In Strasbourg today the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Jan Fischer, reported to MEPs on his country's six-month presidency of the European Union, in which the main challenges had been "the three Es": economy, energy policy and the EU's role in the world.
Czech PM Fischer
Before looking at the key issues, Mr Fischer was keen to stress that his country's government crisis "did not cause any serious damage to the EU as a whole" and that "we managed the administration of our presidency without any great upheaval". He also hoped the Czech Republic's recent ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, together with the guarantees for Ireland agreed at the June European Council, had paved the way for Ireland to ratify the treaty.
Mr Fischer then turned to the Czech Presidency's three priority areas. On the economy, he listed the measures taken to confront the global economic crisis, including the economic recovery plan, support for the banking sector and the IMF, a rejection of protectionism, lower VAT rates for local services and regulation of financial markets.
The "crisis over the supply of Russian gas" meant that the second key issue, energy, had risen up the agenda very early in the Czech Presidency. The EU had taken steps "to strengthen the energy security of the whole EU" by approving €4 billion in funding for energy supply projects and supporting energy diversification plans such as the Southern Corridor. Measures in support of greater energy efficiency were also crucial, he stressed.
Lastly, on the EU's external policy, Mr Fischer said that while in the gas crisis the EU was successful thanks to its unity, the Gaza crisis had been more problematic. It "showed once more that the Union must learn to speak with one voice". What matters is "not who is in charge of the EU but above all agreement for all of the twenty-seven".
Commission President José Manuel Barroso
The Czech Presidency's co-ordination of measures to combat the economic and financial crisis and climate change were praised by Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who also noted that in just a few years, the Czech Republic had gone from being a Warsaw Pact country to "a symbol of freedom and solidarity".
Among the Presidency's successes, Mr Barroso cited deals on 54 co-decision dossiers, financial market measures, the €5 billion economic recovery plan, the globalisation adjustment fund and energy supplies.
On the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Barroso stressed that guarantees agreed at the previous Council would allow the Irish to hold a new referendum, and praised the Czech Senate for itself approving the Treaty during the Presidency.
Political group speakers
For the EPP, newly-elected MEP Ádám KÓSA (HU) said he was deeply moved that as the assembly's first deaf member, he was able to use sign language. Belonging to the EU means that minority language users and people with disabilities can nonetheless achieve results, he said.
Only two weeks previously, the Slovak Parliament had passed laws restricting the use of minority languages, he added, urging Europe to guarantee full rights and opportunities for minorities and people with disabilities.
Difficulties within the Czech Republic's governing coalition and disputes between the government and President Vaclav Klaus meant the EU's Czech Presidency was never going to be easy, noted Libor ROUCEK (CZ) for the Socialists and Democrats.
The gas supply agreement was a success, but the EU's response to the economic crisis had not met citizens' expectations, he stressed, thanking Mr Fischer for "saving the Presidency's face" at the June summit. Despite the political difficulties, Czech officials had done a good job, he concluded.
Commenting on the summary of the Czech Presidency, Alexander Graf LAMBSDORFF (ALDE, DE) acknowledged that the Presidency did not have an easy start, stating that "as often in life, planning and reality are often quite different." He went on to praise the Presidency for not "falling into the trap of protectionism" and ensuring that the economic crisis was not used to promote national approaches; "distortion of competition, fragmentation, and national preferences, that won't lead us out of the crisis, but it will lead us down a dead end."
In contrast, Rebecca HARMS (Greens/EFA, DE) said that "what we would have liked the Czech Presidency to achieve, in terms of the challenges, unfortunately has not happened...for more than one year, we have been discussing the need for regulation of the financial market, but we're really not making any progress." Commenting on action on energy and climate change, Mrs. Harms stated that an energy efficiency plan, which would have created jobs in Europe has not been taken into consideration, and that in terms of climate change, "we are very far away from what needs to be done."
Speaking on behalf of the newly formed European Conservatives and Reformists group, Jan ZAHRADIL (CZ) praised the Czech Presidency for managing "to maintain the organisation and continuity of the Presidency, despite the fall of the government." Mr. Zahradil went on to state that "the Czech Presidency clearly proves that even a mid-sized country and a so-called new member state, can really do a very good job."
Milsoslav RANSDORF (CZ) for the GUE/NGL group said that "the Czech Presidency was saved by Prime Minister Fischer's government and by the Prime Minister personally." He spoke out in support of the Prime Minister, as "a man who acts with deliberation.
For the EFD group, Nigel Farage (UK) said the Czech presidency had followed a "depressingly familiar pattern", with an "obsession with climate change" and being proud of an increasing amount of legislation when in fact the EU's "over-regulated model is serving us badly". He criticised the Czech Republic for not holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, adding that the guarantees for Ireland had "no legal force" and were a "disgraceful attempt to con the Irish" into voting Yes. In his view, the highlight of the last six months had been the visit to the European Parliament of President Vaclav Klaus, who had told MEPs "a few home truths".
For the non-aligned MEPs, Andreas Mölzer (Austria) stressed what he called "the chaos" caused by the Czech Republic's government crisis. The EU had not been successful in dealing with the Middle East crisis. The vote on the Lisbon Treaty had been delayed, and there was still no agreement on the maritime border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia. Overall the Czech Presidency had been "a mixed bag".