President Zeman‘s plans to attend commemorative events in China marking the end of WWII in the Pacific has made the Czech Republic the only country to break EU ranks on a proposed boycott of the celebrations. EU leaders are reportedly staying away from the events due to tensions between China and Japan, and according to Tuesday’s Hospodářské noviny which carried the story, the fact that the Czech Republic threw a spanner in the works of a coordinated EU position because of its president has not been well-received. I asked Jakub Janda of the European Values think tank about the possible impact of this decision.
“I would say that it really damages the Czech position within the EU and within diplomatic circles as well. What is striking in my view is that the Czech government apparently hasn’t been opposing the president’s decision to go to China, and for another thing, during President Zeman’s last visit to China he advocated and lobbied for a company called PPF. It is very striking that the government isn’t taking this into account apparently, because our constitution says that the government is responsible for the country’s foreign policy and therefore the government should be driving the policy.”
As you say, according to the Czech Constitution it is the government which molds or sets the country’s foreign policy line – is this fact generally known abroad or does this situation create confusion as to what foreign policy line the country is following?
“Honestly, our partners do not have to care about what is written in our constitution – they only care about what our officials – and the president is a top official- say and do. So it now seems to the outside world that the Czech president –and the Czech Republic therefore – is not following the European policy line on the Chinese celebrations.”
But the Czech Foreign Ministry has repeatedly made efforts to ensure that the country speaks in one voice, there are foreign policy consultations with the president and so on, you say that the Foreign Ministry should do something – but what can it do, since the president can pretty much do as he wants?
“Well, he can, but the Czech government has to make a decision on whether it wants to stand with the EU whose position is very clear at this moment or whether it wants to support the Czech president in his point of view. So what they definitely can do is they can publicly oppose the president, the government can declare that it does not support his visit to China. He would go anyway, but it would be clear that it is not the position of the Czech government.”
Would it not damage the country even further to have the president and government at war so to speak?
“Well, it would definitely, but to my knowledge it hurts the country’s position even more to have the government oppose the EU stand –with the 27 member states voting in one way and the Czech Republic in another, against all of them. That is more damaging than if the government were accountable to its citizens and voters. There is the country’s foreign policy strategy for example which was approved by the cabinet and by the president as well, by the way, so they are going against a strategy that was adopted several weeks ago and are undermining its principles.”