Thursday, 17 January 2019

MfD: ForMin' political course differs from his predecessor

ČTK |
31 December 2015

Prague, Dec 30 (CTK) - The course of Czech diplomacy, headed by Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek since early 2014, differs from that of his predecessor by focusing on countries such as China and Iran, daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) wrote on Wednesday, referring to Zaoralek´s foreign trips in 2015.

The paper compares the trips Zaoralek (Social Democrats, CSSD) made in his second year in office with the trips Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) made in the second year of his term in 2012.

The number of ministerial visits to the Middle East dropped under Zaoralek, while relations with China, Iran have intensified, and more attention has also been paid to Austria, the Czech Republic´s neighbour, MfD writes.

During the first year in office, every foreign minister has to fulfil the pledges the previous government left behind. As a result, their foreign destinations includes the countries where the visit was promised by their predecessor, the daily writes.

In the second year in office, however, the minister´s list of foreign trips reflects their own foreign political course, the paper says.

In their second year in office, both Zaoralek and Schwarzenberg visited European Union countries most often, mainly Brussels and Luxembourg as the seats of EU institutions.

Visits to the EU made up 36 percent of Zaoralek´s foreign trips in 2015 and 26 percent of Schwarzenberg´s in 2012.

The recent increase reflects the present centre-left government´s effort to improve the Czech position in the EU and harmony between the foreign policy of Prague and Brussels.

Zaoralek´s ministry has supported steps taken within the EU foreign policy, such as the labelling of goods from Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and mainly the anti-Russian sanctions, MfD writes.

"This is a courageous position of the minister [Zaoralek], who opposed critics in his own party," the paper quotes Petr Kratochvil, director of the Institute of International Relations, as saying.

Most recently, however, Prague´s efforts to improve its position in the EU have been thwarted by the migrant crisis and the EC-proposed refugee relocation quotas, MfD writes.

Hand in hand with this [Czech opposition to the quotas and criticism of the EU´s approach to migrants], relations between the Czech Republic and Germany have deteriorated, the daily says.

Although Schwarzenberg spent a large part of his life in Austrian exile, he tended to neglect Czech-Austrian relations as foreign minister. It is his successor, Zaoralek, who seeks their revival, the paper writes.

"Together with Slovakia and Austria, we have extended cooperation projects in our region also to include Slavkov (Austerlitz) cooperation," Zaoralek said about a meeting of the three countries´ prime ministers in January 2015.

The goal of the trilateral cooperation project is to develop relations with Vienna that have been long impaired by discords over the Czech Temelin nuclear power plant and by the fact that Austria is not a member of NATO, MfD writes.

Zaoralek himself presents his visit to Tehran as one of his most important foreign trips this year.

"If the [anti-Iran] sanctions are lifted, bilateral trade relations may start developing markedly," Zaoralek said, referring to the mid-2015 agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme that made Iran a destination sought by Western diplomats.

Zaoralek visited Iran in early September, his French counterpart Laurent Fabius even as early as in July.

In general, nevertheless, Zaoralek visited the Middle East less frequently than Schwarzenberg, the paper continues.

Zaoralek did not visit other Middle East countries than Israel, Palestine and Iran this year, while Schwarzenberg paid two visits to Israel and one to Palestine, Egypt, Bahrain and Qatar each in 2012.

The most striking change under Zaoralek is Prague´s effort to enhance its relations with China. The Czech government and Jaroslav Tvrdik, representative of the Czech-Chinese chamber of commerce and former CSSD minister, are trying to use the new approach to China to boost bilateral economic relations as well, MfD writes.

China and Iran are a thorn in the flesh of human rights fighters, who criticise Zaoralek repeatedly, the paper says.

However, the comparison of Zaoralek and Schwarzenberg´s foreign trips in 2015 and 2012, respectively, shows that it was Schwarzenberg who more often visited regimes that violated human rights, such as Egypt and Burma. He visited Bahrain less than a year after a bloody suppression of the local demonstrations in support of democracy, MfD writes.

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