The Czech EU Presidency begins on 1 January 2009. 

Explaining why the government had waited until this week to unveil the logo, which he said showed "Europe as a space without barriers," Czech Deputy Prime Minster for EU Affairs Alexandr Vondra responded: "To publish the logo earlier would have gone against the rules of the game in the European Union. It would have been unfair to the Slovenes, who held the EU presidency until June 2008, and France, which holds the EU presidency now." 

French centre-right MEP Joseph Daul, leader of the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament, welcomed the Czech government's 'three E' priorities. "I note with satisfaction the willingness of Mirek Topolánek's government to continue driving Europe both ambitiously and determined on its three priorities: the economy, energy and external relations." 

"The wish of the centre-right political family is that in the first half of 2009, the Czech Presidency follows in the footsteps of previous presidencies," Daul added, also stressing the need for the Czech Republic to lead by example on the Lisbon Treaty by "making a final decision on its ratification". 

David Král of the Europeum Institute for European Policy in Prague, who also lectures in the Department of European Studies at the city's Charles University, suggested that the government could somehow become intimidated by the enormous task of managing an EU presidency. 

"Talking to people from the government, I have the feeling that they just want to somehow survive it, to manage the technical side of it. But then, on the other hand, you never know," Král told EURACTIV in a recent interview. 

"I think that the logo is good and witty, capable of attracting attention abroad. Based on the country codes and colours of the EU member states, the concept is the starting point for a number of varied combinations and solutions. Besides, the logo is friendly and optimistic, which is a major asset. The use of a Czech typeface in both the logo itself and the visual style as such adds even more value to the design," said Aleš Najbrt, vice-chairman of the evaluation panel that selected the winning design. 

Graphic designer Tomáš Pakosta, the logo's creator, said: "As a supporter of the EU, I am happy to have had the opportunity to do my bit in an integration project that, at least from our perspective today, appears unfeasible." Explaining his choice of design, Pakosta described the logo as "an interplay of colours and country codes laid out on the EU map and then mixed up in a mosaic as an expression of equality". 

"Built on a structure of the codes of the EU member states with the colours derived from their national flags, the style seems to bear the following message: 'We are one big family where everyone plays a significant role, regardless of their size or historical importance. We have come together to form a rich mosaic of colours, in which the identity of each country is expressed by only two letters.' Sometimes less is indeed more," said evaluation panel member Alan Záruba, a graphic designer. 

Describing the design as an "unmistakable and graphically self-confident expression of the Czech EU Presidency," Professor Rostislav Vanêk, a member of the evaluation panel and a graphic design specialist, said: "From the very beginning, it was clear that Pakosta was not only offering a logo, but also a very strong visual project of the entire identity of the Czech EU Presidency". 

The Czech Republic will assume the EU's six-month rotating presidency from France on 1 January 2009. Seen in the context of the 'trio' presidencies, the Czech EU Presidency is sandwiched between Paris and the Swedish Presidency, set to take place during the second half of the year. 

Some MEPs have expressed fears that a Czech government weakened by recent elections will not be capable of providing the leadership required by a Union on the brink of recession. But government officials insist that they are adequately prepared to lead the bloc (EURACTIV 30/10/08). 

  • End 2008: French EU Presidency ends. 
  • Jan.-June 2009: Czech EU Presidency. 
  • July-Dec. 2009: Swedish EU Presidency. 

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