Paris visit first in 11 years by Czech head-of-state

Miloš Zeman, Francois Hollande, photo: CTK

Czech President Miloš Zeman met his French counterpart Francois Hollande on Tuesday, the second day of an official state visit. Topics included the revitalization of business ties in the areas of nuclear energy and transport, the Ukraine crisis and the threat of international terrorism. The visit to France is the first by a Czech head-of-state in 11 years.

Miloš Zeman,  Francois Hollande,  photo: CTK
The famously euro sceptic president Václav Klaus apparently did not put much stock in Czech-French relations, neglecting to visit Paris over two terms as head-of-state. His successor, Miloš Zeman, has taken a different approach: aiming, as soon as possible, to revitalize common ties. In a ceremony on Tuesday, the president honored Czechoslovak legionaries who fought side-by-side with the French in World War I, while Mr Hollande commended Czech involvement alongside the French now in the current security-stabilising mission in Mali. Both presidents made clear they considered international terrorism one of the most pressing issues today; President Miloš Zeman:

“The two of us are absolutely in agreement that international terrorism represents the greatest threat.”

Temelín nuclear power plant,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Not surprisingly, business ties also came to the fore during their meeting: the French president is said to have brought up the nuclear energy sector on the part of French firm Areva, which had been excluded from the now defunct tender on new reactor blocks at the Czech Republic’s Temelín nuclear power plant. With a new tender expected at some point in the future, the French firm it seems may wish to compete again. Meanwhile, President Zeman on Tuesday said he would like to see French TGV high-speed trains travel all the way to Prague. The Czech finance minister, Andrej Babiš, also in France - meeting with French business representatives – agrees transport is a priority.

“Transport is absolutely key: it is essential. There, we need to see important changes in legislation and we have to catch up after falling behind.”

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
To boost mutual business opportunities and further improve ties, the two leaders voiced support for a joint economic forum, while the Czech president returned the courtesy for his visit by inviting Mr Hollande to Prague. Mr Hollande stressed that their next meeting would come soon, in contrast to the recent past.

“We will not let so much time elapse again before the next visit.”

On Wednesday, Miloš Zeman was scheduled to meet with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls to also discuss economic issues, before concluding his official visit and heading home.