President likely to play greater role in “coordinated” foreign policy

Jan Kohout, Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

President Miloš Zeman was at loggerheads with former Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg on making Livia Klausová ambassador to Bratislava and Communist MEP Vladimír Remek the country’s envoy in Russia. The freshly appointed interim government backed by Mr. Zeman should now rubberstamp those appointments. But what else can we expect from the president and new minister Jan Kohout in the foreign policy field? I discussed those questions with Petr Drulák, director of Prague’s Institute of International Affairs.

Jan Kohout, photo: CTK
“We may see a power shift from the Foreign Ministry to the President’s Office in the matter of the appointment of ambassadors in general.

“It’s not only about these two or three controversial figures which have been discussed in recent months. We may have a new precedent that will give the president the supreme power when it comes to appointing ambassadors. That’s an immediate effect.

“Right now the foreign minister has said that he wants to stop the programme of cutting embassies. Because the last government closed several embassies abroad, and the new minister has argued that he would like to enlarge our ambassadorial network.

“So these are two tangible things that may be new in Czech foreign policy.”

Can we expect a more unified Czech foreign policy? In the past people said the President’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Office of the Government were sometimes pushing different priorities.

“Yes. In these circumstances, coordination is likely to be much better than before. The very fact that there will be more coordination is definitely positive for Czech foreign policy. Foreign policy needs to be coordinated.

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek
“What I find a bit disturbing is maybe the enhanced role of the president, who lacks expertise and the institutional capacities and capabilities to make foreign policy.

“So there may be more coordination, but this coordination may be less competent than before.”

President Zeman has frequently spoken about economic diplomacy as something that he wants to push. Does that mean there could be a lesser emphasis on promoting civil rights, perhaps?

“I’m not sure about this, because everybody talks about economic diplomacy. You will not find a Czech politician who wouldn’t talk about economic diplomacy. It’s something which has been talked about for decades.

“With respect to civil rights, I believe the position of President Zeman is the same as [his predecessor] President Klaus. He’s sceptical about the possibility of a small state like the Czech Republic promoting civil rights far abroad.

“But if we look actually at the recent record of Czech foreign policy in human rights, we probably wouldn’t find too many results or achievements.

“So there may be a change in the rhetoric, but there will not be any major change in practice. Because we don’t do much in this area anyway.”

Will there be a warmer relationship towards some countries, like Russia or China? Some people say that Mr. Zeman is pro-Russian.

Václav Klaus, photo: Filip Jandourek
“Again, I don’t see any major difference between Mr. Zeman and Mr. Klaus in this regard.

“It’s true that the new foreign minister is someone who is personally very interested in promoting cooperation with China. So from the Czech side we may see more interest in developing relations with China, especially economic relations.

“The interest has been there before. Now we may actually see some tangible results.”