Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek was on an official visit to Vienna on Monday to meet with Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer for a day of talks that included discussions on the Czech Republic’s Temelín nuclear power plant and the upcoming EU presidencies. But it was the recent enlargement of the EU’s Schengen zone that was arguably the most dominant. Since the relaxation of border controls last month Austria has seen a rapid new influx of illegal migrants and on Monday both Czech and Austrian representatives pledged that more would be done to
The Serbian province of Kosovo is expected to declare independence from Serbia early this year. The Czech foreign policy on this hot issue has been following the moderate attitude of the European Union calling for an agreement between the Serbian government and Kosovo’s Albanian majority. But the lower house of the Czech Parliament might push for a change in the Czech stance. An opposition MP wants a resolution passed denouncing a unilateral declaration of independence for Kosovo.
Moscow and Prague remain at loggerheads over the US plan to site a US tracking radar on Czech territory and interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland within its missile defence system. Visiting Russian commissioner for relations with the EU Sergei Yastrzhembsky said he had not heard a single logical argument in support of the plan. However he said he was pleased to find that the Czech Republic was very open to negotiations and committed to resolving the conflict. I found no anti-Russian prejudice and that is a good platform for cooperation, Mr. Yastrzhembsky said. Deputy Prime Minister for EU Affairs Alexander Vondra said once again that the radar base was not aimed against Russia and that the Czech Republic regarded Moscow as a partner.
On the stroke of midnight on Thursday the Czech Republic and eight EU member states joined the Schengen border-free zone. Politicians from Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia met up at common border crossings to symbolically saw through border bars and hail the event as a big step to a one-tier Europe. Despite the chilly weather many people living in the border areas turned out to celebrate the occasion.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has described as “unacceptable” a warning by Russia’s army chief that any US interceptor missiles that might be launched from Poland could trigger inadvertent retaliation from Russia. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova said Moscow’s language was “unimaginable in the democratic world” and stressed that Prague had always worked for dialogue on the issue. Russia has reacted with hostility to US plans to site part of its missile defense system in central Europe – with a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. Russia’s Chief of Staff Yuri Baluyevsky on Saturday expressed dissatisfaction with the course of negotiations between Moscow and Washington on this matter, saying the two states were locked in a “direct stand-off”.
A great deal of pomp and ceremony was on display at Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery on Thursday as leaders of the European Union’s 27 member countries signed the landmark Lisbon Treaty. The treaty replaces the EU Constitution, which was rejected by Dutch and French voters in 2005, and will fundamentally alter the way the EU is run. Lisbon now needs to be ratified by all 27 members, including of course the Czech Republic. But will the path to ratification be smooth?
When the Czech Republic enters the Schengen zone on December 21, it will bring in an era of passport-free travel for Czechs abroad. But not everyone is looking forward to the change. Entry to the Schengen zone could spell trouble for the sizeable number of Americans who have, up until now, been living and working in Prague without a visa.
The future of Kosovo has been exercising minds throughout Europe in recent weeks, and now the UN deadline for a settlement on the Serbian province has expired, talks have acquired a new urgency. Leaders of the so-called Visegrad Four group - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary – discussed Kosovo this weekend ahead of a key European Union summit on the problem.
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