Sunrise over Snezka peak, the highest mountain of the Giant Mountains, Czech Republic

EU Presidencies: How green was France, how promising Czechia?

As France hands over the steering wheel to the Czech Republic, there is much green ambition left to be desired, writes Sarah Abou Chleih.

With a global pandemic playing on repeat in the background, and an energy crisis fueled by Russian aggressions on Ukraine and Europe’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels, France had taken over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU in January, kickstarting the current French-Czech-Swedish Presidency Trio. However, during its presidency semester, the country has set the bar far too low to meet the goals of the European Green Deal.

As the Czech Republic takes over the helm, the European Environmental Bureau takes stock of the accomplishments and missed opportunities of the French Presidency, and looks ahead by sharing civil society’s expectations for the incoming Czech Presidency.

Earlier this month, the EEB published its full assessment of the French semester, as well as a green briefing for the Czech presidency, a presidency memorandum based on the EEB’s ‘Ten Green Tests’.

Preserving the status quo

France hands over the legislative responsibility at a turning point at the global and local level: amidst the Russian war on Ukraine, an energy crisis and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, approaching the midway point of the European Green Deal. Although the French Presidency was expected to turn the Green Deal into the transformative agenda it needs to be, the results seem lacklustre and uninspiring. 

While the outgoing Presidency committed to phase out the sale of internal combustion engines by 2030, it lacked ambition on climate and energy files, and pushed national agendas on agriculture and nuclear in the European context. This has weakened the Green Deal and the EU Taxonomy fatally.

“In times of climate, biodiversity and pollution crises, member states’ governments, under the leadership of the Council Presidency, need to make considerable additional efforts to extend the limits of the possible to match what is needed,”

said European Environmental Bureau’s Deputy Secretary General Patrizia Heidegger.

“The French Presidency failed to do so, and instead mainly preserved the status quo.”

Czech Republic to take the lead in turbulent times

For the upcoming six months, the responsibility lies with the Czech Republic to ensure the right priorities for a healthier planet and society. In the current term, the Czech government must address the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises, using its full potential to transform the EU’s environmental policy. 

While the demands made from civil society to the last Presidency still stand, leadership is now needed more than ever to steer the EU out of an environmental crisis against a turbulent backdrop and unprecedented external factors.

Hope for Czech potential

In a time characterised by overlapping crises, the Czech Republic must ensure that these are not instrumentalised to undermine a crucial commitment to the European Green Deal.

For the EEB, the current state of the world and environmental policies does not allow for inaction, nor for simple maintenance of the current underwhelming ambition. Environmental NGOs  call on the Czech leadership to promote significant progress in addressing the energy pricing crisis, in ensuring the social dimension is fully taken into account in addressing the climate crisis, in advancing and strengthening the EU’s Fit for 55 package, and in the REPowerEU package, as well as by taking a progressive stance at the next international climate COP in Egypt.

“Our expectations for the Czech Presidency are high but so are the stakes. The frame for what is possible must adapt to the challenges we are facing: the Russian war in Ukraine requires member sates to manifest deep solidarity and commitment to fossil-fuel independence and social justice measures,”

says Patrick ten Brink, Secretary General of the EEB.