Foreign relations expert: Prague and Vienna are now focusing on positive issues

Austrian President Heinz Fischer is in the Czech Republic on a two-day visit. His talks with Czech top officials are expected to cover security issues, bilateral cooperation and the migrant crisis. I asked foreign relations expert Michal Kořan from the Institute for International Relations to assess the present state of Czech-Austrian relations and to what extent they are burdened by issues such as the Beneš decrees or nuclear power.

Miloš Zeman, Heinz Fischer, photo: CTKMiloš Zeman, Heinz Fischer, photo: CTK “Well, these issues did not go away. In terms of the historical agenda (Beneš decrees) it has been supressed at the political level, as for nuclear energy it is still there. Austria will never approach nuclear energy positively - or it is highly unlikely – while the Czech Republic will not give it up, but by developing more positive issues the two countries now have more things to discuss and are not focussed on negative topics as it was in the past.”

Is there further potential for business and cross-border cooperation?

“I believe this is one of the most important areas of cooperation, especially in terms of joint ventures, joint businesses and also Czech subjects investing in Austria. Cross-border cooperation could be intensified, there is enormous potential in the border regions for this, but there are still bottlenecks in terms of infrastructure and in the minds of the people. On the other hand, we shouldn’t forget that Austria is a slightly different geo-political actor –it is a neutral country, it is not a NATO member – so I believe that while in the geo-political area there might not be a great deal of room for cooperation, for practically-oriented, pragmatic projects there is and if we are able to build trust between the two countries which has been severely lacking in the past this potential could be utilized in the future.”

What about the migration crisis –is this proving divisive?

“It may have been divisive last year, in the summer especially, when Austria clearly sided with Germany on the issue, but mostly as a result of domestic pressure from smaller populist parties the Austrian government made a turnaround and started siding more with the Visegrad group countries, so now we can see that Austria has a similar approach to the issue as the Czech Republic and the Visegrad group.”