Green Party successes in formulating governmental priorities

January 13, 2009

Designing the priorities

In October 2007, the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic publicized the first version of its priorities for the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU. The materials were based on preparations which had begun immediately after the 2006 elections. The government, namely the Subdivision of the Deputy Minister for European Affairs (Útvar místopředsedy vlády pro evropské záležitosti  - ÚMVEZ), was the body responsible for compiling the priorities and managing the commenting procedure.

For the Green Party, ministers Martin Bursík and Ondřej Liška were naturally the most active participants in this process, as their specific ministry agendas were directly related to the various priorities. Minister Džamila Stehlíková and party presidium member Zuzana Drhová were also actively involved in formulating the priorities through the Government Council for Non-State Non-Profit Organizations (NNOs) which managed non-profit organizations’ input into the commenting procedure. The Greens have intensively collaborated with such groups from the very beginning, particularly with the Prague Institute for Global Policy - Glopolis, which was part of an NNO coalition (Calla, the Center for Transport and Energy, People in Need, Multicultural Center Prague and the Green Circle) which jointly commented on the materials. Despite certain problems, compared to many other European countries the level of involvement of both non-state and state actors in the process of formulating the government’s priorities was high.

The material from October 2007 was updated, incorporating all of the comments, in April 2008. Both versions concerned what are termed “main priorities: (i.e., political ones), of which there were five summarizing the political agenda of the six-month Czech Presidency. (In addition to this material, there were also the “sectoral priorities”, which were of a technical nature and which the ministries prepared according to nine formations from the Council.) Most of the comments from the various ministries and non-state actors were therefore related to the politically more sensitive material on the main priorities.

The April 2008 version of the main priorities included five chapters:  An Open and Competitive Europe; Energy and Climate Change; A Budget for the Future of Europe, Europe as a Global Partner; A Secure and Free Europe. However, at the end of June 2008 a further update reduced the number of priorities from five to three (Competitive Europe, Energy and Climate Change, An Open and Safe Europe) and fundamentally changed their content. For the Greens and the NNOs, the change to the content of the priorities represented an unacceptable step backward compared to the April version, which had met the general approval of most of those involved. The Green Party submitted many comments, and the June material was again essentially reworked into a draft version of the “Work Program of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU 2009” (hereinafter the “Work Program”). Based on the model of the French EU Presidency, the Work Program combines the main (political) priorities and the sectoral priorities into one document, as well as changing the content section of the main priorities so as to make it acceptable to the Greens and the other political partners. At the same time, the Work Program reflected current international developments, namely the global financial crisis and the war in Georgia. After several rounds of tough negotiations across the political spectrum of the governing parties, the Work Program was approved at the end of December and publicized on 6.1.2009 during the official opening of the Czech Presidency. The political section of the program includes three priorities, the “Three E’s” - Economy, Energy, and the European Union in the World.

Green Party influence on the content segment of the priorities

The content segment of the priorities originated at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic in the Subdivision of the Deputy Minister for European Affairs (Útvar místopředsedy vlády pro evropské záležitosti  - ÚMVEZ). The main topics of the political priorities became removing barriers in Europe, liberalization, and improving the competitiveness of European economies. Of course, these aims were regarded purely from an economic/security point of view:  A high degree of competitiveness for an economy was perceived as a panacea for all of Europe’s regional and global problems, steady economic growth was emphasized as the main source of the European Union’s authority, and the changing economic and geopolitical conditions in the world (the wealth accumulation of some regions of the planet) was considered a source of threats. Moreover, the ethos of reform and liberalization was not consistent across the main priorities, for example, as far as the energy market or migration policy was concerned. The cohesion and coherence of the individual chapters was also of varying quality:  While the need to fundamentally liberalize trade (irrespective of the impact on the world’s poorer countries) was mentioned in almost every section of the document, development policy and human rights were mentioned only in isolated instances.

Between October 2007 and April 2008, the Green Party and the NNO coalition succeeded in negotiating a fundamentally more positive text on these main priorities. Energy security was no longer depicted merely as a function of the availability of external resources and their secure provision, but also as a function of greater energy savings, energy efficiency, the decentralization and diversification of different types of energy resources (an emphasis on renewable resources) and a reduction in the economies’ energy demand and consumption.

