The Czech Republic has been asked to preside over the European Union during a very difficult period. Has this been a blessing or a curse? When the decision for the succession of member states at the helm of the EU Council, including the Czech presidency from January to June 2009, was first taken in December 2005, no one could have predicted the difficulties we face now. However, I see the Czech presidency in the EU Council more as a good challenge and a unique opportunity, embodied by the Latin phrase «per aspera ad astra» (through hardships to the stars). In his speech last month at the European Parliament, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke about unity and cooperation in the EU. But the last few months have suggested that we are some distance from this. Is the EU going through a period where its fundamental values are being tested or do you think it is just a temporary storm that will blow over? The project of European integration has been developing over more than half a century, and sometimes we forget it has already undergone different stages reflecting internal and external situations and circumstances and come through stronger. The increasing complexity of affairs to face and the growing number of participants contribute to a seemingly greater heterogeneity and divergence but history proves there is a fundamental commitment to cooperate, to overcome difficulties and find concerted ways ahead. The EU has to be able to come through difficult as well as good times, if it is to mean anything, and has done so successfully to date. Questions are being asked of it now and it is time to answer those questions, deal with the primarily financial and environmental challenges and embrace the opportunities to enhance the EU’s international status. The Czech Republic has been at the center of controversy after outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s description of the USA’s plans to get out of the economic crisis as «the road to hell.» Was this comment justified? There are different schools of thought concerning what may be a quick and effective, if not the best, remedy to the seriously ailing global economy. The Czech prime minister has presented one viewpoint shared by others in Europe. One thing that the global financial crisis has taught us is that many of the politicians, economists and entrepreneurs do not know what the effects of their proposals and actions will be.