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Recommendations for 2017

Vít Dostál Vít Dostál / Ed. 24. 5. 2017
Recommendations for 2017

V Agendě pro českou zahraniční politiku 2017 jsme představili soubor šestnácti doporučení české diplomacii pro rok 2017.

1. Political parties must work in more earnest on enhancing internal education and on debate and coordination between their members on foreign-policy matters. Well-developed foreign-policy chapters should be part of pre-election programmes. Objectivity and informedness should be the rule in debates on foreign policy, not only within parties, but also in politicians’ communication with the public. In the forthcoming elections, candidates should particularly avoid taking foreign policy hostage in mutual disputes and steer clear of public scaremongering. Proposals on how to tackle current problems should be realistic, and should not unnecessarily intensify frustration or fan isolationist tendencies.

2. The Czech Republic should review its current stance on the refugee crisis and agree to the resettle several thousand recognised refugees from Greece and Italy, whom the domestic system would be capable of integrating. If Czech political representatives refuse to yield their position, they must at least pledge a specific contribution to handling the causes and consequences of the refugee crisis in the form of funds or institutional capacities, otherwise the Czech position will continue to lack credibility and amount to buck-passing. The government should also accept the European Commission’s proposals to harmonise the Common European Asylum System, encompassing the unification of asylum procedures and protection standards in each Member State, the establishment of a fully-fledged EU asylum agency, the production of a single list of safe countries, etc. The Schengen area and the free movement of persons (from which we undeniably benefit) cannot function where so many differing asylum systems are at work. The Czech Republic should continue to support EU efforts to improve migration management and external border protection, but always with an emphasis on adherence to European and international law. The government should also decide to accept, at the very least, several hundred refugees directly from endangered areas outside the EU.

3. The Czech Republic should champion reform of the European Union as part of the EU’s reflection process, which will make it possible to preserve the unity of the EU27 while enabling further integration progress in the single market, asylum and migration policy, and common security. Conversely, the intensification of multitrack integration, splitting the euro area from the integration core, and the reduction of the European project to nothing more than a single market would all prove perilous for the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic must present its position comprehensively and detach it from the opinions of its Visegrad partners, who frequently portray themselves as representatives of the whole region. The next government’s agenda should include a commitment to join the euro area, and political parties should clearly spell out their policy on this key matter ahead of the elections. In Brexit negotiations, it is in the Czech Republic’s interests to adhere to a uniform EU27 position on the indivisibility of the four freedoms. In view of the fact that the Czech trade balance with the UK has long been very positive, attempts also need to be made to keep the British market freely accessible to Czech exporters. In this respect, it is appropriate to consider how much foreign investment makes its way to the Czech Republic via the United Kingdom, and seek to keep this channel open.

4. Czech political representatives need to realise that Germany is the anchor of European stability in the current situation, which is plagued by protracted problems and political uncertainty in France, Italy, the UK, and the USA. Elections await both the Czech Republic and Germany this year and, against this background, Czech leaders should refrain from hurling belligerent statements at their German counterparts. The Czech Republic should formulate an accommodating agenda both bilaterally and on a pan-European scale. Cooperation could then be deepened in the scope of strategic dialogue, thus lending it long-term purpose. Following the elections, the new governments should put their best foot forward in their fledgling cooperation.

5. The Czech Republic must guard against a gradual emptying of Czech-US relations. There are opportunities, for example, to develop cooperation in science and cybersecurity, the initial glimmers of which emerged in 2016. Other strong areas also need to be sought out. In addition, it will be necessary to develop a sensible approach to cooperation with Donald Trump’s administration. In this respect, the Czech Republic should make efforts to at least make progress in adherence to its NATO commitments, as required by the United States, and keep to the existing level of joint defence activities. The quality of the partnership with the US will also be influenced by the mindset and rhetoric of prominent Czech politicians, who should focus more on how to communicate the US alliance to the public. This is particularly important considering the evident orientation of Czech policy towards China last year.

6. After three years of intense cooperation with China, the Czech Republic should evaluate its participation in Chinese initiatives (especially 16+1 and Belt and Road Initiative) over the course of a year or so. In doing so, it should consider their benefit to the Czech economy and evaluate the political attention paid to the implementation of these projects. This evaluation should be a basis for the formulation of specific objectives in bilateral relations, whether economic (especially as regards entry to the Chinese market, cooperation in science and research, and added-value investments), political, or human rights. Relations with China are sure to be a topic of discussion in the coming elections to the Chamber of Deputies, so the pre-election period is a good opportunity for political parties to spell out their priorities for mutual cooperation. The new government should then come up with a clearly defined foreign-policy strategy towards China. The inability to define and enforce such a strategy could relegate the Czech Republic to the role of the weaker, more easily exploited partner.

7. The priority of Czech activity within the Visegrad Group (V4) should be to promote a constructive agenda benefiting both the V4 itself and the EU. Related topics include the EU’s external policy (the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership), the EU’s security and defence policy, and deepening the internal market. In order for the Czech Republic’s V4 membership to remain meaningful, it is crucial to rid the V4 of its label of non-solidarity, which it earned in connection with the refugee crisis. The Czech Republic should be aware that the V4’s encapsulation in the migration issue is harmful to the Czech Republic’s long-term priorities regarding Central European cooperation. The V4’s poor image could have negative consequences of the debates on the future of the European budget. The Czech Republic must draw the attention of its partners, Poland and Hungary, to the fact that curtailing the rule of law in both countries will have a dire impact on how the whole region is perceived.

