What’s cooking in Brussels

By Claire Stam
Schwarz-weiß Portrait von Claire Stam

Vepřo knedlo zelo is on the menu this week, perhaps the most traditional Czech dish: roast pork with dumplings and pickled cabbage. Since the Czech Republic took over the rotating EU presidency from France on July 1, the back-and-forth between Brussels and Prague has grown more intense by the day. And the EU diplomats can swap the famous French fries for a vepřo knedlo zelo at Maison Antoine on Place Jourdan, just behind the Council building.

In the kitchens next week, Czech diplomats will start taking the temperature of member states regarding negotiations with the European Parliament on the Fit-for-55 package. “On the climate-related dossiers of the Fit-for-55 package, the Parliament is ready, the negotiations can start now,” announced Jaroslav Zajíček, Deputy Head of the Czech Permanent Representation to the EU Permanent Representative to COREPER I Ambassador

“We are working to ensure that all dossiers related to the Fit for 55 package are included in the trilogues this fall, and it is our goal to advance these negotiations as far as possible,” the diplomat continued. No one can say whether the trilogues will be finished by the end of the year, as the issue of energy and energy supply has become a highly sensitive one.

Energy security ‘more pressing than the green transition’

At this point, it is worth recalling that in this crazy week, the German government announced that it would bail out the energy giant Uniper (July 4). This was followed two days later by Parisannouncement to fully nationalize EDF (July 6). On the same day, a majority of MEPs approved the European Commission’s proposal to include gas and nuclear power in the now very famous taxonomy. And that’s not all: the Czech Presidency subsequently announced an extraordinary meeting on July 26 to discuss the preparation of the EU’s energy system for winter.

The meeting in Brussels will take place at a time when the EU is struggling to find enough gas to get through the winter without Russian fossil fuels. Several European countries have faced full or partial disruptions in supplies of Russian gas since the war in Ukraine began. The last energy council was held in Luxembourg on June 27, where ministers approved a regulation to ensure that gas storage capacity in the EU is filled before winter.

Indeed, energy security is high on the agenda of the Czech Presidency. Prague makes no secret of the fact that it will focus on EU energy security issues, “which is currently more pressing than the green transition,” according to the Presidency’s website. “We are working very closely with France and Sweden,” continued the diplomat, who “applauded” the French presidency for its negotiating leadership on the Fit-For-55 package. Stockholm will take over on January 1, 2023.

No vacation for the Czechs

Indeed, the French administration and the entire government in Brussels have been marching in line behind the French representation and its ambassador, Philippe Léglise-Costa, who has now been announced as the future Secretary-General of the Council. In the end, Paris managed to force an agreement on almost the entire Fit-for-55 package, first in Ecofin through CBAM in March, then in the transport formation in early June, and in the energy and then the environment formation in late June.

“If you had asked me a year ago where we are today, I would have doubted that we could be this far along with general guidelines on most texts. We are facing the biggest legislative package the EU has ever seen,” Diederick Samsom, Head of the cabinet for Commissioner Frans Timmermans, said at the “Think 2030” colloquium organized by Iddri on June 29. However, these compromises were reached at the price of several concessions that somewhat softened the ambitions of the package, and accommodated the budgetary concerns of several capitals.

As a reminder, these are 14 legislative texts in preparation, originally presented by the European Commission on July 14 last year. They include the EU’s new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030 and the broader goal of becoming CO2 neutral by 2050.

And another thing: in the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic, diplomats and employees have no vacation planned.

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