French priorities: arousing some suspicion, but still leaving room for cooperation – especially in energy policy

Overall, the strategy of the Czech government towards France and its priorities consisted of acknowledging the differences between the two (quite openly), followed by tough bargaining without superfluous political, ideological and emotional attacks on French positions and priorities, as well as without the demonstration of discrepancies. Czech representatives say that it is quite legitimate to have different visions and opinions (for example on Common Agricultural Policy). On the other side, negotiations are needed in order to ensure a certain coherence, to ensure that the consecutive presidencies do not move from one extreme to another. Czech officials acknowledged the (natural) differences between France and the Czech Republic and tried to find balance between them or find issue linkages.

Debate still going on on the two prominent topics: Kosovo and Turkey

From a general perspective, the Czech Republic has been a consistent supporter of further enlargement. Although some Czech political forces oppose Turkey’s accession, there is not a shade of doubt about the need to embrace the countries of the Western Balkans as new members. In recent months, two topics gained prominence in the public discourse on South-Eastern Europe: The first was, unsurprisingly, the future status of Kosovo; the second was the Turkish membership.

Mixed reactions to the Irish ‘No’

The rejection of the Lisbon Treaty was received with mixed reactions in the Czech Republic. Critics of the treaty, such as President Václav Klaus and a faction of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), were outspokenly satisfied with the outcome and argued that, since the treaty has been rejected, the ratification process in the Czech Republic should also be stopped.[1] Especially the Green Party, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, on the other hand, called for a rapid continuation of the ratification process in the Czech Republic. The destiny of the treaty in the Czech Republic is yet unsure and has been put at standstill until the constitutional court expresses its opinion, which is expected in the fall.
The governing coalition, consisting of Civic Democrats, Greens and Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), has stated that the ratification process shall continue, but that it is necessary to wait for the opinion of the Czech constitutional court. Thus, the court is in a position where it could complicate the ratification of the treaty. The Irish ‘No’ seems in general to have also strengthened the position of the critics in the Czech Republic, who now have a new powerful argument.

The 2009 Council presidency restricts the debate on the Lisbon Treaty

The major political parties in the Czech Parliament all agree to the Lisbon Treaty (LT). It seems most likely that the treaty will be ratified in the parliament. This is a change comparable to the past discussions on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE), in which the major right-wing party in Czech politics, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), was firmly against it. The ODS, being currently the major party of the governing coalition, has changed its position for two reasons. Firstly, the government does not want time-consuming discussions regarding a new treaty to overshadow the Czech Council presidency during the first half of 2009. Secondly, the ODS needed to find a compromise with the other two parties in the currently governing coalition, the Green Party and the Christian Democratic Party, which were both for ratifying the TCE.

Czech Republic – too few European topics attract the attention of politicians and the public

Vít Beneš

We would like to stress the salience of economic topics in the Czech Republic and its public debate. On 28-29 May 2010, the Czech Republic held general elections, with Czech national debt and its budgetary discipline being the core issues debated during the election campaign. The right-wing parties singled out Greece as a negative example of what could happen to the Czech Republic if it does not tackle its own budget deficit.

The Czech Republic – an inward-looking critic

Vít Beneš

The Czech media presented the Copenhagen conference as a failure.[1] Most Czech political parties formally support the EU’s plans for emissions reductions,[2] but only a few politicians genuinely regretted the conference’s failure. Czech Environment Minister Jan Dusik (nominated by the Green Party) made it clear that he expected more from the UN Copenhagen climate conference.[3] The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) expressed its willingness to “respect the EU commitment to fight climate change”.[4] The Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) endorses the climate policy and presented its plans to reduce CO2 emissions in the Czech Republic by, among others, further exploitation of nuclear energy.[5] Czech President Václav Klaus retained his position as a global warming sceptic and continued his criticism of climate policy. In an interview with the news server, he described global warming as a “new religion” rather than a science.[6] According to President Klaus, the radical measures suggested in Copenhagen are unnecessary.

The Czech Republic – a satisfied spectator

Mats Braun

The Czech Republic has yet to introduce the Euro as the country’s currency. However, so far there has been a lack of political will to fulfil the EU membership commitments on this point. The current crisis has strengthened the position of Euro reluctant voices in the country. Even if none of the established political parties are directly against the introduction of the Euro, primarily the Civic Democrats (the major rightist party – ODS) and the Communists have made it clear that early access to the Eurozone is not in their interest. The otherwise Europhile Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) is, on the other hand, not willing to accept the necessary economic reforms for the Czech membership in the third phase of the European Monetary Union (EMU).[1] The most prominent and also the most outspoken EMU sceptic in the country, President Václav Klaus, has used the crisis as an opportunity to state that his long-term criticism of the project has been proven correct. Klaus has, among others, blamed the current crisis in Greece on the country’s choice to introduce the Euro.[2]

The Czech Republic keeps an eye on Eastern Europe

Vít Beneš

Further EU enlargement has been a long-term priority of the Czech Republic and a steady ingredient of Czech European policy.[1] In the past years, Czech diplomacy invested a good deal of political capital in the enlargement cause, trying to repulse the critique of the “enlargement-sceptical” governments. The Czech political elites tacitly agree on the merits of the EU enlargement in general. On the other hand, disputes arise when individual countries are being discussed. In fact, consensus is limited to the support of the Balkan countries’ membership.[2] The negotiations with Croatia are unanimously supported by all political players. Even though the support for EU enlargement was not a topic of strong proclamations by the Czech political representation, Czech diplomacy continuously expressed its support.[3] Croatia’s case is also unproblematic due to the popularity of the country as a tourist destination among the Czech population.

The Czech Republic – neglecting implementation because of treaty ratification hangover?

Mats Braun

The Czech Republic was the last country to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. The late and dramatic Czech ratification of the treaty has been followed by a certain “treaty ratification hangover” which has manifested itself through little media interest in the implementation process of the treaty. At the same time, the political situation in the country, with a low profile caretaker cabinet in office, has had the consequence that the country lacks a clear vision of its priorities during the implementation phase. However, to the extent that there is a coherent Czech view on the implementation, this is a perspective that tones down the potential political dimension of the new offices and institutions introduced by the treaty, and prefers to view them as technicalities. From the Czech perspective, the President of the European Council should be a moderator, while the European External Action Service (EEAS) is preferably discussed as an expert team and not as a real diplomatic corpus, a European ministry of foreign affairs or something along those lines.