Government approves treaty on radar base

Jiří Čunek, Mirek Topolánek, Martin Bursík, photo: CTK

On Wednesday the government approved a treaty between the Czech Republic and the US on the deployment of an American radar base on Czech territory. The treaty, to be signed later this summer, sets the ground for a planned US missile defence system in Europe, including not only the radar in the Czech Republic but also interceptor rockets in Poland. But reaching agreement with the US is only the first step. The coalition will next have to push the treaty through Parliament and there is every indication that it won’t have it easy.

Jiří Čunek,  Mirek Topolánek,  Martin Bursík,  photo: CTK
On Wednesday Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek announced the government had agreed on the treaty for a planned US radar base in the Czech Republic. The government still has to wrap up negotiations on the SOFA agreement, covering legal issues pertaining to US personnel being stationed in the Czech Republic, but that should be agreed within a fortnight, meaning a signing of the treaties could take place in late June, early July between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Czech counterpart. After that, the government will face a tougher task: finding sufficient support in Parliament, where, as it stands, the coalition may not get support even from all its own MPs. Political analyst Petr Just says finding enough support may present a big challenge:

“The government’s step was just the first stage and actually we’ve already seen small complications such as the position of Education Minister and Green Party member Ondřej Liška. He did not vote for it and because he is also a member of Parliament he could repeat his vote there, complicating matters for the government. As the government has only 100 MPs in the 200-member lower house, this is obviously a difficult situation.

“It would mean the government would not have a majority, which means they would need to search for votes elsewhere, tough because the two opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the Communists are strongly opposed to the radar plans. I don’t think we can expect much cooperation.”

Between the signing of the treaties on missile defence and beginning to muster political support, the cabinet will also have to focus on domestic issues such as Church property restitution which Petr Just says for the coalition’s continued stability is far more serious. Still, there is no question that the radar is a matter the prime minister will want to see completed successfully. Should he fail, it would be a first major victory for the opposition since he took office. On the other hand, a potential failure would arguably please many in the public. Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that a majority of Czechs oppose the idea of a US base being stationed on Czech soil.