Climate change occupied a position of equal importance across the chapters on priorities (not only in the chapter on energy), with an emphasis on EU and international obligations and the amelioration of the impacts of climate change, primarily for poor countries. Competitiveness began to be perceived more as a complement to the effort to ameliorate climate change and to achieve sustainable development than as an alternative to it. What had been depicted as a threat (migration, the wealth accumulation of some developing countries, climate change, the global financial crisis, international trade barriers) was perceived by the Greens as an opportunity for positive change, for the re-orientation of the European economies towards a highly sophisticated industry of green technologies which on the one hand would generate new jobs, increase competitiveness and positively impact the development of human resources, science and research, while on the other hand also helping tackle environmental degradation and climate change.

In the chapter on the budget, which was mostly dedicated to the Common Agricultural Policy, and which later was removed from the main priorities, the Greens advocated for an emphasis on support for the countryside and the rural landscape, which should not merely come in the form of direct financial subsidies for agricultural production, but should be in harmony with the environmental and social aims of agricultural policy. The Greens also advocated for taking particular consideration of poor non-European countries which are dependent on agricultural production and whose economies are ruined by European export subsidies or by the European demand to access their markets while simultaneously requiring them to reduce all national support for agriculture. The Greens did their best to successfully tone down the demand for a thorough liberalization of international trade and the thorough implementation of intellectual property protection with a view to the specific positions of the poorest states, for example, in the area of generic medicines.

In the chapter on European foreign policy, the Greens did their best to counterbalance the emphasis placed on transatlantic cooperation within the framework of NATO by referring to the success achieved in the European Common Foreign, Security and Defense Policy. The Greens emphasized the importance of the civil section of the Common Foreign, Security and Defense Policy and the necessity for coherence and consistency in all EU policies in relation to meeting development aims and the effort to act in a unified manner, not least in the area of human rights protections. While the original text of the priorities privileged the bilateral dimension of Euro-Atlantic relations, the Greens managed to introduce the multilateral dimension of international relations into the priorities, including mention of the role of the UN and the role the EU plays in illuminating and impacting the rest of the world in the area of upholding international law, norms and principles. Here should be mentioned the passages on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, support for effective control mechanisms for the arms trade, development and humanitarian aid, and human rights and transformational policies (now in the “External Relations” section of the Work Program).

In June 2008, the chapter “An Open and Secure Europe”, like the chapter on the budget, was dropped, and some of its sections were transferred to various other places inside the document on priorities. The Greens primarily successfully objected to the document’s unqualified linkage of illegal migration with terrorism and international crime, as well as its general demonization of illegal migrants.

For the Green Party, the update of these priorities at the end of June 2008 was an enormous step backwards in comparison to the content of the April version. The threat of climate change was removed from the first part of the text and questioned in the second part, while the environmental dimension of energy and other policies was placed in direct opposition to the prosperity and well-being of Europeans. A purely economic and security view of threats predominated (opportunities were left out), and Europe was described as being under a state of acute threat. References to the multilateral dimension of international relations were removed from what was left of the EU foreign policy section, as was most of the text on the Common Foreign, Security and Defense Policy. The bilateral transatlantic dimension of EU foreign policy was strengthened. As a whole, the document described the EU not as taking an active role in solving global problems through an innovative approach, but as a passive actor responding to risks and threats in an effort to preserve the status quo.

The June version of the priorities was subjected to a sharp critique not only by the Greens, but also by several of the ministries managed by the governing coalition partners and by non-profit organizations. In November, therefore, a new version was created, the “Work Program for the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU 2009”. The Work Program, which was updated several times between November and December, returned to the spirit of the priorities as they were conceived prior to June 2008. Moreover, the Greens succeeded in making several additional changes to the text.

The current priorities, therefore, very clearly declare the obligations in the area of climate protections adopted by the EU and its resolve to achieve a worldwide agreement on climate protection after 2012. Human rights issues, a multilateral approach to solving global problems, development and humanitarian aid and its coherence with other EU policies, the gradual inclusion of the developing countries into international trade, a disarmament policy, mechanisms for more effective monitoring and restriction of the European and global trade in weapons, support for trans-European rail networks, an emphasis on international law and human rights norms in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, an emphasis on human resource development, investment into education, science and research and into newer, cleaner technologies – these are just a random selection of some of the Green ideals which have been incorporated into the priorities of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU, many of them not easily, but ultimately in the form of a satisfactory compromise.

The author works as a adviser to the Czech Minister of Education, Youth and Sports.