Czech foreign policy: balancing the scales

Cyril Svoboda and Vladimir Spidla (at the back), photo: CTK

The three parties of the emerging coalition government have agreed on policy priorities for the future and are now in the process of deciding personnel matters: the division of seats in the future Cabinet. One of the hot seats is that of outgoing Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda. His chances of retaining it are very slim indeed. The Social Democrats' main argument against him is that as Czech Foreign Minister he was overly pro-American, at the cost of risking a breach with some European countries. Political analyst Jiri Pehe claims that this is simply not the case.

Cyril Svoboda and Vladimir Spidla  (at the back),  photo: CTK
"I think that Svoboda has been quite successful in his approach. He has tried to balance, very carefully, pro-American attitudes and policies with pro-European policies. In the crisis last year -when the war with Iraq started - he certainly didn't take any extreme position. He didn't join Germany and France which did in a way have an extreme position in European politics and neither did he accept the British or Polish position, which meant accepting the US stand without any reservations. So I think that he has been quite successful in forging a policy that is a good balance between two extreme poles and it would be quite unfortunate if the Social Democratic Party - or a small group within the party - managed to hijack this Czech foreign policy."

So you feel that whoever turns out to be the country's next foreign minister should continue along those lines?

"I think that this is absolutely necessary for a small country such as the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic cannot afford to antagonize the United States. It will depend on the security guarantees that the US provides, on the alliance with the US in the area of security for a long time, and then, it cannot really antagonize Europe either. And quite frankly Europe doesn't consist only of France and Germany it also consists of Great Britain and Poland, countries that did support the United States. So I think that Czech politicians really should try to search for foreign policy formulas that are somewhere in-between and do not necessarily antagonize either of the two sides."

Has this foreign policy borne fruit? Has the Czech Republic's image improved?

"I think that the Czech Republic is seen as a reliable ally of the United States which is certainly good for the country. At the same time it is not seen as a country that was disloyal to France or Germany or some other European countries during the Iraq crisis. It has been very pro-European with respect to the European constitution and European integration so certainly it has been able to include in its foreign policy concept seemingly antagonistic attitudes and stay in the centre of European politics and I think that this is something that has benefited the Czech Republic. It is seen as a reliable ally by both Europe and the United States and I think this is what the Czech Republic should be trying to do."