8. The Czech Republic must work towards the development of candid strategic relations with Poland, despite their differing views on the future of European integration. The Czech Republic should (behind closed doors for the time being) warn the Poles that developments on their domestic political scene could undermine the stability of Czech-Polish strategic ties. Likewise, the Czech Republic’s differing view on the future of the EU needs to be explained to Warsaw. Here, Czech diplomacy must make sure that this divergence does not affect the bilateral agenda, since Polish cooperation is particularly important in areas of transport and energy infrastructures, and environment. New opportunities for cooperation are also emerging in defence and security areas.

9. The Czech Republic should take a firm stand on Russia’s aggressive policy in Eastern Europe and resolutely insist on an extension of EU sanctions until all the reasons for their imposition have passed. The government should send a clear message that it does not identify with the demagogic rhetoric on Ukraine voiced by President Zeman and other prominent politicians, which has reduced the Czech Republic’s credibility in the eyes of its Euro-Atlantic allies. Most importantly, it is time to break free of the overblown captivation with Russia’s economic potential, as this stance not only ignores the high risks of doing business in Russia, but also goes against the Czech Republic’s security interests and human rights policy.

10. The Czech Republic should be a reliable supporter of Ukraine on the international stage and contribute to local reforms through its transformation and development cooperation tools. Bearing in mind the continuing Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the government should above all extend its resolution to grant exceptional assistance in support of Ukraine’s democratic transition and reconstruction, which expired at the end of 2016. This support should include the engagement of the non-profit sector, which has the wherewithal to respond flexibly to Ukrainian partners’ needs and requirements. In contrast, government-backed economic migration to the Czech Republic should not be a key topic of its policy towards Ukraine. The problem with this approach is that it would further weaken Ukraine which is already in a difficult position, and that it serves as a basis for refusing refugees from the Middle East.

11. The Czech Republic should make a more active and forceful contribution to debates on the future direction of the Eastern Partnership and advocate the preservation of Eastern European themes among areas of EU priority interest. A key event in this respect will be the autumn summit in Brussels, where Czech diplomacy should figure as a champion of further convergency with partner countries in Eastern Europe on the basis of the principle of differentiation, where those partners who are more prepared can intensify their relations with the EU more quickly. This year, the Czech Republic should primarily channel its efforts into completing negotiations on visa liberalisation with Georgia and Ukraine. The economic potential of associated countries – which opened up for the Czech Republic following the entry into force of the trade parts of association agreements – merits more attention. The Czech Republic should also seek to ensure that the possibility of membership of the Eastern Partnership countries in the EU remains the subject of top-level political discussions in the long run.

12. The Czech Republic’s current levels of defence spending prevent it from sufficiently supporting NATO activities and contributing to building Europe’s strategic autonomy. In this respect, the Czech Republic should step up efforts to honour its two-per-cent commitment as quickly as possible. This is the only way it can contribute to the implementation of the conclusions of the NATO Warsaw Summit, which it helped to negotiate. When planning its arms policy, the Czech Republic should concentrate on cooperation with key Alliance and European partners.

13. If the Czech Republic, through its representation in Syria, genuinely wishes to contribute to solving the Syrian conflict as well as to remain a well-respected international player, its diplomatic engagement in Damascus should be more balanced and cautious. Valuable local contacts can help to make progress in individual negotiations with those involved in the conflict or to gain a better understanding of the local situation, provided they are not one-sided. Furthermore, in a situation where the Syrian regime faces sanctions and international criticism for war crimes, Ambassador Filipi should not be articulating her own political opinions in public. Most importantly, uncertain economic gains should not eclipse the Czech Republic’s human rights policy.

14. The Czech Republic should leverage its good relations with Turkey and be more forceful in expressing its disagreement with President Erdoğan’s undemocratic actions and his mounting violations of human rights. An appropriate channel for this might be parliamentary diplomacy, through which Czech MPs and senators can indicate their critical view of the Turkish government. However, the Czech approach to Turkey should primarily reflect the EU’s common position.

15. The Czech Republic must take a clear stand against violations of human rights around the world. Such approach requires systematic activity and coherence among all key political players. The planned state budget for 2018 should reflect the government’s pledge to increase funding for the support of transformation cooperation. Azerbaijan and Armenia should also be included among priority countries for transformation cooperation; these are countries geographically close to the Czech Republic where respect for human rights has deteriorated and – in Armenia – the quality of democracy has been impaired. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should seize the opportunities offered by its presidency of the Council of Europe to explain the benefits of this organisation both to the Czech public and politicians in more detail. Efforts to secure a seat for the Czech Republic at the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2019-2021 should intensify in 2017.

16. In development cooperation (DC), the Czech Republic should move forward with the changes it embarked on last year and utilise the formulation of the new DC concept to come up with a more systemic transformation. It should concentrate on the following challenges: increase the capacity of the Czech Development Agency, reduce the level of tied resources, and build a mechanism that will enable DC targets to be reconciled with other sectors of foreign and domestic policy. This last objective could be boosted, for example, by reinforcing the mandate of the DC Council. In terms of the overall volume of DC, the Czech Republic should progress along its established trajectory, i.e. DC funding should be increased so that the country honours its international commitments to spend 0.33% of GNI on development cooperation by 2030. Humanitarian aid could be made more efficient by cutting the number of supported regions. Those regions that are left could then benefit from more extensive assistance.

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