Monday, 23 October 2017

Foreign policy marginal in election campaign

ČTK |
9 October 2017

Prague, Oct 6 (CTK) - The Czech foreign policy, apart from migration and euro adoption, has not become an important issue in the campaign before the general election, even though the forthcoming elections have no central economic or social theme, Antonin Rasek wrote in daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) on Friday.

Public attention is not usually focused on foreign affairs before Czech elections, but this is a big mistake, he says.

The situation has slightly improved recently as Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek has become the election leader of the Social Democrats (CSSD): other parties sent their leading politicians to a TV discussion on foreign policy to match Zaoralek on Wednesday, Rasek writes.

He notes that the priorities of the country are the memberships of the European Union, NATO and the United Nations.

However, the latest Czech dispute with the EU over the European firearms directive reopened the question of whether the Czechs have enough allies in the EU. The lack of allies was apparent during the negotiations about the refugee quotas, Rasek writes.

This problem is a hot issue: Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (CSSD) would like to get an observer status in the euro zone for the Czech Republic. But will the euro zone members agree with it? Rasek says.

The shape of EU is a result of the clash of national interests in which the politically and economically strongest member countries have the main say, while the small and medium-sized states have no other option than to join forces if they want to promote their interests. There is a big potential in the cooperation in the Visegrad Group and the group's cooperation with the Baltic and Balkan countries and the Benelux, Rasek writes.

He says the Czech foreign policy must reflect the fact that critical stances started prevailing in the world due to the worsening international situation and the persistent tension in the Middle East.

Separatist tendencies leading to a further fragmentation of Europe, such as the current Catalan crisis, contribute to this, he adds.

Under the pressure of problems in domestic affairs, a number of countries are changing their foreign policies, which leads to the weakening of the Czech relations with allies who seemed unquestionable until now, Rasek writes.

Despite the move from a unipolar to a multipolar world, the United States keeps a crucial position in the world, but the U.S. foreign policy seems less predictable and possibly even chaotic with President Donald Trump, he says.

The relations between the USA, Russia and China play the most important role, and they depend on what agreement can Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping reach. However difficult the situation may be, the leaders of the superpowers can benefit from the heritage of the alliance between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill, Rasek writes.

The latest opportunity and criterion for this possible cooperation is the Korean crisis that poses the biggest security threat since the end of World War Two. This crisis will not be solved without joint effort. Success can hardly be achieved if the superpowers will consider one another a security threat and impose sanctions against one another, Rasek says.

The Czech foreign policy should take a clear stance on these superpowers, he adds.

The Czechs hoped to have privileged relations with the USA once again, like in the time of late President Vaclav Havel, thanks to Trump's daughter Ivanka, whose mother is Czech. But the U.S. administration seems to mind the support that Czech President Milos Zeman expresses for Russia and China. This is why the Zeman's visit to the White House was postponed indefinitely, Rasek writes.

There are good reasons and good conditions to have good relations with the USA, however. The Americans need the Czech military aid in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Czech military plans to buy U.S. helicopters, Rasek writes.

The Czech foreign policy is pro-Western, yet this does not imply that the country cannot maintain good relations with the countries in the east, keeping in mind that they have autocratic political systems that violate human rights and freedoms, Rasek writes.

The fact that the Czech outgoing centre-right government, President Zeman and the political opposition mostly fail to reach agreement on foreign affairs, especially on relations to Russia and China but also to the EU and NATO, deepens the rift on the domestic political scene, Rasek writes.

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