Ministers outline the priorities of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU in a series of meetings.
Czechia is the current Presidency of Council until 2022. The first round of hearings was held from 11-13 July. The second series of hearings will take place in the first week of September.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
The Presidency supports EU responses to Russian aggression. This includes the fight against impunity, collecting evidence on war crimes and fighting against impunity, Justice Minister Pavel Blazek told MEPs on September 5. He stated that Eurojust, with its new mandate, can play a crucial role while stressing the need to continue cracking down sanctions violations.
European Affairs Minister Mikulas Beks stated that the rule of the law will play an important role in the future and that the next discussions on the topic will be centered on Poland, Portugal and Romania. In dialogue with the national governments, the Presidency will also continue to work on ongoing procedures in Poland and Hungary.
MEPs encouraged Presidency to make country-specific recommendations about the state of the rule of law. MEPs called for greater engagement on ePrivacy, eEvidence and asked for a stronger stance regarding revelations about spyware being used. They also raised the question of media monopolisation within certain countries.
The Presidency was also ready to begin negotiations on Eurodac and Screening regulations. It also announced that First Vice Prime Minister and Interior minister Vit Rakusan stated the Presidency is open to working on structural solutions for legal migration and solidarity. Priorities include online child sexual abuse, the mandate for the EU drug addiction monitoring center, and the political governance of Schengen and the inclusion of Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria in it.
MEPs requested more information from the Council on its timetable for migration files and on data protection concerns related to fighting online child abuse, as well as pushbacks at EU’s external border borders.
On September 5, Justice Minister Pavel Blazek highlighted progress in the directive on protecting the environment through criminal laws and the digitalization of justice systems. Other priorities include corporate sustainability due diligence and the directive to address abusive lawsuits targeting critical voices (so-called SLAPPs) as well as legislation on Artificial Intelligence.
MEPs stressed that AI should be covered under a liability system. MEPs called for the revision of EU geographic indications to be moved forward. Finally, MEPs urged for an ambitious approach to the SLAPPs Directive. They stressed that it was vital for freedom of expression and feared that the Council might weaken it.
MEPs questioned the Presidency on the Follow-up of the Conference on the Future of Europe on 5 September by European Affairs Minister Mikulas Beks. They also inquired about the revision of EU Treaties, and the reform of electoral laws, both of which were already initiated by the Parliament. The Presidency was also asked to pay attention to fighting foreign interference and disinformation and protecting the EU’s legal system from any breaches.
Minister Bek stated that he plans to hold a political discussion about a Convention to revise Treaties in October. He also hopes to have a vote on the matter in November. He warned MEPs that the process of electoral law reform will be complicated. The Presidency will try to find a common approach regarding European political parties and foundations before the end of this year. He promised that the topic of the rule of law would be prominently discussed in all General Affairs Council agendas.
Agriculture and Rural Development
According to Agriculture Minister Zdenek Neokula, the impact of Russian aggression on Ukraine’s food security is a top priority. To provide flexibility and temporary exceptions for member states in dealing with the crisis, the Presidency will push for a quick start on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. Negotiations on sustainable use of plant protective products will be a priority for the Presidency.
MEPs have called for an improvement in the operation of solidarity corridors for agricultural exports to Ukraine and for a balance between EU production and the reduction of pesticides. Some MEPs agreed with the need for some exceptions to CAP rules, while others urged against weakening CAP and advocated organic farming.
Jiri Kozak, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs highlighted three challenges caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine. These were the distribution and security of humanitarian aid; as well as breaking the Russian narrative that food security is the fault of the EU. The Presidency will complete the Post-Cotonou Agreement as soon as possible, Mr Kozak said.
MEPs agreed that it was important to address the long-term and immediate effects of war on global food security. The question of refugees from Ukraine and its neighbors was also brought up. Others raised questions about the Presidency’s priorities in Sahel, the migration issue at the EU’s southern border and the integration between humanitarian aid and long-term developmental policy.
Transport and Tourism
On 12 July, Transport Secretary Martin Kupka and Deputy Prime Minster for Digitisation, Minister of Regional Development Ivan Bartos stressed that the Presidency would focus on measures to reduce carbon emissions, strengthen the tourism sector, and promote railways. MEPs were assured by Minister Kupka that work on the Single European Sky, alternative fuel infrastructures, sustainable fuels in aviation and maritime, intelligent transport systems, and revision of TEN-T would progress.
