Does the Czech Republic like the US
Czech Republic "The Czech Republic, a country in the heart of Europe, belongs in the EU, both geopolitically and mentally" - an interview with Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček
At 38 years of age, Tomáš Petříček is one of the youngest foreign ministers not only in the Czech Republic, but also in Europe. After studying social sciences at Charles University in Prague, he spent a few semesters abroad at the Free University of Brussels and the University of Warwick, England, before finally doing his doctorate in international relations in 2014. In 2005 Tomáš Petříček joined the Czech Social Democratic Party, CSSD, and was then assistant to MEP Libor Rouček, member of the European Department of the Prague City Council and deputy to Minister of Social Affairs Michaela Marksová. He was sworn in as the new Czech Foreign Minister on October 16, 2018. He is considered a staunch European.
Thank you, Your Excellency, for taking the time to do the interview in Diplomatic Magazine. You have been in office as Czech Foreign Minister for around six months after an almost rapid career. What are your most important foreign policy goals, especially in relation to Germany and the European Union?
Our goals are derived from the Czech foreign policy concept. This conception, like that of the Federal Republic, relies on the continuous preservation of the humanistic values that thrive best in the climate of a liberal democracy. The European Union is still preparing the most noble conditions for this. It must therefore be our ambition to maintain the EU as a common breeding ground for our future projections and to arm it for all future stress tests. In addition to the EU, NATO, which represents the defense policy framework, plays an essential role in our foreign policy. No wonder that the Federal Republic of Germany is our ally and key partner in both communities of values and obligations. This is how it should remain. The deeper commitment of our development aid programs in Africa and the tried and tested focus on the human rights agenda can also give our cooperation new impetus.
The Czech Republic and Germany have a special relationship with a view to the common border and the Sudeten question, the historical reasons are known. Do you consider the current relationship to be sufficient or in need of improvement for the special requirements, if so, in which points?
Since 2015 we have been maintaining what is known as the “Strategic Dialogue” with Germany, a variety of specific departmental collaborations that have raised our good bilateral, but also EU-related relationships to a qualitatively higher level. The representatives of civil societies in both countries have known for 20 years what the Strategic Dialogue enables civil servants to do with regard to intergovernmental cooperation, thanks to the existence of the German-Czech Future Fund and the discussion forum. You should consider that the fund has already been able to support more than 10,000 joint projects thanks to the right understanding of the cooperation on both sides! At this level it was also possible to involve the Sudeten Germans as an active and constructive component of our partnership-based relationships. And that's good! Speaking of which, if you look at German-Czech relations, it will not seem too daring when I say that the Aachen Treaty between Paris and Berlin follows the same logic that we use in German-Czech relations - with the strategic Dialogue and with the German-Czech Future Fund - already live. In this context, it is not surprising that my first trip abroad to Berlin led to my colleague Heiko Maas.
Is the Sudeten question being discussed in the media and in the public in the Czech Republic or is it being suppressed?
Before the fall of the Wall, these topics were actually taboo. In the area of coming to terms with the past, our society has done a great deal of work over the past three decades. This was made possible thanks to the foresight of Czech-German politics, because it was agreed in 1997 that political relations would no longer be burdened with the controversial issues. Germans, Sudeten Germans and Czechs have already proven several times that they can handle their historical heritage very well and carefully. Therefore we are less likely to be made taboo than by our younger generation losing their interest in history.
After the so-called Velvet Revolution in 1989, it took 22 years before a Bavarian Prime Minister, namely Horst Seehofer, made a state visit to the Czech Republic. In 2014 the representative office of the Free State of Bavaria was opened in Prague. Is it possible today to speak of normal political relationships between the immediate neighbors of the Czech Republic and Bavaria, or what could be improved?
In fact, relationships have not only developed into political normality in recent years, but even beyond this into neighborly coexistence. The language barrier is often the only real hurdle. Of course there is still a lot that can be improved - in addition to my language skills, which can still be improved, I also think of the necessary express train connection between Prague and Munich. The economic ties between the Czech Republic and Germany are enormous, with the Free State in first place by a large margin. Together we would like to benefit even more from our geographical proximity and economic compatibility by working together more closely in the fields of research, science and innovation.
Compared to 1990, the gross domestic product of the Czech Republic increased from 40.48 billion US dollars to 215.7 billion in 2017, and the gross domestic product per capita increased fivefold in the same period from 3,917 to 20,368 US dollars. What are the reasons for this success story and how can it be continued?
The spectacular success was due to the favorable framework conditions. The initial asymmetrical opening of the European markets for our goods, the gradual alignment of the law with Western standards, the massive influx of foreign direct investment, privatization and finally full integration into the domestic market were decisive factors for our strongly export-oriented country. We are also proud of our mechanical engineering tradition, the skill and ingenuity of our people. But the world is in flux and one has to prepare for the future. It is precisely for this reason that a complex innovation strategy is being implemented for the next ten years - cooperation with Germany and Bavaria will play an important role in this.
The Czech Republic has been a member of the European Union since 2004. How do you rate these 15 years of membership in terms of their impact on politics, economy and culture in the Czech Republic?
The Czechs may not be among the enthusiastic citizens of the EU, that cannot be denied. On the other hand, people in the Czech Republic do not believe in alternatives to EU membership. The Czech Republic, a country in the heart of Europe, belongs in the EU, both geopolitically and mentally. Maybe we should talk about it louder. The benefits of membership can be felt in practically all areas of life. The functioning of the legal system, public administration, the judicial system, decentralization and the development of self-government have all been accelerated by EU integration. We have benefited enormously from free trade and our citizens enjoy the free movement of people. The EU funds have used our environment and infrastructure. Real convergence has advanced and soon we will be among the net contributors. As a foreign politician in a country that all too often in the past has been the object of great power games, I have to emphasize one aspect of our membership in particular: we sit at the table with our partners when it comes to our European future.
Do you sometimes find the regulations and requirements of the European Commission too strict, even too arrogant? Could this be one of the reasons for emerging nationalisms? Do you see a need for change?
The hopes of 1989 were a return to Europe and the chance for a free path to prosperity. In the area of EU integration, the path to the internal market has been linked to a demanding and often expensive process of approximation of laws. In addition, the Czech authorities have often interpreted the EU directives much more strictly - this is called "gold plating". You are more papal than the Pope, and in the end this strictness of specifications is attributed to the EU. Not only the EU, but also the Member States have failed to talk to their own citizens about the benefits of EU harmonization for the smooth functioning of the internal market. No wonder that citizens equate the EU with a bureaucrat's nest. Brussels and the Member States must do more to convey Europe as a community in the true sense of the word and to contribute to its cohesion. Then together we take the wind out of the sails of the nationalists. No sane politician can truly claim that today's global challenges can be tackled single-handedly. The EU must change by paying more attention to the fact that as many parts of society as possible benefit from globalization and integration.
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