US House Speaker Paul Ryan’s visit to Prague seen as impulse for Czech-American relations

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan is in the Czech Republic on a two-day visit, the highest-placed US official to visit the country in nine years. Although the visit has been labelled as private, the US House Speaker has a packed agenda of meetings with Czech politicians and he will be the first foreign official ever to address a session of the Czech lower house. I spoke with Jan Hornát, an expert on Czech-American relations at the Prague-based Institute of International Relations and asked him to comment on the significance of this visit.

Paul Ryan, Andrej Babiš, photo: CTKPaul Ryan, Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK “Paul Ryan’s visit to the Czech Republic is certainly a significant event and an impulse for Czech-American relations. We have a new US ambassador, Steven King, who when he came in late 2017, actually announced that there would be a high-level visit from the US – so that is Paul Ryan, who has had a strong relationship with the ambassador for a long time, they are both from Wisconsin. So Mr. Ryan is coming at the invitation of the ambassador. At the same time it is important to note that the Czech-American relationship is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and Paul Ryan’s visit fits into this context very well.

He is meeting the Czech prime minister, he is addressing the lower house of Parliament, he is attending a conference on Czech-US relations in the Senate but, conspicuously, there is no meeting with President Zeman –is that significant?

“You know, we have had discussions that due to various discourses, let us say, of our president, the US-Czech relationship has deteriorated in the last few years, even with respect to the not very good relationship between the president and the former US ambassador to Prague (Andrew Schapiro), but we have to keep in mind that on the working level –in terms of security issues, economic issues – the relationship is very good.

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip JandourekMiloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek "The US embassy, US lawmakers and the government know quite well that the foreign policy in the Czech Republic is formulated by the government and the president does play a role in foreign policy, but that his role is rather symbolic and to some extent indicative. So I do not really subscribe to the narrative that the Czech-American relationship has been downgraded to some extent in the last few years – on the working level, when I speak to our officials from the ministry of defense, from the ministry of foreign affairs, this relationship is working very well and there are no road blocks on the way, so I think this is important to mention."