Expert: Fiala govt will be pro-Western but shift on migration unlikely

Petr Fiala

The incoming Czech government headed by Petr Fiala of the Civic Democrats has pledged to be more pro-Western than its immediate predecessor. But will it really follow a Havel-like, human rights agenda? And what will its installation mean for the Visegrad Four? I discussed these issues with Zdeněk Beránek, director of the think tank Europeum.

“It’s going to be generally a rather mainstream, pro-Western, pro-European foreign policy that will ostensibly be based on values and norms.

“Hopefully it will be quite coherent and strategic.

“That’s what has been proclaimed and there are signs that this might actually go beyond proclamation – that such a foreign policy might actually be implemented.

“Of course, that’s with the caveat that implementing foreign policy is always very, very difficult, so in reality you might see a bumpy ride.

“But I’m pretty confident the government will genuinely try.”

There have been some claims that the new government could follow a Havel-like foreign policy. Do you think that’s likely? Is it even possible in today’s world?

Zdeněk Beránek | Photo: Europeum

“I think it’s good to use Havel as a benchmark.

“I think in practical terms we will see a focus on human rights and democratic values.

“But of course the overall context is very different, so it will be implemented in a very different paradigm.”

What does this change of government mean for the Visegrad partnership? Of course the outgoing prime minister, Andrej Babiš, placed a lot of emphasis on that?

“If you look at the coalition agreement, the V4 is mentioned there.

“And I’m quite confident, given the popularity of the format, given its relevance at multiple levels, the cooperation will continue.

“But – there is a big ‘but’ – it will be less automatic.

“I hope at least, but I’m quite sure, that the government, or those that will be responsible for the foreign policy, will always ask, What is there for the Czech Republic? Does it fit our national interest? Does it fit our values-based foreign policy?

“So I can imagine that when the new prime minister is being invited to a summit together with [Bosnian Serb nationalist politician] Milorad Dodik he will at least think whether this is a good idea and will not go automatically, just because the invitation has been issued by Viktor Orban.”

How should we view the fact that the new government made clear, even before they signed any kind of agreement, that they wouldn’t adopt the euro during their four-year term?

Andrej Babiš | Photo: Viktor Daňek,  Czech Radio

“Apparently that’s one question where the coalition wasn’t able to find a common ground.

“So this wording, which you’ve just quoted, is a very elegant way out.

“Whereas they claim that they will carry on with the process of adopting the euro – for instance, according to the agreement, companies will be able to use the euro in their internal accounting – they proclaim that in the next four years it’s not realistic to adopt the euro.

“Which is basically true.”

How do you think the change of government here will be seen in Brussels? Will they welcome the fact that the often quite eurosceptic Andrej Babiš is going to be gone soon?

“Frankly I don’t know, because I think Babiš was very vocal when it came to his euro-scepticism, but in reality he remained within the mainstream when he was in Brussels.

“So I think he wasn’t such a tricky partner as he tried to portray himself here at home.

“I’m quite sure Mr. Fiala and other cabinet members will use different rhetoric and at least at the beginning will definitely be behaving as more constructive partners.

“So it might be good news for some in Brussels.

“On the other hand, some positions of the country will simply not change.

“When it comes to migration I don’t really expect a major shift in this country’s policy.

“The same when it comes to decarbonisation legislation.

“Again they will probably work differently, they will try to find compromise.

“But the issues that this country is facing when it comes to these proposals are simply there, so we have to take them into consideration.

“We will not become a green superpower overnight.”