The partial success of the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union

Numerous foreign commentators have rated the recently concluded Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union as not overly successful. Tony Barber from the Financial Times wrote that the Czech presidency will soon be forgotten.

It is true that the course of the Czech presidency was not optimal. From the very beginning Czech representatives faced several unenviable situations – from the January natural gas crisis to the growing consequences of the global financial and economic crisis. The imaginary cherry on the cake was the fall of the Czech government in March, which effectively discredited the Czech leadership in the eyes of the other Member States. 

Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that despite these drawbacks to the Czech presidency, the Czech government still managed to achieve a number of partial successes, though these were not glamorous enough to rank front-page attention. One achievement involved important steps in the support of renewable sources of energy on a local scale in developing countries. 

In the area of development cooperation the Czech Republic chose supporting sustainable energy sources on a local scale as a main priority for its half-year term in the presidency. Access to sustainable energy is one of the basic conditions for successful socioeconomic development and for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. At the beginning of the 21st century more than 1.6 billion inhabitants of our planet have inadequate access to electricity. As part of this priority the Czech Republic focused on securing access to energy sources, with special attention to poor rural and isolated areas, as these are impacted the most due to the inadequate availability of energy. 

In choosing this priority, the Czech Republic carried on the initiative started during the German presidency in 2007, during which the conclusions of the Council of the European Union on energy sustainability in Africa were adopted. The subject also has significant ties to the priorities of the French (local governance) and Swedish presidencies (the environment and climate change). 

The main goal of the Czech presidency was to open a discussion on the European level on how development cooperation can best contribute to improving the ability to manage the organisation of local administration in developing countries with respect to providing energy services and which EU development tools would be the most appropriate for this initiative.

The Czech Republic began preparing the priority issues in the first half of 2008 and also had a comprehensive study with specific recommendations for further steps compiled by the British NGO Practical Action. This study was used to prepare a joint document of the Czech presidency and the European Commission. Released at an informal conference organised by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 2009, this report outlined the main points of the discussion. However, most attention was fixed on the May session of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, where the main conclusions of the Council were adopted. 

The Council’s conclusions focused on the following four key areas essential for the implementation of sustainable technology in developing countries: The support of local solutions and engaging local participation; promoting the decentralisation of renewable sources of energy; increasing energy efficiency; and establishing an appropriate framework and financial models.

The support of local solutions and engaging local participation

The European Union has made a commitment to increase support and cooperation with local participants (especially with representatives of local communities, the private sector and the civil community). The form of cooperation should focus on taking advantage of the experience gained from prior successful projects and should place a greater emphasis on building local energy service capacities. The EU will also support efforts by partner countries to strengthen democratic rule on the local level. Special attention will be paid to the equal access of men, women and children to energy services and to strengthening the role of women in decision-making processes.

Promoting the decentralisation of renewable sources of energy

The main goal is to secure supplies of energy services based on local needs and possibilities and to encourage the local private sector to become involved in building appropriate technologies, thus creating new work opportunities for the local population. The European Union will also support cooperation in the form of public-private partnerships and in the area of research and development of low-carbon technologies.

Increasing energy efficiency

The European Union will incorporate into its development programmes the promotion of energy efficiency and aid to partner countries in creating their national, regional and local strategies for more effective consumption of energy sources. The EU will in particular focus on the modernisation and efficiency of energy sources for cooking, heating, cooling equipment and sustainable forest management. 

Establishing an appropriate framework and financial models

The European Union will increase support for partner countries for the development and strengthening of long-term energy strategies, the creation of a legislative and institutional framework and the incorporation of decentralised renewable energy sources into plans for future energy systems, with a special focus on local energy access.

On the basis of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness the EU will promote cooperation, coordination and harmonisation between various donors and other relevant participants in the energy sector. The European Union will provide coordination and support for existing instruments such as the Africa-EU Energy Partnership. Aid to partner countries will also include obtaining funds from international, national and regional institutions and promoting the involvement of private capital. 

The Czech presidency also saw the signing of the second ACP-EU Energy Facility under the 10th European Development Fund; EUR 200 million was earmarked for supporting increased access to sustainable technology in agricultural and isolated areas in Africa, and the Caribbean and Pacific regions. 

The EU also pledged increased support for other tools such as the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund, the Environment and Sustainable Management of Natural Resources thematic programme (under the Development Cooperation Instrument), the Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund and the Global Climate Change Alliance. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) should become an important future source of financing beyond the EU budget for the implementation of sustainable technologies in the least developed countries.

While undeniable progress was made and important steps toward further processes were taken in this area during the Czech presidency, it is necessary to emphasize that the current support of renewable energy sources in developing countries remains insufficient and the funds available today are but a small contribution to what is needed to meet worldwide demand. Numerous developing countries still have not taken advantage of their enormous potential for obtaining clean energy and, as a result, many people throughout the world face difficult obstacles in their everyday lives.