Czech political leaders seeks to read off same foreign policy page

Miloš Zeman, Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Filip Jandourek

Czech president Miloš Zeman is set to meet with Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and other government and parliament representatives at Prague Castle on Tuesday for the second time this year to streamline their foreign policy stances. The Mediterranean refugee crisis and the situation in Ukraine are expected to be among the main issues on the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting.

Miloš Zeman, Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Filip Jandourek
The tradition of regular meetings focused on fine-tuning the country’s foreign policy was established earlier this year, after Mr. Zeman was the source of several disagreements with the government, failing to take the same line on certain issues, such as the sanctions against Russia or the human rights situation in China. At the end of last year, the president and the prime minister agreed to meet three times a year to ensure this will never happen again.

After the first meeting in February, Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek said all the participants agreed that finding a unified voice was absolutely essential. Jakub Janda, the deputy head of the think tank European Values, says that despite the good intentions, the meeting has not had any significant impact on the country’s foreign policy:

“Actually, the officials were trying, but the problem is what our president, Mr Zeman, is doing. You can have as many meeting as you want, but if the key player, the president, is ignoring any kind of coordination in these areas, they are basically useless. So I am glad that they are trying to have an influence on him but as we see in reality, he is ignoring anything that could be called coordination.”

Syrian refugee camp, photo: Voice of America News, Public Domain
Among the regular foreign policy topics raised by President Zeman is the fight against terrorism. Most recently, during his talk at the Chamber of Deputies last Friday, Mr Zeman suggested that the Czech Republic should send a field hospital to help Syrian refugees in Jordan.

However, not everyone seems to share the president’s view. Former Czech Army Chief Petr Pavel has in the past opposed the idea, pointing out that French and British field hospitals operating in Jordan in the past have raised mixed reactions.

In an interview for the Czech Television, Foreign Minister Martin Stropnický said that although he wasn’t entirely against the idea, he was hoping to find a better form of help that could be offered.

“You can hardly oppose the fact that a field hospital would bring some sort of help to a refugee camp with 600,000 people. There is no contradiction there. But the people in the refugee camps are mostly civilians, and there are many children among them, and we don’t have paediatricians, we have military medical staff which is specialised in different sort of interventions. But I believe we will wind a way to help the civilians, although it might take slightly different form.”

Martin Stropnický, photo: Filip Jandourek
Other issues on the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting at Prague Castle are also EU sanctions against Russia, a topic which has also caused several disagreements between the president and the government in the past.

But one of the topics on which Czech politicians largely stand united, is the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, namely the refugee quota proposed by the European Commission. The president and the government have unanimously rejected the idea, saying that the decision should be solely the responsibility of individual EU member states.