‘EU trio’ concept gains weight amid Czech Presidency doubts

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As apprehension mounts in Brussels over the incoming Czech Presidency, officials are playing down anxieties on the basis that the EU’s work schedule increasingly relies upon agendas drawn up by ‘trios of presidencies’ including older, more experienced member states. EURACTIV Czech Republic contributed to this article from Prague.

Presidency programmes are now seen as a collective effort by ‘trio presidencies’, in which at least one country is one of the ‘older’ group of 15 EU member states. 

The current trio is composed of France (the current EU president holder), the Czech Republic (which will assume the Union’s helm in January 2009) and Sweden (presidency holders in the second half of 2009). The three presented their joint 18-month programme in June 2008. 

The next ‘trio’, due to start work in January 2010, will include Spain, Belgium and Hungary. 

Individual countries will still be able to include specific priorities in their programme, but according to one insider, the Council wants to avoid a situation whereby “a country from the North pushes for priorities specific to its region, followed by a Southern country with a very different agenda”. In addition, the trio programme allows for a longer-term vision, he added. 

Czechs yet to unveil their programme 

The Czech Republic will assume the EU helm from 1 January 2009, amid doubts that it will be able to handle this difficult task. The government has been weakened by a recent electoral defeat (EURACTIV 27/10/08), while the eurosceptic president speaks and acts in opposition to mainstream EU policies (EURACTIV 13/11/08). 

Prague is yet to unveil its presidency programme. A 32-page document, entitled ‘Sectoral priorities of the Czech EU Presidency‘ was published on the government webpage in the Czech language. No English translation has yet been made available although the document bears the date ‘July 2008’. 

Nevertheless, EU officials do no want to over-dramatise the situation at this stage. It is assumed that the Czech Republic, as any other country, will not “write its programme on a blank page,” instead taking stock of the presidency trio’s programme, a Council source said. 

Alexandr Vondra, Czech vice-premier and minister for European affairs, recently said the final programme would be published in December. “A Czech minister will come to Brussels with the programme before the end of December,” a Council official confirmed. 

EU diplomatic sources said that before presenting their priorities, Czech decision-makers would need to know the outcome of negotiations on the climate change package. 

Perhaps more importantly, Prague also wants to know the content of proposals by Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen on how to proceed after the failed Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum, which he is expected to present at the 11-12 December EU summit. 

Belgium already buys ideas 

Although the Belgian Presidency will not take place until the second half of 2010, the country which hosts the EU institutions has already opened an interactive website, inviting citizens to contribute ideas and answering simple questions like ‘What can Europe do for you?’. The website clearly states that Belgium will join forces with Spain and Hungary to work out a joint programme to cover this 18-month period. 

In the spring of 2006, EU countries decided to switch to an 18-month work programme. The first such programme was drawn up jointly by Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. France, the current EU presidency holder, came next, together with the Czech Republic and Sweden. Their common programme runs from July 2008 until the end of December 2009. 

Slovenia was the first small central European country to assume the EU presidency, and its diplomats admitted that it benefited from this format. The Slovenian Presidency was generally recognised as a success, though it was initially famously likened to "a bicycle towing a Jumbo jet". Overall, the Union has also benefited from the planning coordination and coherence of an 18-month programme. 

The term 'EU trio' is not to be confused with 'EU Troika', which represents the European Union in external relations that fall within the scope of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP). Since the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Troika has included: 

  • The foreign affairs minister of the country holding the EU presidency; 
  • the EU Council's secretary-general, who is simultaneously high representative for the CFSP, and; 
  • the EU commissioner in charge of external relations and European neighbourhood policy. 

The sitting presidency can also be assisted, if necessary, by representatives of the incoming presidency. 

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