Foreign Ministry’s plan to shut down several embassies comes under fire

Václav Klaus, Karel Schwarzenberg (right), photo: CTK

After seeing its budget reduced by over 150 million Czech crowns, the foreign ministry is being forced to make significant cuts in staff. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg met with Václav Klaus on Thursday to discuss implementing the cuts, following an announcement last week that some Czech embassies would have to be closed down. But, although cost-cutting is now the operative word in the public sector, the foreign minister’s plan has come under fire from deputies and experts alike.

Václav Klaus,  Karel Schwarzenberg  (right),  photo: CTK
In line with its promises, the newly installed government has wasted no time implementing tough austerity measures. Within a month of being sworn in, Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ coalition of fiscal responsibility cut the budget of all ministries by a total of over 10 billion Czech crowns. In the face of more cuts planned for 2011, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is planning to close down a number of Czech embassies, though he has been very tight-lipped about which ones. According to a ministry spokesperson, a total of six embassies could soon be closing their doors.

Although each ministry has been left to decide how and where to best save the respective funds, the minister’s plan has come under fire from both coalition and opposition deputies in Parliament. The lower houses’ foreign affairs committee criticized Mr Schwarzenberg for not providing an analysis of which embassies he is planning to close and why. Dr. Michal Kořan, head of research at Prague’s Institute of International Relations, says this criticism is justified.

“These decisions should be consulted at a broader political forum or a broader political spectrum, which did not happen; even the deputies of the parliamentary foreign committee were not consulted about this decision and were only informed afterwards. So there are several problems that I see with this decision.”

One vocal advocate of maintaining the extensive network of Czech embassies is the opposition Social Democrats’ shadow foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek, who says that in the long run, the Czech Republic is going to loose influence and money by withdrawing its presence from countries where it is already well-established. Dr. Kořan again.

“No one really knows what effect these cuts can have, except for the actual income or saving of the actual money. But you don’t know what influence we will loose, you don’t know if this particular embassy was important for us or not, so this is the problem.”

Michal Kořan
Among the possible alternatives for full-service Czech embassies are so-called “flying ambassadors” who would fly into countries that do not have their own Czech embassy from neighboring states on demand, as well as the Czech Republic sharing embassies with one of the Visegrád group states such as Poland or Slovakia. Dr. Kořan again:

“Even this could not replace the traditional embassy network, this can only be a particular, individual solution for a particular, individual country, which should be set into a broader context and broader strategy, and as I mentioned before, I don’t see any strategy or concept yet.”