On the 10th October 2017 the Institute for Politics and Society in collaboration with Forum 2000’s Festival of Democracy hosted a debate entitled ‘Quo Vadis – Czech Foreign Policy’. The event focused on the future of Czech Foreign Policy, questioning what agenda the new government should adopt and what measures could be taken to encourage more unity regarding Foreign Policy in the Czech Republic.
The panel was moderated by Jan Macháček, Chairman of the Board for the Institute for Politics and Society and the conversation began with Petr Kolář, Former Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the USA and Russia, who stated that before defining Foreign Policy, national interests must first be identified, explaining that although the Czech Republic is now considered an equal within the European Union and NATO, the country is not as ambitious as it once was due to a lack of direction and goals. Mr Kolář suggested that this may be a result of a lack of communication between the head of state and government, eluding to the European Council speech given by President Zeman on the 10th October 2017 that was strongly condemned by Prime Minister Sobotka. Mr Kolář concluded that following the upcoming election he would like to see a result that returns the Czech Republic to where they once were, dependable and reliable for its partners so that the Czech Republic is considered a fruitful partner within the EU and NATO.
Traditions within Czech politics were defined by Cyril Svoboda, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, CEVRO Institute; including the idea that foreign policy is merely a side effect to the elections. Explaining further Mr Svoboda blamed the lack of public interest in Foreign Policy as the reason why it is not a priority to politicians as it is possible to win an election without defining foreign policies at all. This point was agreed by the panel with Vlaďka Votavová, Director, AMO, adding that many of the mainstream political parties don’t even have a Foreign Policy department and therefore even if policies are produced they commonly lack expertise, suggesting that in order to improve Czech Foreign Policy, the state needs to increase public interest by investing in education and adding these subjects into the syllabus. This is a grass roots approach which would ideally result in wider public interest and potentially a more informed workforce advising policy makers.
Ms Votavová also blamed the lack of visible leadership in government, including but not limited to Prime Minister Sobotka. Stating that if the political elite were more vocal regarding Foreign Policy issues then change would be more substantial, adding that the reason for the downgrade in Foreign Policy is a result of the actions of President Zeman. Comparing to the previous presidential term in which the country thrived from strong and trustworthy leadership to the present day, Ms Votavová, highlighted that the President has a key role in implementing Foreign Policy which is disregarded.
Christian Kvorning Lassen, EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, focused particularly on a lack of values underpinning politics and society as the reason for a problem in the Foreign Policy debate emphasizing areas including the migration crisis, international development and the environment as key issues. Explaining that topics like these can affect the domestic sphere, Mr Kvorning Lassen warned of the increasingly blurred lines between the foreign and domestic policy spheres which could result in the Czech Republic not realising its potential as a core part of Western Europe.
Regarding NATO and EU membership, Daniel Anýž, Columnist, Hospodářské noviny, explained that although some may disagree with these organisations, the Czech Republic’s membership includes them as a part of Western Society and this is important for future growth. Concluding with the opinion that there is likely to be no change in the state of Foreign Policy following the upcoming election. Quoting a statement on Foreign Policy regarding the USA that “Foreign Policy shows a countries national identity and reflects their vision of themselves”, Mr Anýž asked what has happened to Czech Society?
The subsequent discussion across the panel and with the audience addressed a wide range of issues including the Czech Republic’s role within the European Union, opinions on Two Speed Europe and membership of V4, the concept of a Chexit, and the relationship between the Czech Republic, the USA and Russia. Emphasis was put on the need to remain within the European Union in order to remain a key member of discussions and the need for stronger European alliances following Brexit.