Originally, it was supposed to be something like a joyful explosion of the Czech-French friendship. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Prague was to be lit by spectacular fireworks that were to symbolise the transfer of the EU presidency from the French to the Czechs.

But the planned festive collaboration was cancelled. This time, however, it was not allegedly one of the Czech-French diplomatic “skyrockets” that have been flying above the EU recently because of the President Václav Klaus or because of the Czech procrastination with the Lisbon treaty. In the end, neither of the parties allegedly wanted to pay for the joint festivities.

Prague’s New Year’s fireworks are called “Nine images”.

“It is a presentation of traditional fireworks from the countries of four continents – Europe, Asia, Africa and America,” said David Frodl from Ogilvy agency that is organizing PR for the event, describing the light show that will start the six-month EU presidency.

The fireworks will therefore have nothing to do with the EU, but Mexican or Japanese colours, for example, will appear. Alongside the French colours.

According to the original agreement, a French skyrockets specialist Groupe F, which provided a light show for example for the summer Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, was originally responsible for the organisation of the fireworks.

“There was not enough money. The French company was asking too much,” said Zuzana Leroy from the French embassy in Prague.

Daniel Častvaj from the Prague City Hall PR department agrees.

“The French were gradually backing away from the project, and we remained alone in it, but we didn’t want to spend CZK 10 million on the fireworks. Moreover, it’s the government not Prague City Hall that will be presiding over the European Union,” he said. He denies the situation would be connected with the fact that Prague Mayor Pavel Bém belongs among President Klaus’ allies and is also one of the harshest critics of the Lisbon Treaty within the ODS.

But there will be no hiding of the presidency in Brno, whose mayor is the Social Democrat Radim Onderka. “This year we’re preparing fireworks for the first time, and it is also because of the Czech EU presidency,” said Pavel Žára, spokesman of Brno City Hall.

And the members of the cabinet are anxiously hiding their programmes. The Prime Minister as well as the leading Czech diplomats are in cahoots and refuse to say how they are going to spend their first day as the “kings” of the EU. The Prime Minister has earlier indicated that he is preparing a special speech – slightly different from the traditional president’s New Year’s welcome.

Yet, Paris welcomed its presidency enthusiastically. The famous Eiffel tower was bathed in blue light with a circle of yellow EU stars. According to preliminary statements by the Office of the Government, however, Prague is not planning anything as spectacular.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.