Czech government bolsters its foreign policy team ahead of new challenges

From left: Vaclav Klaus, Mirek Topolanek and Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: CTK

With a new government finally in office, the focus has shifted from the country's political crisis to key foreign policy issues. In the coming months the Czech leadership will have to decide about hosting a US radar-base on its territory, consolidate its stand with regard to the EU constitution and start preparing for the country's EU presidency in 2009. The government's foreign policy team is now bigger than ever and on Tuesday President Klaus invited three government ministers to Prague Castle for some foreign-policy fine tuning.

From left: Vaclav Klaus, Mirek Topolanek and Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: CTK
After eight years of left-wing administration the Czech Republic has a centre- right government. Changes are expected on many fronts, but according to the new foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, the change-of-guard should not significantly affect the country's foreign policy.

"I will pursue the priorities already outlined - Euro-Atlantic, European good-neighborly relations policy, trying to establish the best possible relations with our neighbors -cooperation with the United States on the one hand and cooperation within the EU on the other."

The outcome of Tuesday's meeting at Prague Castle seemed to confirm the foreign minister's words. Its participants - President Klaus, Prime Minister Topolanek, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexander Vondra and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg all said there were no significant differences between them on key foreign policy issues. However Petr Drulak from the Prague Institute for Foreign Affairs says that at no point in the past has Czech foreign policy been molded by so many diverse politicians -and that coordinating their stands might present a problem.

"I think it will be difficult for all these players to represent a coherent whole. I think it is quite encouraging that they met yesterday at Prague Castle and concluded that there are no substantial differences between them. I take that as a commitment to a more coherent Czech foreign policy than we have seen in the past, but still, one sees an inherent tension between the foreign ministry and the president and possibly also between the president and the prime minister."

NATO radar base in Nepolisy, photo: CTK
What about the country's foreign policy in view of its membership in the EU and its trans-Atlantic ties? Could there be any discord there?

"Well, so far we have had what I would call an "internationalist" foreign policy, paying equal attention to relations with Washington, relations with Brussels and our key European allies. Quite frankly I cannot imagine that our new government would want to change this long-term foreign policy trend. And even though the main party in our new government is more US-oriented than the previous government, the two smaller coalition partners are actually quite Europe-oriented, so my expectation is that we will continue in this "internationalist" orientation."

But will the Czech Republic be able to maintain this balance - because we have already heard some criticism from the EU regarding the fact that the Czech Republic is considering hosting a US radar base on its territory...

"Well, I think that if the Czech Republic decided to host such a base it would be to no detriment- it would not violate any of its commitments to the EU. We know that many EU members actually have much larger American bases on their territory so I do not see this as a clash with our EU commitments."