“Renationalisation tendencies are dangerous for the future of EU’s Internal Market”
You are back in Brussels after seven years. How has Brussels changed since?
If you ask me how the EU decision-making process has changed; well not that much, but I notice ever more ambitious European Parliament siding with the political Commission jointly fighting the Member States in the Council. I find Brussels to be a lovely city and it feels nice to be back but unfortunately I also have to admit that terrorist attacks have changed the atmosphere in certain ways. Everyday lives of people here in Brussels have been influenced. Nevertheless I hope this is just temporary.
The Commission proposed a mandatory Transparency Register in September. What is your opinion on that?
No doubt, transparency is a good thing. The voluntary register of the Commission and the Parliament has been functioning since 2011. Commission´s proposal from this September introduces obligatory registration for all three institutions. The idea is likeable, but it must be set up in real context. The Council works in a different manner than the other two institutions. Member States´ positions presented in Brussels are prepared in the capitals, where national codes of conduct apply. Of course, I meet with stakeholders in Brussels. And these meetings are often valuable. I hear what is on their mind and report to Prague.
June’s results of British referendum surprised Brussels structures. You are part of like-minded group for the Single Market with Brits in the lead. What is the future of this group now?
The U.K.´s decision to leave the EU makes me very sad. We lose not only a valuable proponent of initiatives, but also a strong partner in our like-minded group as well as in the Council. Still, we will work with their expertise until article 50 is triggered and until the Brits leave. As like-minded, we will try to profile and gain broader support within the new balance of power in the EU. We have to think over how to push through our vision of the Internal Market without the U.K. Structures of like-minded groups will be more variable according to the topics. Anyway, we have seen this trend already today and therefore we cannot impute it to the U.K. leaving the EU.
Decision for Brexit roots in Brits negative perception of the Single Market and its four freedoms. Some EU countries come up with national protectionist measures to complicate free movement of workers and services. Is it the end of the Single Market?
First, I do not like the expression “social dumping” being used in this context. It is a word that does not make sense on the Internal Market – different levels of economic development in different Member States do not translate as unfair competition. Second, I stick to our Presidency motto back in 2009, i.e. “Europe without barriers”. It is still relevant. In 2009 we were removing barriers; today we rather face creation of new ones. I perceive the tendencies for renationalisation as incompatible with acquis communautaire. Believe me, we had historical experience with closing into national envelopes. It is dangerous and counterproductive in the long term. I hope that the European Commission – in its role of guardian of the Treaties – will deal resolutely with excesses.
Digital economy is high on the agenda of Juncker´s Commission. Do you agree businesses should be obliged to sell their goods online everywhere in Europe?
High priority given to digital economy is certainly welcomed by my country. I see enormous growth potential here. And if we get it right now, the EU can make a real profit in the next 10-15 years. It is therefore our joint task to deliver and set up an ambitious European framework. Having said that, new legislation should not overregulate the environment where new business models such as online platforms are created. Further, I am all in for unleashing potential of e-commerce with possibility to buy and sell everywhere. On the other hand, the possibility to buy should be distinguished from the obligation to deliver. Imposing such obligation has not been our intention.
What are your expectations of the winter energy package? Will there be anything critical for Czechs?
Yes, “winter is coming”, but in this case we are looking forward to it. Three things I wish to stress. First, proposals on energy efficiency must comply with the following criteria – to be reasonable, achievable and indicative. Second, as for the efficiency of buildings, we hope the proposal will introduce more unified energy performance certificates. And third, on electricity market design, our aim is to introduce or reintroduce as much market as possible. For the Czech Republic – a country with large energy intensive industry base – this is crucial as cost of energy is closely related to competitiveness. Our overall aim is to define EU electricity market that is predictable and attractive for investors.
High quality regulation is key for business. In your opinion, when will the Council accept the importance of impact assessments on proposals with substantive amendments?
To start with, the Council does recognise the importance of impact assessment process. There are the so-called “Czech” checklists used when considering every impact assessment of a new legislative proposal in the Council. We assess micro and macroeconomic implications as well as compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. It is also true that amendments sometimes shift the proposal in a different direction and then the original impact assessment might become obsolete. I admit that every substantive amendment is subject of interpretation and there is no common view on the exact definition of such amendments. A lot depends on political will of Member States to make progress in this direction. We are certainly ready.
In July you ended your mission as Deputy Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the US. What are your estimations of EU-US talks after US presidential elections?
No doubt, EU and U.S. are number one strategic partners. From my personal experience I can confirm that people on both sides of the Atlantic share the same values. We have even more in common than we think. In this respect, I see the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP as more than just another economic agreement. It is extremely valuable from political and even security viewpoints. We see campaigns led against TTIP these days. Some want to block it from the inside, some from the outside. Let´s avoid a situation when we let ourselves being pushed in the corner from which it will be difficult to reignite the talks. Given the latest developments concerning similar agreement with Canada (CETA), I fear EU´s credibility is further endangered. As a result, our partners could take us less seriously. I sincerely hope we will be able, once important elections both in the US and Europe are behind us, to sit together and agree without emotions on a deal that will prove leadership of the Transatlantic community in this turbulent world.
By Alena Mastantuono
After having graduated from the University of Economics in Prague in 1999 he joined the diplomatic service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For the following four years he was part of the European Union Accession Negotiating Team as Cabinet Secretary of the Czech Chief Negotiator. In 2003 he moved to Brussels, where he spent over six years as Head of Ambassador’s Office, Member of Cabinet of the Czech Commissioner and Head of Sectorial Policies Section at the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the EU, respectively. Between 2009 and 2011 he held the post of Director of EU Policies Department at the MFA in Prague. From November 2011 till July 2016 he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Zajíček took up the post of the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU and of Representative to COREPER I as of 1 August 2016.