Political scientist: Czechs‘ failure to improve road and rail links with Austria is hurting business

Bohuslav Sobotka and Alexander Van der Bellen, photo: ČTK

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen is in Prague for his first official visit to Czech Republic since taking office in January of this year. The former Green Party leader arrived by train which was several minutes late pulling into Prague’s Main Railway Station, inadvertently highlighting one of the key issues on the agenda of the upcoming talks: the need to improve road and rail links between the two neighbor states. I asked Jan Kovář from the Prague Institute of International Relations about the main sticking points in bilateral relations today.

Bohuslav Sobotka and Alexander Van der Bellen,  photo: ČTK
“Nuclear power is obviously a long-standing issue between the two countries, but fortunately for us it is not such a hot topic today. On the other hand, the state of the infrastructure is a crucial issue for both countries, most especially the Czech Republic which has for a long time been unable to complete the highway connection from Brno to Vienna or from České Budějovice to Linz. So this is an important issue and it also relates in general to economic cooperation between the two countries because transport and infrastructure is one of the prerequisites for successful economic cooperation.”

Apart from these sticking points, what is the state of Czech-Austrian relations at present?

I would say it is a bit better than it used to be ten or fifteen years ago. Today I would say that relations are stable despite the fact that some differences remain between the two countries (especially in the field of nuclear energy but also other issues) the relationship is not marked by huge differences that would undermine mutual cooperation.”

Alexander Van der Bellen and Miloš Zeman,  photo: ČTK
The two countries enjoy traditionally good ties. Have relations cooled because President Zeman openly supported Van der Bellen’s rival in the elections, saying that he “simply did not like the Greens”?

“That’s so. He openly supported the other candidate Norbert Hofer for president but I am not sure whether this has really affected or cooled relations between the two countries because President Van der Bellen is a highly intellectual figure who can easily overcome such attacks from the Czech president. So I do not think that this has a huge impact on Czech-Austrian relations and also the Austrian president knows that political-decision making in this country is done by the government and not by the president. This makes everything easier, because the Czech government did not in any way support either of the candidates or attack Van der Bellen in the Austrian presidential elections.”