Rejecting Anonymity and Creating Trust: A Goal for the Czech EU Presidency: The Czech's EU Presidency Holds a Promise of Unknowns-Both Good and Bad

By Potuznik, Jiri Frantisek | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Rejecting Anonymity and Creating Trust: A Goal for the Czech EU Presidency: The Czech's EU Presidency Holds a Promise of Unknowns-Both Good and Bad


Potuznik, Jiri Frantisek, The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


For five years we have been a full-fledged member in this twenty-seven member club. We have been to all the meetings with the highest representatives, we have led debates with heads of state who have been friendly and not so friendly, and we just recently received a very used baton (our first run at the helm is the 103rd in all). But until now we have only ever viewed the EU presidency "from the outside." Despite this, we naturally believed that we had it all figured out--whose presidency was a success and whose was a failure, who was humble and who was pompous, who acted individually and who was a puppet, who was affected by traumas and who by the generosity of their country. It is easy to pass such judgments since the system personifies the highest executive of the presiding country into the strongest organ of the EU. And so, with the help of the media, we will forever remember Berlusconi's ... Sarkozy's ... and Topolanek's presidency.

Now that the Czech Republic finally has the chance to lead the European Council, we must ask what do we, the citizens of the CR, really know about the role? Do we really know what powers this or that European institution holds, or how the Commission, Parliament and Council adopt legislation? Do we really know which policies the EU has complete jurisdiction over, which are diffused between the EU and the member-state administrations, and which are the prerogatives of each particular state? Of course not. The blame, however, lies not with us but with the EU: its language is incomprehensible and the rules of the game are complicated. While some players sit idly, others play actively but against each other. With a different face every six months, all the presidencies have begun to look the same as an anonymous pile of documents--the archetypal metaphor for European institutions.

The fact of the matter is that while trust is possible between individuals or other groups of people, it does not exist in a system that is invisible. This is the danger of institutionalization. But the situation is even worse in regards to the EU since in the eyes of the public and in the words of Raymond Aron, the pluralism of social groups directly interferes with bureaucratic absolutism. The author of Democracy and Totalitarianism, Aron states that "a bureaucrat in the sociological sense is not a person behind the counter or with pads on their sleeves. It is a representative of an anonymous order; he does not act as an individual, but as a person defined by his function, standing on a certain spot in the hierarchy." I have nothing against structure, but the anonymity of such is horrifying.

So we stand between two poles: between the presidency's personification in the name of a single individual and between the anonymous order of European institutions. Our greatest success will be if we can only just endure this ambivalence. After the presidency, the vast majority of governments (even when regarded positively by their partners and the media) lost the next elections.

Presiding governments have a difficult balancing act to walk between appearing pro-European and national at the same time. The fear is that despite lobbying directly for the interests of one's own country, the people may brand a government too European or worse, too anti-national. Fift y years after the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset wrote that Europe needed a national concept to unite under, we are still nowhere close. Consequently, the one who stands at the head of Europe simply becomes, in the eyes of his national community, one of the bureaucratic others.

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Nor, however, does the presidency provide the presiding government with the opportunity to breathe a country-specific national agenda into the European machinery. …

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