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Commentariat: Everyone’s a winner

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PM Mirek Topolánek announced radar talks are all but complete, following his Wednesday meeting with US President George W. Bush.

An agreement could be reached before Bush’s term ends to station the planned US anit-missile radar on Czech soil, according to Topolánek.

The PM’s words triggered few strong reactions from commentators this week. Everyone still seems to be wrapped up in the US visa waiver kerfuffle, now that the European Commission is threatening to sue the Czech Republic for its bilateral visa negotiations with the US.

Pundits remain at odds over whether or not the recently signed memorandum on abolishing visas was a reward for the Czech cabinet’s positive radar stance. They do agree, however, that Topolánek’s Washington visit was a success.

“More value than gold”

Writing in yesterday’s Hospodářské noviny, Petr Kamberský called the meeting a blatant business negotiation, where the radar was being traded for the visa waiver. He argued that both Bush and Topolánek came out of the meeting as winners.

“For Mirek Topolánek, ending the visa requirement has more value than gold,” wrote. “It may have seemed that the price was too great, since [the Czechs’] opposition to the radar is so great, but this impression was deceiving.” According to Kamberský, the key thing is not how many people oppose the radar project but how strongly they oppose it. “Most people reject the radar, but only a couple hundred are taking part in protests,” he noted.

“Bush is a winner too,” Kamberský wrote. “He managed to push through a radar in the heart of Europe, and, through the Czech Republic, gained a lever against Brussels, and it cost him almost nothing – aside from the risk that several hundred Czech will work illegally in the US.”

The only losers, according to Kamberský are the old EU member states. “In their efforts to have it all, the treated new member states with such disdain, that the Czech (and the Poles) eventually lost their patience and, to use a colloquialism, acted behind their backs,” he argued.

Getting too far ahead

Právo’s Martin Hekrdla wrote yesterday that the Czechs will not get just visa-free entry to the US in exchange for hosting the radar: Czech companies could also benefit from having a US military project on Czech soil. “What a score would that be,” he noted with sarcasm.

In yesterday’s Lidové noviny, meanwhile, Petr Pešek said that with the radar there’s now the threat that the Czech Republic would get too far ahead of Poland, which is considering hosting a US anti-missile base. “We can only hope that proceedings on the Czech side will be not only risky, but also well thought out,” he wrote. “Only then can we talk about real success.

But Viliam Buchert, writing for Mladá front Dnes Tuesday, before the meeting took place, noted that no matter what Bush and Topolánek agree on, it will to a large extent be symbolic, since Topolánek has yet to secure sufficient government support for the radar project. At least 101 Czech MPs would need to vote in favour of the radar if the project is to go ahead. So far, Topolánek hasn’t even been able to convince all ruling coalition members: the Greens are dragging their feet, insisting that the radar be incorporated into a broader, NATO-sanctioned defence system. And the opposition Social Democrats for now refuse to support Topolánek’s radar efforts.

“Mirek Topolánek might be saying, almost done,” Buchert wrote. “And when it comes to treaties that’s probably true. But shouldn’t he trying to convince [opposition leader] Jiří Paroubek to support the radar?”

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