As the clock struck midnight on 31 December the Presidency of the European Union rotated from the French Government to the Czech Government. Now, for six months, Prague holds the limelight in EU affairs.
There could not be a bigger contrast in attitudes to Europe than between the head of State in France, Nicolas Sarkozy and the very Euro-sceptic Czech President, Vaclav Klaus. Klaus has already made clear the EU flag will not fly over Prague Hrad and the Czech Prime Minister and his colleagues will no doubt do all they can to keep President Klaus out of the European agenda and limelight in an effort not to be embarrassed. Klaus, right-wing economic libertarian admirer of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, has no time for Europe, believes climate change is a lot of nonsense and enjoys creating political storms in various tea-cups.
Will Europe survive until the Swedish Government takes over the Presidency in July? No doubt it will, because the “Europe” idea is a bigger thing beyond any one sceptical maverick nationalist President. The free movement of people and goods from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, from North Cape to Athens; the assistance to economically struggling regions from the more financially advantaged areas; the development of cross-Europe high speed trains; common educational approaches (Bologna process); the care of society and culture and the desire for the common good have taken us a long way since the original Iron, Steel and Coal agreements of post Second World War Europe. Perhaps, above all else, for the 27 member countries they have delivered a certain “peace in our day”, something which previous generations of ordinary Europeans might have longed for, but did not enjoy.
On this feast of Epiphany (in the Latin west), or the celebration of Christmas (in the Slavic east) here is surely one manifestation of the peace and light of Christ in our world we can give thanks for?