The Czech Foreign Minister’s Anti-European Turn

Zaorálek has shown that he is more a CSSD leader of the Moravia-Silesia region than a foreign minister.

Wikimedia Commons, Author: Klara ovc

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In a recent interview with Czech daily Hospodářské noviny, Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek went against EU institutions – virtually every one of his answers was a complaint. Moreover, he suggested that free movement of the labour force should be regulated (read: limited).

Yet he was conciliatory on one issue: he said very clearly that he is not interested in conflict with Miloš Zeman and will not criticise him. After this interview 1, it is also clear that he has no reason to do so.

“The Czech Republic’s opinion on important issues has not been heard at all. And when we have occasionally had the chance to say something, it did not make much sense. Today we are considered dunderheads who do not really know what they want,” the Foreign Minister stated in a commentary entitled “Let’s Wake Up our Foreign Policy” when he assumed his post in 2014. 2

Yet under Zaorálek, Czech foreign policy has reached precisely this point. The Social Democrats swore that with their arrival, after years of ODS rule, Czech foreign policy would see a big pro-European turn. However, this did not happen.

It is not just the usual statements by Miloš Zeman and Andrej Babiš, but also those by Foreign Minister Zaorálek and Prime Minister Sobotka (for example, his comment on a European army) that surprise our partners and make the Czech Republic out to be an unreliable ally whose diplomats never know what the top representatives of state will come up with the next day.

The problem of ČSSD foreign policy

The problem of today’s Czech foreign policy is the Social Democrats (CSSD). Within the party there is competition between the standard social democratic pro-European wing and a questionable national-conservative band of autonomists who enjoy the support of the president. The party’s foreign policy is then led by pragmatists Sobotka and Zaorálek, who simply go along with whoever happens to gain the upper hand.

In his recent interview, the Foreign Minister said that his role is not to sit in Černín Palace and be afraid. But judging from his giant wheel of ever-changing opinions, that seems to be exactly what he’s doing. After flirting with the liberal pro-European wing of social democracy, the Foreign Minister understood that he was significantly falling behind Miloš Zeman and Andrej Babiš, who were in fact setting the foreign policy agenda.

Thus, he decided to play their game. He showed that he was worried about the rising fears in the country regarding migration and the EU, and instead of guiding the people through these difficult times – something a foreign minister should do – he started to sulk and scream right along with them. Zaorálek has shown that he is more a CSSD leader of the Moravia-Silesia region than a foreign minister.

“I did not mean it

Immediately after the publication of the interview and an article referencing it, Zaorálek issued a loud response emphasising that free movement is a major success of the EU. His next commentary was titled with those words, in fact. 3

He says he wants EU member states to be able to set clarifying conditions of employment for people from other member states. Yet in his next sentence, he rejects current French initiatives in this area. He adds that clinging to principles will harm the EU.

After a few-day media whirlwind, we have finally learned that the Czech Republic is not changing its position. We did not hear it from the Foreign Minister, but from the Prime Minister. At the same time, we see that the principles of foreign and European policy to which we have stuck up until now – maintaining and strengthening free movement of people, and trying to persuade our western partners that these principles are worth maintaining – are becoming shakier. Officially everything is all right. But no one can really guess what the key foreign policy-makers think, or what will they come up with tomorrow.

Notes:

  1. Ondřej Houska, Radek Bartoníček, “Zaorálek: volný pohyb osob za prací v EU musíme mít pod kontrolou,” Hospodářské noviny, March 20, 2017, http://bit.ly/2mH5wXT (accessed March 20, 2017).
  2. Lubomír Zaorálek, Petr Drulák, “Probuďme naši zahraniční politiku,” Právo, January 10, 2014, http://bit.ly/2mYrKVo (accessed March 20, 2017).
  3. Lubomír Zaorálek, “Volný pohyb osob je úspěchem Evropy,” Hospodářské noviny, March 21, 2017, http://bit.ly/2nNkHAg (accessed March 20, 2017).
Vít Dostál

Vít Dostál

is a director of Research Center of AMO (amo.cz) and a co-editor of annual report Agenda for Czech Foreign Policy.