PRAGUE – Russia's invasion of Ukraine and what Europe must do to counter the consequences of that have become the key task for the Czech Republic’s upcoming presidency of the 27-nation European Union.
The Czech Republic’s motto for the six-month presidency, which it takes over from France on July 1, is “Europe as a Task: rethink, rebuild, repower,” based on a 1996 speech by the late Czech President Vaclav Havel.
“Europe and the whole world have been undergoing a crucial change,” Prime Minister Petr Fiala said Wednesday as he introduced his country's priorities. “The Russian invasion have shaken many our certainties.”
The country has pledged to use the rotating presidency of the Council, which sets and moderates the EU’s political agenda, to help Ukraine in all possible ways. The Czechs are among Eastern European countries that warmly support speeding up Ukraine’s EU membership bid.
“We have two concrete goals," Fiala told the Czech Parliament. “The first one is to grant Ukraine a candidacy status as soon as possible … and the second one is our support for the toughest possible sanctions against Russia.”
More than 7.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24 and another 8 million are displaced within the country, the U.N. refugee agency says. This has created the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
The Czech presidency will work together with the European Commission, the EU's executive body, to provide assistance to nations most affect by the influx of Ukrainians, including Poland, Romania and Hungary. Over 375,000 Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have registered in the Czech Republic to receive a special long-term visas that give them access to jobs and health care.
Looking ahead, the Czech's ultimate hope is to host a summit in Prague of European leaders on Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attending in person. That is not happening anytime soon, with fierce fighting raging along a front line that Zelenskyy says is now 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) long.
In another key item, the Czechs want the EU to “drastically reduce its dependence on hostile or unstable regimes.” That goal sets up a potential clash with European heavyweights such as Germany and Italy who are much more dependent than other EU nations on Russian energy imports, especially natural gas.
The Czech Republic, like France, is heavily dependent on nuclear power and is planning to build more nuclear reactors to "ensure the EU’s energy security and meet the EU’s climate goals.” Another Czech goal, the promotion of voluntary joint purchases of gas, might be more suitable for reaching a compromise among the EU nations.
Russia’s Gazprom announced a reduction in natural gas flows through a key European pipeline for the second day in a row Wednesday, creating further energy turmoil for Europe.
The Czechs also want to reinforce Europe’s defense capabilities, in cooperation with NATO, on the fight against disinformation and on cybersecurity.
Bringing down high inflation and boosting the resilience of the European economy also feature among the Czech priorities. Inflation in the eurozone soared to 8.1% in May and jumped to 16% in the Czech Republic, which doesn’t use the euro currency shared by 19 EU nations.
Fiala said such inflation “is a direct consequence of Putin’s war against the Western world.”
Follow all AP stories on the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed.