Friday, 20 October 2017

HN: Prague fails to use Merkel' friendly approach to Czechs

ČTK |
20 September 2017

Prague, Sept 19 (CTK) - Prague fails to use German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders' favourable view of Czechs to upgrade bilateral relations and promote Czech interests in Germany, Adam Cerny writes in Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Tuesday.

Merkel has repeatedly addressed several Czech prime ministers familiarly with their first name, but they failed to reciprocate and use the chance to launch informal, more open and thus more effective bilateral relations, Cerny writes, adding that this failure has been typical of the Czech side.

Surprisingly, the only exception in this respect was Czech PM Mirek Topolanek (2006-2009) who reciprocated Merkel's offer of an informal relation and succeeded in working with it to the benefit of Czechs. This might have contributed to Germany's willingness to help Prague during its EU presidency in 2009, Cerny writes.

Germany's accommodating approach still continues. A high state official who witnessed a number of negotiations with Merkel, described her as ready to hear what the Czechs need and help them if possible, Cerny writes.

Naturally, her accommodating stance has limits. She definitely cannot be expected to change her migration policy, for example. Nevertheless, she would try to mediate for Czechs. As if she were waiting for Prague to come up with proposals, Cerny writes, citing the state official.

Now and then, Prague succeeded in this respect, but the government failed to present its success in public appropriately, he continues, giving the upgraded the rail connections with Munich and Dresden and last year's police cooperation deal as examples.

Prague should be interested in having the door open in Germany, which is its far biggest trade partner. A precondition for this, however, is its ability to use the Czechs who have built the necessary and valuable contacts in Germany, Cerny writes.

It was a big mistake two years ago when the Czech Foreign Ministry got rid of Rudolf Jindrak, one of its diplomats with vast experience from Central Europe, who was gradually the ambassador to Hungary, Austria, and later also to Germany for eight years. A series of questions coming from Berlin showed that the Germans could not understand why Prague was getting rid of so useful a contact, Cerny writes.

Unlike Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, the government realised that the country had no one else, except for former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose phone calls would be promptly answered by the German Chancellor's Office, Cerny writes, adding that vice versa, too, the ambassador Jindrak secured prompt connection between Merkel and her Czech counterpart anytime.

An example of Czechs wasting an opportunity is the "strategic dialogue," a two-year-old project of regular joint meetings of the Czech and German cabinets or their key members at least. Instead of giving a political weight to the plan, Prague's shortsighted approach caused it to disperse in the form of working groups' meetings with unimpressive effects, Cerny writes.

Even so rational a politician as Merkel has sensitive points. She has been tied with Prague by deep personal experience, not only her internship as a student at a science institute in Prague more than 30 years ago, Cerny writes.

Politically, she might have been even more impressed by the thawing of communism in Czechoslovakia in the spring 1968 when she witnessed her peer destroying a post stamp with the portrait of Antonin Novotny, whom pro-democracy reformers ousted as president and Communist chief, Cerny writes, adding that such a gesture was unimaginable in Merkel's home East Germany.

The deeper was reportedly young Merkel's disappointment and despair at the Prague Spring reform being crushed by a foreign military invasion on the order of Moscow, Cerny writes.

Such experience can never fade out of one's mind, and it is a pity that the Czechs have been incapable of and often unwilling to use the personal aspect of Merkel's relation to them, he says.

Unfortunately, more and more Czech players have contributed to raise the distance between her and Prague. President Milos Zeman, for example, has chosen Merkel as a target to torpedo and his aides have received the rightist populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) leaders at Prague Castle, he says.

Former Czech president Vaclav Klaus regularly attends meetings of the AfD, which wants the scrapping of the post-war decrees that stripped ethnic Germans of Czechoslovak citizenship and property and led to their transfer from the country, Cerny says.

Zeman and Klaus's approach have probably contributed to the fact that 74 percent of Czechs mistrust Merkel, 10 percent more than the number of those mistrusting Russia's Vladimir Putin, he writes, citing public opinion polls.

Tomas Prouza, former Czech state secretary for EU affairs, said Merkel evidently likes the Czechs.

"She has repeatedly shown that she is aware of how lucky the inhabitants of her native East Germany were to have a partner to unify with,...and enough people who had experience with the functioning of a democratic system and managed to gradually change East Germany," Prouza said, cited by Cerny.

That is also why Merkel has always felt understanding for the transition process taking longer in the Czech Republic than in the eastern part of Germany, he said, adding that "never in the future will any German chancellor be helping the Czechs so much."

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