Transport Committee MEPs asked the Presidency for more attention to mobility poverty and road safety. They also requested that EU countries unite to combat any new COVID-19 pandemic.
Zdenek Nkula, Minister for Agriculture, stated that the Presidency will make food security and sector competitiveness a top priority. The Czech Presidency, despite being landlocked, will also be focusing on fishing quotas and reaching agreements with third countries on EU fishing opportunities.
MEPs stressed that it was important to assist fisherman in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine. While they were pleased with the idea of making fisheries more competitive, they stressed the need for a balance between the environmental and socio-economic aspects of the initiative. Some also reaffirmed their support for reforming the Common Fisheries Policy even though the Commission seems reluctant to do so.
Internal Market and Consumer Protection
Jozef Sikela, Industry and Trade Minister, told MEPs that the Presidency would pay particular attention to stronger enforcement of Single Market tools and service, deeper market integration and high consumers protection. This will include raising awareness about sustainable consumption and online risk. The Presidency will continue to work with MEPs on machine products and consumer credit, and to reach a consensus in the Council on the General Product Safety Regulation and the Artificial Intelligence Act.
MEPs quizzed Presidency about empowering consumers in light the twin transition, the application of rules on dual-quality products, and the updating of travel package rules given the pandemic.
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
Marian Jurecka is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Labour and Social Affairs. He stated that the Czech Presidency would work to improve the pay transparency directive. They will be focusing on long-term care as well as providing high-quality care for refugees from Ukraine in the EU’s care strategy. He said that the different positions of member states on violence against women must be respected. However, online sexual violence will be addressed in November. The Presidency will examine economic parity between men and women, with a particular focus on young people.
Many MEPs inquired if Czechia plans to ratify Istanbul Convention. Many people welcomed the goal of reaching a deal on pay transparency. They also stressed the need to protect LGBTI rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and reiterated the call by Parliament to include the right to abort in the EU Charter’s fundamental rights.
Employment and Social Affairs
Marian Jurecka was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Labour and Social Affairs. identified three key issues as the management of the influx and integration refugees, food and energy affordability and fighting child poverty. Other priorities include reaching agreement in the Council regarding improving platform work conditions and moving forward on the pay transparency directive.
MEPs requested that the Social Climate Fund be made operational in order to protect the most vulnerable people during the green transition. MEPs called for the SURE instrument to preserve employment to be made permanent and for a greater use of the Child Guarantee. MEPs also requested an extraordinary Social Summit to discuss the effects of the energy crisis, inflation crisis, and recession on employment.
Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety
On the 11th of July, Environment Minister Anna Hubackova stated to MEPs that the priority areas are: reaching agreements for the Fit for 55 files; nature restore law; protecting vulnerable households during a green transition; and global cooperation in climate and environment. MEPs asked the minister about preparations for UN conferences on climate change and biodiversity (COP27), and the impact of the Russian war on the environment.
On 12 July, Health minister Vlastimil Valek stated that the Presidency would focus on fighting cancer; disinformation about vaccination and vaccines to new variants; progress in Council’s position on European Health Data Space (EHDS); and healthcare services for Ukrainian refugees. MEPs questioned the minister about fair prices and access, rare diseases, and the effects of climate change on the health of the population.
Later in the day Agriculture Minister Zdenek Neko spoke out about food security, sustainable agriculture and animal health. He also highlighted progress on “Farm to Fork”, and agreed to the “Deforestation” regulation. MEPs asked the minister about the sustainable use pesticides, Russian war’s effect on food security, genomic technology, financing the green transition of agriculture sector and meat production.
On 12 July, Deputy Prime Minster for Digitisation, and Minister of Regional Development Ivan Bartos stated that the Presidency would focus on the future cohesion policies. This will include analysing which instruments best help to converge EU regions and ensuring green and sustainable transitions. While maintaining the flexibility necessary to adapt to new developments, the Presidency also intends to examine the effectiveness of existing instruments.
MEPs stressed that cohesion funds should only be used to build a capability that allows safe transit of food, and supplies in times of war. The MEPs also warned that the principles of cohesion should not be detrimental to the environment. MEPs also asked the Presidency for support in setting up a new generation Just Transition Fund and revitalising the EU Cross Border Mechanism.
Economic and Monetary Affairs
The Presidency will focus on Russia’s war against Ukraine and rising inflation, Finance Minister Zbynek Starjura told MEPs on 13 juillet. The Presidency will prioritise reaching agreements on EU rules to establish a global minimum tax for large multinationals, green bonds and anti-money laundering regulations. It would facilitate discussions about integrating Repower EU into Recovery and Resilience Facility in order to remove Russian influence from EU economy and the updating of EU’s fiscal rules.
