Prague - With its estimated costs of more than 2.5 billion Czech crowns (956 million euro), it was supposed to be a superb opportunity for raising the Czech Republic's prestige and strengthening its clout in the European Union.
But now it seems that the Czech EU presidency in the first half of 2009 would rather become a much more reserved spectacle than originally anticipated.
A farewell to high politics
The hitch is that the Lisbon Treaty, signed on December 2007 as a substitute for the shipwrecked "EU Constitution", is due to come into force - in an optimistic scenario - on 1 January 2009. Hence, at the very moment of the Czech Republic starting its presidency.
According to the new treaty, the presidency is supposed to be rather a mere administrative function, with the "real" politics and diplomacy being assigned to the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the elected office of President of the European Council.
Czechs and the EU
Under such a scenario, the presidency won't make the Czech Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs "senior" EU politicians since their role would be reduced.
"The adoption of Lisbon Treaty results in the presidency ceasing to be the EU's face and voice," believes the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Ivo Hlaváč.
Preparations to go on
However, according to the Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra, many variables are still in play and nothing can be safely predicted. "We will be prepared for all eventualities," he said.
Vondra would like the role of the presidency to be newly and clearly defined. "If presidencies are to work properly, the holders of this office need to be motivated by having some importance," stressed Vondra, whose bureau is coordinating the preparations for the Czech presidency.
However, the ratification of the treaty won't affect the anticipated meetings and other EU-presidency related events in the Czech Republic.
"Planned events such as ministerial councils or working groups' meetings won't be threatened. Ministers will retain their power to enforce their agenda," said Vondra´s deputy Jana Hendrichová in an interview for Aktuálně.cz.
No bed of roses for the treaty
On top of that, the one-year limit for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is rather a wishful thinking. So far, Hungary is the only country to have it approved.
The treaty can be basically ratified in two ways - in a referendum, or by parliament. Referendums are planned in Ireland and the Netherlands. The opposition in Great Britain is pressing the government into holding a plebiscite too.
Parliamentary ratifications are not going to be easy either. In many countries the whole issue can get as far as the Lisbon treaty being examined by a Constitutional Court.
The Civic Democratic Party (ODS), a senior member of the ruling coalition in the Czech Republic, wants precisely this. Despite the fact that it was their leader - Mirek Topolánek - who personally signed the document in Lisbon on behalf of the Czech Republic.