The country’s first presidency increases the attention paid to EU affairs

Czech Republic
Institute of International Relations
 
The Czech Presidency, which began on 1 January 2009, has increased mass media interest in EU affairs in general. Both the gas crisis and the Gaza conflict received extended coverage in the Czech Republic. The gas crisis further stressed the topic of energy security, which already before this event was a priority of the Czech government. One of the main priorities of the Czech Presidency is energy, including finding solutions to both climate change and energy supply vulnerability.[1] From a Czech perspective, however, the dependence on Russian energy sources has always been more of a priority than the discussions on climate change.[2] Yet, despite the awareness of the importance of the topic, the governing coalition is split on how to provide energy to the country in the future, due to a split on the future of nuclear energy.
 

Refocusing back on Western Balkan

Czech Republic
Institute of International Relations
 
For a majority of Czech politicians, the military conflict in Georgia provided a rationale for further deepening of the ENP and NATO enlargement. Especially the ruling Civic Democrats saw Russia as a clear culprit of the conflict. The Civic Democrats stated that they “with concern observe the true aims of Russia’s aggression, which were the violation of the territorial integrity of Georgia, the definite secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and a substitution of Saakashvili’s West oriented government with a pro-Russian regime”.[1] In the wake of the conflict, the Civic Democrats called upon an acceleration of talks about Georgia’s NATO membership.
 
Even though the opposition Social Democrats were more modest in their assessment of the conflict, they still treated Russia’s actions as problematic. Key Social Democrats even echoed the governmental position and expressed their support for Georgia’s NATO membership.[2] President Klaus put the blame for the conflict on Georgia and her president. But he did not give his opinion on a possible Georgian NATO membership.
 

Muted approval for France in the running up to the Czech Presidency

Czech Republic
Institute of International Relations
 
The French Presidency and its evaluation drew a lot of attention from the Czech media, the political scene and even the public sphere. The reasons were manifold. First, the institution of the presidency itself draws attention on its own thanks to the real and symbolic importance of the post. Secondly, the French administration stirred the still waters of European politics, and the waves have also reached the Czech Republic.
 

State interventions are believed to be harmful

Czech Republic
Institute of International Relations
 
The Czech banking sector has so far remained rather immune to the turbulence caused by the financial crisis, thanks to a more conservative approach to loans by Czech banks, which in turn is a consequence of the Czech banking crisis in the 1990s. Therefore, the Czech Republic was not seriously hit by the first wave of the financial crisis. The aftermath of the financial crisis, however, has also affected the Czech economy, with a slight increase of unemployment being the first evidence.
 
The Czech Presidency has chosen the slogan ”Europe without Barriers”, and this is also the Czech recipe for how to deal with the financial crisis. The Czech government warns against protectionism and other potential interventions into the free market which could arise as a reaction to the current crisis. Furthermore, the government emphasises that the EU countries should not loosen their fiscal discipline as a consequence of crisis packages meant to stimulate the economy. Increased budget deficits can, according to the government, have serious consequences for the European competitiveness. Therefore, among others, the EU finance ministers should stick to the goal of reaching consolidated public finances by 2012.[1]
 

Focusing on Obama’s visit

Czech Republic
Institute of International Relations
 
The current centre-right government is more ‘Atlanticist’ in its outlook than the previous one. The biggest party in the coalition, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), presents itself as a strong supporter of transatlantic ties. Smaller coalition partners – the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and the Greens (SZ) – are either affirmative (KDU-ČSL) or too weak to change the Atlanticist shift (SZ). The current government still respects the general trend and the continuity of Czech foreign policy as based on ‘two pillars’ – membership in the EU and an alliance with the USA.[1] On the other side, there were moments when the Atlanticist leaning of the government became evident. The prime example is the support of the US radar base in the Czech Republic. Also, the Czech government is quite sceptical regarding the ability of the EU to provide ‘hard’ security to its member states (through the European Security Defence Policy (ESDP)). Thus, the EU membership is perceived rather as an ‘economic pillar’, and the strategic bond with the USA (either bilateral or multilateral within the NATO) is seen as vital for the hard security of the Czech Republic.
 

The parliament will finally decide on the Lisbon Treaty

Institute of International Relations

Czech Republic

If we look at the political discourse in the country, the long term consequences of the problems of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty are discussed only to a limited degree. Since the Czech Republic has not yet ratified the treaty, the debate is still primarily about whether to ratify it or not. It is foremost the critics of the treaty that actively stress that the treaty would radically change the EU. The advocates, on the other hand, tend to emphasise that the treaty will improve the functioning of the EU without providing any radical changes.[1] In the academic debate, some of the think tanks have engaged in more long term reflections on what could be the consequences of a failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, if, for instance, it could open the door to an EU based on flexible integration.[2]