Barack Obama's inauguration as 44th president of the United States, the fits and starts of the global financial crisis and related swindles, the economic recession that is pushing unemployment up and consumption down, globalisation that is calling relations between powers into question, distant conflicts that concern us (Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Africa) and nearby tensions that distress us (Balkans, Georgia): What does the Europe of 27 represent in all that? What will it be capable of doing in 2009 to defend its interests and protect its citizens?

The question is all the more valid because 2009 is a year of renewal of the European Parliament and of the European Commission, as well as of the hypothetical change in governance that will depend on ratification of the Lisbon Treaty (see inside). Between 4 and 7 June, EU citizens will be called to the polling places for the seventh time to elect their representatives to the European Parliament, which will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its election by direct universal suffrage. Institutional uncertainties, social concerns and economic gloom naturally mean that national concerns will be uppermost in these elections, followed at a distance by European concerns. Governments and all political formations have the heavy responsibility of encouraging citizens to vote (the Parliament is still the only directly elected institution) and of getting them to say what they want for the next five years. It will be hard to convince them as certain states prepare to renew their confidence, on 15 July, in the outgoing president of a European Commission that has become the soft underbelly of the institutions.

In this global and European context, the six-month European Council Presidency will be in the hands of the Czech Republic, whose government with a fragile majority, led by Mirek Topolanek, is anything but Euro-enthusiastic, and whose President, Vaclav Klaus, is blatantly Europhobic. Our correspondent in Prague and our interviews with Czech MEPs explain the local...

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