“One of the pleasures of the Czech Republic’s forthcoming presidency of the European Union will be to watch in action a thoughtful, humorous, bow-tied 71-year-old who bears the name Karl Johannes Nepomuk Josef Norbert Friedrich Antonius Wratislaw Mena, prince from Schwarzenberg.”
That is what the daily Financial Times wrote about the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg whose diplomatic charm is considered to be the major trump of the Czech presidency by the international media. That’s one of the reasons why there is a great interest, among Brussels correspondents, in an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers that is to take place in March at the Hluboká castle that belonged to the Schwarzenberg family until 1947.
What will be the most difficult task in the next six months?
We will only find that out. I think we are in for a couple of surprises. So it is impossible to say in advance, and I will only be able to tell you on the midnight of 30 June.
Which one of the tasks that are already known do you consider to be the most difficult?
The economic crisis that is bound to make its full impact on Europe this year will accompany us throughout. The year 2009 will be deeply marked by this crisis, and our task will be to deal with it. As a presiding country, we need to propose a strategy of how to deal with the consequences of the crisis, especially with the growth of unemployment. That will be a difficult task and I know that it will last from the beginning to end of the presidency.
Many commentators write that the EU has been in its most difficult situation ever. Do you think that’s really the case or an exaggeration?
It might well be true. And I only hope for one thing: that when trouble strikes, the countries won’t display nationalist egocentrism and will not try to rid themselves of troubles at other countries’ expense.
The presidency has also started by a crisis in the Middle East. Is it really possible that the Czechs, of all nations, could achieve something and change history?
I openly say that my ambitions are very modest. Greater men than I have already tried to solve the tense situation at the Middle East and failed. But when people are dying one cannot sit with his hands in his lap and shrug his shoulders. We will do our best. The most important is to get the humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip as fast as possible, since that is needed the most right now. The Middle East crisis will be here for the duration of our presidency and so will the Caucasus conflict. I think we will have plenty of problems to solve.
Does the Czech Republic have a chance to leave a mark on the EU during those six months?
If we manage to handle well all the crises that will come, we will leave a prominent Czech mark on the world. My first thoughts, though, is not to look for the best way attain glory. Right now, the EU does not need big words and empty gestures but moderation and practicality.
Do you see anything worth copying from the French presidency?
I would be very pleased if all our ministers’ and prime ministers’ meetings were as well prepared and managed as the French ones. Also, if we managed to cut down the unnecessary talk and came up with concrete results even in the most difficult of talks.
As a small country can we allow ourselves to move with such a rigorousness and sovereignty?
Of course, France has greater opportunities than the smaller countries like ours. We have to find our own style, work with the tools we have at our disposal and I think that we have enough of them to lead Europe well.
Can the Czech Republic be successful even during its bad domestic political situation? Even with a cabinet that might end at any time?
It would have an effect, I’m sure. It will have an affect that I, as a foreign minister, will have to deal with.
Do you think it is appropriate to make changes in the cabinet during the presidency?
That’s up to the prime minister. He is the head of the team. When there is an important football match ahead of you, as a coach you need to decide who will play, who will be a forward and who a goalkeeper. Being a player, it’s not my business. My job is to stand behind him and play as best as I can.
Did you undergo special preparation before becoming one of the most important man in Europe?
The intensive preparation lasted all of the past year. So I hope, I hope I will manage.
Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.