Normative aspect: B
Final mark: B
The Czech Republic and Germany enjoy constructive cooperation at many levels, and this intensified in 2016. Czech-German strategic dialogue also had a positive impact on this trend. The extension of funding for the Czech-German Fund for the Future and the Czech-German Discussion Forum was good news because, as a result, cooperation between the civil societies in both countries will continue. Further progress was hindered by the lack of a long-term shared vision in Czech European policy. Good mutual relations were not helped by attacks on Germany and the Federal Chancellor, emanating primarily from the Czech President, the Minister of the Interior, Minister of Finance, and the Speaker of the Senate. No satisfactory solution was found to the issue of modernising Czech-German rail links.
Czech-German relations began to calm down after the tempestuous second half of 2015. This was mainly due to the impact of external factors: the alleviation of the migration crisis, political changes in Poland, a change in the Czech Republic’s status to the least problematic member of the Visegrad Group, and the prospect of Brexit and the related need to consider a new form of the EU. Mutual relations also benefited from the fact that both governments and, in particular, their Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers were clearly interested in deepening bilateral cooperation.
This was the second year of the Czech-German Strategic Dialogue, which is a solid platform for the development of discussions and cooperation, especially at ministerial level. The working group on migration and integration also met three times within the framework of this dialogue, which can be viewed in a positive light considering the importance of this issue for bilateral relations. It became apparent from these meetings that there was a mutual interest in working together in order to find solutions to the causes of migration in the countries of origin, to deal with the consequences of migration in transit countries (there are plans for a joint humanitarian project in Jordan), and to protect the external Schengen borders. However, the redistribution of refugees among European countries remains a thorny issue.
In the framework of strategic dialogue and relations with the neighbouring German states of Saxony and Bavaria, both parties continued to place emphasis on the development of cooperation in science, digitalisation, and Industry 4.0. This topic was also an important item on the agenda during Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Prague in August. Czech-German police cooperation continues to be well above standard. A new agreement in this area entered into force last year. Conversely, the update of the German Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan was bad news. Despite the efforts of the Czech Republic and neighbouring German states, key projects for a high-speed line between Prague and Dresden and the modernisation of the rail link between Prague and Munich, including a connection to Nuremberg, were only given “potential need” status. This means that the potential costs and benefits of these projects will continue to be explored, but the start of construction is not currently on the agenda. The opening of the final stretch of the motorway (A17/D8) between Prague and Dresden is small consolation.
Mutual relations were also boosted by the fact that onerous themes of the past virtually vanished from present-day politics and were mentioned almost exclusively in connection with accommodating gestures by one side or the other. In particular, the conciliatory tone adopted by Minister of Culture Daniel Herman in his speech at the Sudeten German congress last year was well-accepted.
Conversely, the Presidents of the two countries did not cement their relationship and progress appears unlikely, given Miloš Zeman’s anti-refugee stance. The President’s outbursts have adversely affected the mood of the Czech public and tarnished the Czech Republic’s image in the eyes of German society. Nevertheless, the absence of a strong presidential line in Czech-German relations is not fatal. In contrast, cooperation between the heads of government worked well and was sealed by the Chancellor’s visit to Prague. However, parliamentary communication between the two countries remains weak.