It’s being hailed as the biggest NATO summit ever – leaders of the 26 NATO countries are in the Romanian capital Bucharest at the moment for key talks on everything from Macedonia’s membership to the war in Afghanistan. But for the Czech delegation the most important issue on the table is the U.S. plan to build a radar base about 75km southwest of Prague. The NATO summit, it seems, has produced a breakthrough.
Several weeks ago, the Czech Republic raised eyebrows by celebrating the International Day for Tibet with particular enthusiasm. Politicians hung the Tibetan flag from government offices, and ministers showed open support for the plight of the Tibetan people. The event is usually regarded as little more than an act of symbolism. But this year, following the subsequent unrest in Tibet, this region, for sixty years part of China, has again come under the spotlight.
Just days ago the country’s Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek suggested that Czech recognition of Kosovo was a decision that would have wait. But at the weekend he changed his mind: now he has said he will push for the government to officially recognise the former Serb province ahead of the upcoming NATO summit. The decision won’t be an easy one: coalition members the Christian Democrats have already signalled they are against.
While the Olympics in Beijing are still over four months away, the recent unrest in Tibet has brought the issue of how the world should deal with China – and the games – to the fore. The Czech minister of education and sport is set to boycott the Beijing Olympics, while the prime minister has just issued a statement saying he will let the cabinet decide whether he should attend. With the president staying home for health reasons, will any senior Czech politicians actually go to Beijing? And what would it mean if they don't?
Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek, is flying to Moscow today along with several other key members of his party. On the agenda will be the proposed US missile defence system in central Europe, which both Russia and the Social Democrats oppose. But the Czech government is in favour of the country hosting a US radar base, and has accused the opposition Social Democrats of pursuing a potentially damaging alternative foreign policy.
Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has come out strongly against plans by the US to site a radar base in the Czech Republic – as part of a broader missile defense system in Europe. In an interview for public broadcaster Czech TV on Monday, the former Soviet leader questioned the system was being planned against rogue states like Iran, saying on the contrary it was aimed against Russia and China. His views contrasted those of former Czech president Václav Havel who appeared on the same show. He defended the project – calling it a “first chance”
In January 2009, the Czech Republic will for the first time assume the EU presidency. But the current Czech coalition government may have a problem – its policies have often seemed hostile to European consensus politics. With bilateral negotiations between the government and the US on a proposed radar base as well as a visa waiver programme, many have the impression that the current government, like its Polish counterpart, is hostile to the EU.
Charles Grant is the director of the Centre for European Reform, one of the UK’s leading pro-EU think tanks. When we met in Prague recently, the conversation ranged from next year’s Czech presidency of the European Union to whether the Czechs should adopt the euro. But my first question for Charles Grant was: what impact have the recent enlargements had on the EU?
Politicians from across the Czech political scene have expressed concerns about the lack of democratic principles employed during Russia’s presidential election. While the Czech Foreign Ministry ‘regrets’ that Russian authorities didn’t allow for an open race of all the candidates, the opposition also share the concern for the future of Russian democracy.
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