25 January 2009
The onset of 2009 has seen the Czech Republic take charge of the presidency of the European Union for the coming six months. Earlier this month saw Mr Miloslav Stasek, ambassador of the Czech Republic, host a press conference at the Czech embassy in Cairo to brief reporters on the priorities of the Czech presidency of the EU. He was joined by Dr Klaus Ebermann, ambassador of the Delegation of the European Commission in Cairo, and Mrs Malin Kärre, ambassador of Sweden.
The situation in Gaza
Even though the major purposes of the gathering was to explain the Czech priorities as president of the EU, the situation in Gaza imposed itself upon the attention of all present. Mr Stasek began by expressing the EU’s deep concern over “the increasing number of civilian casualities and worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza,” stressing that the Czech Republic was among the first countries to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Mrs Kärre explained that the EU’s contribution towards resolving the crisis in Gaza was an effort in active diplomacy at a very practical level. “ Almost every day,” she said, “ministers of foreign affairs and delegations from EU countries visit the region to discuss the Gaza issue. President Sarkozy and Javier Solana were here to support the Egyptian initiative.”
Europe without barriers
Mr Stasek explained that the presidency of the Council of the EU rotates every six months. To uphold its continuity, the presidencies work in l8-month programme Trios. The Czech Republic, he said, is part of a second Trio made up of France, which held the Presidency from July to December 2008, and Sweden which will hold it after the Czech Republic from July to December 2009.
The motto of the Czech presidency, Mr Stasek said, was “ A Europe without barriers”. The objective was to remove the remaining obstacles between EU member states, regarding goods, services, persons and capital, energy and knowledge. The Czech presidency was also committed to seeking a balance between economic, social and environmental forces, and furthering issues relating to energy and the climate change, while ensuring secure, competitive and sustainable energy supply in the EU.
The Middle East
As far as the Middle East and Egypt were concerned, Mr Stasek said the Czech presidency intended to focus on continuing the peace process in the Middle East based on Annapolis process, and strengthening cooperation with the US towards the Middle East. It also supported the creation of institutional and economic groundwork for a Palestinian State, and political dialogue between EU and Palestinian Authority. The presidency, Mr Stasek said, would retain the strong EU attitude towards the Iranian nuclear programme, and would strengthen cooperation with Iraq. Relations with Egypt on the political and economic front would be especially enhanced, he stressed.
A good year
Mr Ebermann said the EU has been working closely with Egypt to help it become more competitive and more resistant to the current economic crisis. “Europe together with the United States are your largest investors,” he remarked, “but we are the largest trade partner.”
“We have had a good year,” Mr Ebermann said. “Egypt earned praise from the whole world as a top performer for creating a suitable business climate.” But there should be further upgrading in Egypt, in policy, transportation, education, health and infrastructure, he said. “And we should and will invest in new opportunities.” The EU, he said, closed the year last December with two major investments; one was in water management and the other was a financial agreement to the tune of 300 million Euros. “We also launched a very significant initiative on wind farming,” he said. The future, he said, will see further cooperation, especially in the field of human rights, democracy, and good governance.