Sunday, 20 April 2014

Reflex: Zeman's foreign policy may be unpredictable

ČTK |
1 February 2013

Prague, Jan 31 (CTK) - Milos Zeman, the newly elected Czech president, might try to follow up the successes he achieved in foreign policy as former PM, but at the same time he may act as an unpredictable soloist who does not bother to coordinate his views with the cabinet's, Ondrej Slechta writes in weekly Reflex.

This may become palpable soon, because the mandate of the present right-wing government will end in mid-2014 at the latest, and the remaining part of Zeman's five-year presidential mandate will coincide with the government to be probably formed by the present leftist opposition, Slechta writes.

As Zeman (Citizens' Rights Party, SPOZ) presents himself as left-oriented, he will stand closer to foreign political positions of the future governing Social Democratic Party (CSSD), which is pro-European and inclines to supporting Barack Obama, Slechta writes.

A problem will arise when Zeman will start loudly expressing his passions in relation to some issues on which he shares a position with the Czech right, Slechta writes.

These issues are, for example, the Czech participation in foreign military missions organised by the West, a possible attack on Iran and the relation to Islam in general, which Zeman recently underlined by repeatedly labelling the late former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat a terrorist and criminal, Slechta writes.

If the left wins the next general elections, forms the next government and gains the post of foreign minister, it may try to join the EU mainstream by taking a more sober and critical approach to Israel and the Palestinian conflict than the approach the present government of Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) has taken so far, Slechta writes.

Late last year, the Czech government was among the world's few not to support Palestine's application for the U.N. observer status.

Zeman, a clear advocate of Israel, would hardly come to terms with Prague's nodding to Palestine's demand, Slechta writes.

It is also uncertain how Zeman's presidency, which will start on March 8, will affect the Czech foreign policy's significant "export item" - the human rights agenda, Slechta continues.

Zeman has already indicated in a media interview that he would not meet people such as the Tibetan Dalai Lama, whom he views as a religious leader, not a statesman, Slechta recalls.

Zeman's relation with the present Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09), under whom the ministry has placed an emphasis on supporting dissidents and moral authorities abroad, need not be that destructive as the relation Schwarzenberg has had with outgoing President Vaclav Klaus, Slechta writes.

Zeman and Schwarzenberg could strike a compromise, divide the foreign political tasks between themselves, Slechta writes.

Already after the first round of the presidential election earlier this month, from which Zeman and Schwarzenberg emerged victorious, it was clear that the new president, whoever of the two he may be, will probably navigate the Czech Republic in a pro-European direction, Slechta continues.

The era of Czech president's Euroscepticism ends with the departure of Klaus, but still Zeman is closer than Schwarzenberg to Klaus's traditional way of thinking, Slechta writes.

Zeman presents himself as a Eurofederalist, he even calls for a massive transfer of some national powers linked to security and foreign policy to Brussels, but simultaneously he shows sense of pragmatism and the national interest.

He is for the euro, but he is opposed to the EU's fiscal compact, or budget responsibility agreement which Prague rejected a year ago, being, along with Britain, the only EU states to do so, Slechta writes.

As far as Zeman's relation to Russia is concerned, it is inappropriate to label him "an agent of Moscow". Nevertheless, unlike Schwarzenberg, Zeman as Czech presidential candidate was undisputably the Russian lobby's favourite, Slechta writes.

Speculations about Zeman's campaign sponsored by Russian Lukoil giant have not been confirmed, but it is true that in the past Zeman was often a guest to various Russian receptions and he is surrounded by people with strong business interests linked to the Russian federation, Slechta writes.

When the Czech European Values think-tank "grilled" Zeman before the presidential race runoff earlier this month, a political analyst asked him how he would behave if he had been president in August 2008 when the war broke out between Russia and Georgia.

Zeman answered that the conflict was clearly provoked by Georgia and his stand as president would have corresponded to this. By saying it, Zeman repeated what Czech President Klaus said at the time, Slechta writes.

For the problem not to be that simple, it is necessary to state that a similar conclusion, that Georgia started the conflict, was made by the EC's independent commission of investigators, Slechta adds.

Undisputably, Zeman's presidency in relation to countries such as Russia and China will be at least as accommodating as Klaus's has been. Like Klaus, Zeman will take efforts not to ostracise these countries and seek the international scene's bigger respect for their positions, Slechta writes.

Simultaneously, Zeman will show a kind of value pragmatism and a tendency to turn a blind eye to political shortcomings if their criticism by Czechs were to negatively affect bilateral trade, Slechta concludes.

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