MEPs asked questions about what the Presidency was planning to do to save rules for a global minimum income tax. They also wanted to know how it would guide talks on revisions of fiscal rules. Finally, they wanted to know how to deal with inflation without compromising the independence of central bankers. MEPs also addressed the looming economic problems and the issue of unanimity voting in taxation.
Culture and Education
On 13 July, Cultural Minister Martin Baxa stated that the Presidency would focus on finalizing EU’s 2023-2026 Plan for Culture. He also said he would work to open negotiations to increase funds for Creative Europe, since the current funding is not sufficient to meet the sector’s demands. Minister of Education, Youth and Sports Vladimir Balas focused his presentation on digital education, intergenerational dialog and active support of the European Year of Youth, with an event on the latter scheduled for 6 December 2022.
MEPs inquired about the Media Freedom Act plans, which is expected to be announced in September. They also asked about ways to include Ukrainian students into the EU student mobility program and how to integrate young people from Ukraine into the EU education system. The MEPs also asked about sporting activities, copyright implementation, and completion of the European Education Area.
On 13 July, Trade Minister Jozef Silkala stated that free trade agreements were the core tasks for the Czech Presidency. This statement was welcomed by Trade Committee members. They called for the conclusion of free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand and Chile as well as India, Australia and Mercosur. However, they stressed that trade agreements must be ratified and respected the EU’s sustainability and values.
Trade Committee members urged the presidency to work towards a Council position regarding the review of Generalized Scheme of Preferences, the anti-coercion tool, and finally to conclude the Post-Cotonou accord. Many MEPs asked the Council to strengthen cooperation with Africa and to take into account gender equality when working in trade.
Jan Lipavsky , the Foreign Affairs Minister, outlined five priorities on 13 July: Ukraine, energy and defence, as well as democracy. He stressed the importance of standing with Ukraine and warned against “Ukraine fatigue”. He also called for more weapons to be sent to Kyiv faster and greater support for the country’s reconstruction after war. He stressed the importance of a strong transatlantic partnership, and called for discussions on how the EU should reassess relations with Russia over the long-term.
MEPs quizzed Lipavsky about a variety of topics, including the EU’s long term vision for relations to Russia, how to proceed with the EU enlargement, and how to deal with Bulgaria’s blockade in North Macedonia. They also discussed the necessity of granting EU visa liberalisation to Kosovo.
Industry, Research and Energy
Ivan Bartos is the Deputy Prime Minister for Digitalization and Minister of Regional Development. stated that the Presidency would focus on the digital agenda. He also spoke out about communication resilience, sustainable digital ecosystems and cybersecurity in the EU. The Presidency will also work to secure ICT supply chains and digitalize public services. The Presidency will seek to secure a Council position regarding the AI Act, a general approach to the eID regulation, as well as continue working on the Data Act. He said that the Presidency will work with the Council to reach an agreement on the proposal to strengthen cybersecurity in the EU by the end of November.
Jozef Silkela, Minister for Industry and Trade stated that the Presidency would work to reduce EU’s dependence upon Russian fossil fuels, as set out by the RepowerEU plan. It will also continue work towards climate neutrality and secure affordable energy for citizens. The Presidency will focus on speed-tracking renewables permits, energy efficiency, and energy savings, and on the transition to low carbon and renewable energy sources. It will also work to diversify supplies and help the Commission with EU’s energy platform. This is in order to ensure all member states have sufficient energy supplies for winter.
Vladimir Balas, Minister for Education, Youth and Sports, stated that the Presidency would work to promote the European Research Area and the EU’s research ecosystem. It will be focusing on synergies between research and innovation funding, the enhancement of the European infrastructure ecosystem and the development a new European innovation agenda. It will also work to finalise legislation regarding Horizon Europe joint undertakings in semiconductors and to conclude association agreements with third country members of Horizon Europe.
Martin Kupka (Minister of Transport) stated that the Presidency will continue to ensure that the EUSPA agency responsible for the Space Programme is based in Prague and has the best conditions. The programme for secure connectivity will be the main priority. The Presidency hopes to begin talks with MEPs as soon possible. The Presidency will also be focusing on innovation and the use data and services from EU satellite systems. It will also look to expand existing capabilities to protect EU’s satellite systems.
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