Just another six months in an imperfect union

Countries holding the EU presidency have come to be remembered by how well they deal with the unexpected

Another crisis, another calamity, another crunch – emergency is the stuff the EU presidency is made of. The euro’s troubles have overshadowed Poland’s presidency, and are expected to do the same for the Danish term. But as history shows, major headaches are the norm, not the exception.

Economic scrambling is a long-running theme for the EU – finances have been the big-ticket item for the rotating presidency since the world economy tumbled in 2008, during the French presidency.

But crisis can come from anywhere – within the union itself, among individual member states, on Europe’s borders or from calamity far from home.

In the first half of 2011, Hungary’s presidency got off to a rocky start after Budapest’s government passed a controversial media law designed to restrict “unbalanced” news coverage, setting off alarm bells across the EU over democratic rights.

Then, with the dawn of, the Arab Spring, instability spread across North Africa and the Middle East, sending waves of refugees to EuropeÂ’s borders. Catherine Ashton, the unionÂ’s foreign policy chief, was busy with Libya but Hungary stepped in to co-ordinate evacuations, using their embassy in Tripoli as a base for the EU.

BelgiumÂ’s government dissolved immediately before their term began in the second half of 2010. It was only formed again this month. Their term was forced to run on long-term planning and bureaucratic vigour.

In the first half of 2010, Spain was left dealing with a new system for the rotating presidency after the Lisbon Treaty went into force at the start of their term.

The Czech Republic had an even more colourful presidency in the first half of 2009, when the government of the anti-EU prime minister dissolved in the midst of the presidency. The country had already drawn ire for a controversial installation depicting member states by their stereotypes – with Bulgaria presented as a squat toilet. At the same time, they had yet to pass the Lisbon Treaty, which would eventually reform the rotating presidency.

In the second half of 2008, before the Lisbon Treaty went into force, France had its hands full with international issues. When Russia invaded Georgia that summer, President Nicolas Sarkozy stepped in as the EU representative. The Irish had also voted down the Lisbon Treaty, leading to delays and confusion over the future of the unionÂ’s reform. And the expansion of financial troubles intensified that autumn as the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US sent markets into freefall.

In light of a never-ending series of crises big and small, all a country can do is prepare for the unexpected. An emergency does not necessarily mean a poor report card for the country in the driver’s seat – a calm head and a professional approach means countries like Poland have gained solid reputations, even though much of their efforts may have taken place away from the public’s eye.

Denmark has said itÂ’s ready for the position. Only time will tell what requirements that job will entail.