Debate still going on on the two prominent topics: Kosovo and Turkey

Institute of International Relations

From a general perspective, the Czech Republic has been a consistent supporter of further enlargement. Although some Czech political forces oppose Turkey’s accession, there is not a shade of doubt about the need to embrace the countries of the Western Balkans as new members. In recent months, two topics gained prominence in the public discourse on South-Eastern Europe: The first was, unsurprisingly, the future status of Kosovo; the second was the Turkish membership.
In regard to Serbia and Kosovo, the Czech Republic found itself in a very delicate position: On the one hand, the current government is inclined to follow the American lead in acknowledging Kosovo’s independence, as soon as Kosovar leaders decide to declare the independence. On the other hand, a great number of factors have the opposite effect: First, the Czechs have traditionally had strong ties to the nations of Yugoslavia, and although the Czechs’ number one favourite nation in the region is Croatia, Serbia also evokes positive connotations among the public. Secondly, although constitutionally rather weak, President Klaus, who belongs to the most emphatic supporters of Serbia, also plays an important role in shaping Czech foreign policy. Finally, the Czech position is smoothed down in order to become more compatible with that of Slovakia, which stands out as one of the strongest critics of the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence. Interestingly, although the Czech Republic has not experienced any separatist tendencies, it remains quite vigilant in this respect. A striking example of connecting the Serbian experience with the Czech one is the allusion to the separation of Kosovo as a kind of Munich Agreement, which is, for Czechs, one of the greatest traumas of the twentieth century.[1]
This dilemma is particularly palpable at the meetings of the Visegrad Countries, where the Czech Republic usually tries to placate its partners while maintaining enough room for manoeuvre. This is demonstrated nicely by the following toothless statement by Prime Minister Topolánek: “We do not have identical views, but on the positive side, we know each other's opinions, which will be presented at the Council meeting… We insist that the independence of Kosovo must be a managed process and Serbia must not be excluded therefrom.”[2] The resulting tendency in Czech diplomacy is to support Kosovo’s independence while strongly urging the EU to find a common position. A unilateral declaration of independence is, therefore, seen as a nightmare that would not only fetch a heavy blow to the EU’s unity but would also shatter the fragile cooperation of the Visegrad Four, not to mention the consequences for Czech domestic politics. The result is that the Czech diplomacy has repeatedly declared its readiness to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence but only most EU countries have done so, hence making the step less visible.
The debate about Turkey, though much less heated than in many other EU countries, has been slowly rising to prominence in the Czech Republic as well. According to impugners of Turkey’s EU entry, a weird coalition has been formed in Czech politics to support Turkey – its members ranging from naïve Eurooptimists on the political left to Eurosceptics on the right.[3] Even though this statement may be somewhat exaggerated, it is right in pointing out a rare quality in the Czech discourse on the EU, namely that of agreement between the President, the Government and much of the political spectrum. More or less positive remarks on the Turkish chances for entry were uttered by the Prime Minister, the President, and the shadow Foreign Minister alike. The discussion was, however, fuelled more by external influences, such as the visit of Prime Minister Erdogan to the Czech Republic (more declarations of support from the Czech side)[4] or the visit of Prime Minister Topolánek to France (disagreement with President Sarkozy).[5]
The outcome of the debate on Turkey is a gradual shift in attitudes of political elites to a more welcoming stance to Turkish membership. Nevertheless, this movement is not seconded by the public, the majority of which remains rather wary. This can have three repercussions: The first, and least probable, is the rise of a xenophobic party which would respond to people’s fears by invoking nationalism and xenophobia. The second may be a gradual change of the public opinion in favour of Turkey. However, the government is currently doing nothing to assuage the public's worries about Turkish EU entry. Therefore, the third possible result is more probable – a change in the stance of political elites and a reversion to a “no” to Turkish full-fledged membership.

[1] Přirovnáváno k Mnichovu (Compared to Munich), Právo, 17 October 2007.

[2] Země V4 nejsou jednotné v otázce nezávislosti Kosova (V4 Countries not united in the question of Kosovo independence), Právo, 10 December 2007.

[3] Turecko může ohrozit Unii, těší se český prezident ? (Does the Czech President hope that Turkey can imperil the Union ?), Právo, 29 November 2007.

[4] See, e.g. Topolánek: Turecko do Evropské unie patří (Topolánek: Turkey belongs in the European Union), Hospodářské noviny, 16 November 2007.

[5] Sarkozy zopakoval Topolánkovi výhrady k radaru a Turecku v EU (Sarkozy repeated to Topolánek his reservations in regard to the radar and Turkey in EU), Právo, 9 October 2007.