The Czech Republic had been waiting for ninety-five long days until the new coalition government was named based on the result of the precocious October election. Contrarily, the new cabinet led by Bohuslav Sobotka did not hesitate for long and twelve days after the government’s naming the new programme document has been released. On February 18 it underwent trust-voting in the Chamber of Deputies.
It can be said that the new government is ideologically joining the European post-crisis tendency in retreating from budget cuts and the transition towards socially oriented market economy. Sobotka’s government’ Programme Statement is many times more elaborate than the coalition agreement between ČSSD, ANO and KDU-ČSL. The document makes obvious that the cabinet is not afraid to set clear and daring political targets on the European level (the goal is to aim into the European integration core). However, it does not forget about the “Achilles heel” of the Czech Republic – the draw of European funds (which is an interstate matter).
The following analysis we focus on individual aspects of the Programme Statement taking into account the surpass into the sphere of security, foreign policy and the hinted priorities of the Czech Republic’s functioning within the EU.
- Undoubtedly, the vaguely formulated commitment “The government will be trying to create conditions suitable for accepting Euro” is the most controversial thesis of the entire document.
- The postscript that says the government “is ready to seal the commitment of the Czech Republic to join the Eurozone” was originally crossed out from the document (allegedly after a discussion with the Minister of Finance).
- Creation of conditions suitable for accepting Euro practically means fulfilling of Maastricht criteria – that essentially depends on the Minister of Finance. He has been repeatedly sceptical about accepting Euro and potential commencement of the necessary debate within the entire society about accepting Euro seems to be the most controversial issue of the European policy of the coalition.
- The coalition does realise the necessity of fulfilling the Maastricht fiscal criteria (it mentions itself that it is essential to keep the public finance deficit under 3 % of the GDP); nevertheless, it does not mention (neither in the programme statement, nor in the coalition agreement) that in the upcoming years it would like to work on such travel map preparation that would result in a preliminary schedule for joining the EMU. The acceptance of Euro is not the ultimate priority for Sobotka’s cabinet as a whole: at least, judging from the available document, it is not possible to be claimed so.
- If there is no unequivocal consensus among the coalition parties (mainly ČSSD and ANO), it would be logical if the government opened a debate about the pros and cons connected to the accepting of Euro.
- The government explicitly promises to ensure the Czech Republic airspace security by its own means, which is possible to interpret as the coalition parties’ full political support of further rental of the Swedish Gripens. The decision concerning this issue is scheduled by the Minister of Defence Martin Stropnický to be made during the spring.
- In contrast to the post-revolution focus of the Czech foreign policy, the strategic government document shows quite obvious absence of emphasis on the transatlantic security level. The coalition transfers the centre of the Czech security interest to the states and institutions of the European Union which it considers the main guarantees of security”.
- Let us fill in this change of course with the words of the current Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2011: “The NATO is no longer what it used to be. We did agree on a strategy in Lisbon but nowadays it does not seem to be working in Libya. We already hear claims that we are now living in ‘post-NATO’ times. That is why it would be worth it to speak also about European security and defence policy.”
- Sobotka’s cabinet does not want to dismiss NATO and plans to actively contribute to the foreign operations of the NATO, the EU and the UN which would be equipped with appropriate mandate and would be in accordance with defined security and defence interests of the Czech Republic, the NATO and the EU. Hence, the message to the world is clear – we will reasonably participate in the missions that will have the mandate of the UN Security Council. The Czech units would most probably not participate in the potential American intervention in Syria that was about to take place last summer. A question that is unanswered by the programme statement is what the government plans to do with the Afghan mission contingent.
- The coalition government explicitly stresses the European dimension of security when it claims to be planning to support adequate joining of the Czech Republic in missions and operation of the Common security and defence policy. The new cabinet also awaits outputs from the December European Council concerning capacities of the Czech defence industry.
- We can expect the new cabinet’s effort to limit the non-European missions (even though it claims to be formally prepared to participate in the UN military missions, they are not very extensive in Czech terms) and to focus on the security cooperation within the Visegrad Four with the goal being common European Union Battle Group in 2016.
- Economic dimension of the EU
- The cabinet will join the fiscal pact(Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) which, for inexplicable reasons, Nečas’s government (together with the UK) refused to join. We can also expect a dynamic discussion about introducing a debt brake to the Czech constitutional order – as this agreement between the governments requires it.
- Sobotka’s government will have an opportunity to voluntarily join the articles of the agreement which, in the case of overstepping the fiscal criteria, enable automatic sanctions against particular member state. Denmark and Romania are the two non-member Eurozone countries which let their budgets to be supervised.
- For the Czech Republic joining the fiscal pact automatically means a possibility to participate in the so-called Euro Summits, where selected aspects of economic policy have been discussed since last year’s difficult process of approving the rules of procedure.
- The Czech government declares its preparations for accession to the nascent Banking Union. It has already approved the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) and the summary of measures for toughening the requirements for the capital adequacy of banks.
- Within the effort educed on not kicking ankles we can expect bigger affability towards the European Commission: for example in the issue of the European Semester and annual Country Specific Recommendations (CSR). The government determined the National Reform Programme which is the essential of the CSRs as the key strategic document of the national economic policy. Therefore, we can expect stronger willingness of the government offices while taking the annual Commissions prompts into account; in the past years Nečas’s cabinet had a quite mild attitude towards them.
- Economic aspect of the transatlantic partnership of the coalition does not fade away, the free trade zone in preparation between the EU and the USA is considered a priority.
