German president skirts historical minefields on first visit since election
German President Christian Wulff arrived in Prague on Monday for his first visit to the Czech Republic since becoming head of state. While overall relations between the two countries are rosy, the visit was to some extent overshadowed by history and is still expected to raise some thorny issues.
Certainly, many commentators agree that relations between the Czech Republic and its biggest and most important neighbour have never been better. And the visit by Germany’s recently elected president Christian Wulff shows every sign of helping things along.
The German head of state, who was elected at the end of June, made all the right noises during the visit, as he has during interviews ahead of it. He apologized for the indescribable suffering inflicted during the German occupation from March 1939 until the end of WWII mentioning the destruction of the villages of Lidice and Ležáky and Terezín concentration camp and prison in passing.
And President Wulff also on Monday praised reconciliation efforts at a national level and local initiatives, such as the offer by the mayor of the border town of Cheb, to host a war cemetery for German soldiers who died during the last war.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas was due to focus on more specific issues. The prime minister’s office said ahead of the afternoon meeting that these included Germany’s final opening of its jobs market to Czechs in May 2011, continued strict checks on Czech motorists after crossing the frontier into Bavaria, and the Eastern Partnership.
The Czech side has described the frontier checks on drivers as harassment which breaks the spirit if not the terms of the European Union’s Schengen agreement. Bavaria has shown no enthusiasm to back down saying that the checks have helped to counter crime. So the German president is likely to be asked to exert some behind the scenes pressure here.
The Eastern Partnership is Eurospeak for the stronger relations that the European Union is attempting to forge with six for countries of the Soviet Union: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The Czech prime minister also had some questions prepared about the future role of the country’s biggest car maker and exporter, Škoda Auto, in the plans of parent company Volkswagen.
Christian Wulff as former head of the region of Lower Saxony, one of the major shareholders in Volkswagen, has until recently been on the German car maker’s board so has a fairly good idea of what is happening there.
Relations between Volkswagen and Škoda Auto are often sweet and sour. On the one hand Škoda Auto is a highly profitable cash cow for the German company, on the other hand there are fears that some of its success comes at the price of Volkswagen’s own car sales.