- Social dimension of the EU
- As opposed to the parties of Nečas’s coalition (ODS and TOP 09), ČSSD and KDU-ČSL are characteristic for their perception of other aspects of the European integration (than the long-term consensual priority of the inner market). The coalition suggests to support strengthening of the European integration and cooperation especially in (…) social solidarity and employment rate areas. Apart from the interest in flexibility of the job market and mutual recognition of qualification these theses can be interpreted as authentic interest in the social dimension of the EU; more specifically the continuation of the Youth Guarantee from the union budget and the selected priorities within the European social fund.
- Foreign policy and enlargement of the EU
- Eastern partnership and enlargement of the EU onto the West Balkan countries is a long-term Czech topic. Sobotka’s cabinet has been following stable course of Czech priorities in this field and we can only wait and see with what the Minister of Foreign Affairs will come up concerning the complicated situation in Ukraine because Ukraine is the country around which the Eastern partnership is practically built.
- KDU-ČSL represents adverse standpoint in the question of possible accession of Turkey into the EU which is clearly not a matter of several next years. However, in the document a note on this topic is missing.
- Governmental document does not mention Israel that was perceived by the previous governments as an important ally and the relationship with Jerusalem had long been one of the few recognition points of the Czech foreign policy.
- Apart from the development of neighbourhood relations the cabinet plans a strategic dialogue with Germany. Considering the fact that the key economic partner of the Czech Republic is governed by a large coalition of Christian and social democrats (CDU-CSU) and these two political parties are analogically represented in the Straka Academy (KDU-ČSL and ČSSD), bilateral cooperation can be expected even on informal level. Czech Christian and social democrats have been nurturing the relations with their German counterparts on a long-term scale.
- Economic diplomacy
- According to the Programme Statement the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce should compile a concept of economic diplomacy: probably based on the agreement made by Rusnok’s government. In contrast to Nečas’s government, in Sobotka’s team the bosses of these two resorts are members of the same political party, therefore, the cooperation Zaorálek – Mládek should not be of the same character of political dispute as Swarzenberg – Kuba.
- The Czechs in the European institutions and the foreign service
- In contrast to the states of similar size the Czech Republic repeatedly fails in appointing its people to the higher positions of the European institutions; at home national EU officials are often perceived with disrespect. The government will be seeking for mechanisms to get its people to the European institutions and via them, on the informal level as well, to advance its interests and gain information. Despite the fact that the governments are formally forbidden from influencing its European officials, some governments regularly send non-committal lists of government positions to “their” officials.
- The question is: how effectively will the process of advancing Czech officials to the European institutions be set? For instance, Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs authorised his assistant to this agenda and that can be interpreted as a high political priority. There would have to be operative distribution of competence between the Office of the Government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- The Coalition plans to prepare a law concerning Foreign Service which should limit nominations to diplomatic functions made for friendship, clientelist and political reasons. We can presume that the new coalition does not wish to repeat the nomination of Livia Klausová as Czech Ambassadress to Slovakia.
- Coordination of European affairs and conception
- Even though the government does not have its Minister for European Affairs the State Secretary for European Affairs within the Office of the Government will de facto perform the role of a Junior Minister – the Cabinet makes him responsible mainly for inter-resort coordination. Hence, Tomáš Prouza is the Czech “Mister Europe”.
- Apart from one State Secretary, the new cabinet will be tested on two other less obvious levels – the capability of the new European Affairs deputies and the level of the new ministers’ attention paid to the meetings in various formations of the Council of the EU.
- The office of the Government together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will prepare a concept of Czech actions in the EU which shows that the Nečas’s one composed three years after his coming to the Straka Academy really does not belong anywhere else but in a drawer. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister wear the same political party kit which should make the State Secretary’s coordinative work much easier.
- Sobotka’s cabinet promises to lead intense dialogue about the European affairs with both expert public and the Czech citizens. However, Nečas’s cabinet was also promising to explain its steps to the citizens for three years. The new cabinet has a chance to really change the discourse and the way the EU is perceived in the Czech Republic.
- The coalition plans to update the current Conception of Foreign policy of the Czech Republic. If we consider the critical prompts of the current Minister of Foreign Affairs formulated in 2011 we know that (among others) these should not be missing in the new conception:
o A key to how to look for an interstate consensus and for which topics of the Czech Foreign policy
o Characteristics and analytical description of the Czech Republic’s surroundings
o Definition of what the Eurozone means to the Czech Republic
o An answer to the question: what the commitment to accept Euro means for the Czech Republic
o System of interconnection between the preparation for discussing new European proposals and the evaluation of potential influence on the Czech Republic.
o Definition of the sphere of priority interest in the field of the Czech Foreign service
o Definition of the relationship with the European External Action Service (EEAS)
- Sobotka’s cabinet plans to make several clearly post-integration steps (signing of the Fiscal Pact, joining the Banking Union); nevertheless, there is no clear consensus between the coalition partners on the matter of Euro.
- The government will want to be as close to Germany as possible. It will prepare new conception of functioning of the Czech Republic within the EU and will try to turn the current Conception of the Czech Foreign policy into a real strategic document with outreach.
- Ukraine, as the key country of the Eastern partnership, will be the topic of the Czech Foreign Policy. In this issue we can expect significant activity of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
- In the area of security, Sobotka’s cabinet will focus on the European (i.e. Visegrad) dimension. Participation in the NATO missions will be allowed only after evaluation of the state interests and under the condition of mandate approval for the given mission.
- The cabinet wants to advance Czech officials into the European institutions and prepare a law concerning Foreign Service. The European affairs will be coordinated by Prime Minister’s State Secretary.