The third week of the Czech EU presidency and a third review by HN. “Mirek Topolánek deserves our sympathy: He is trying to take care of not one but two crises,” wrote John Wyles, a long-time Brussels correspondent for the Financial Times, and today the partner of the consulting company GPlus Europe.

Now both conflicts – the hot one in Gaza and the frosty one surrounding Gazprom – have come to an end. How did the Czechs do?

Balance out the anti-Israeli stance

One evaluation comes from the Iranian government, supporter of the Palestinian Hamas. On 21 January the Foreign Ministry in Teheran summoned the Czech chargé d’ affaires and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the “passivity and meaningful silence” of the EU about the Israeli war. More specifically, the problem was that the EU – through the mouth of Ambassador Martin Palouš – did not support the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution criticising the Israeli action.

The other side has also noticed this. Already at the beginning of the war, Jerusalem Post noted that while France is criticising the attacks by Hamas as well as the Israeli counter strike, the Czech foreign minister is stressing that Israel has the right to defend itself.

Israel was reserved about the simultaneous mission of Nicolas Sarkozy and EU representatives (including Karel Schwarzenberg). “It was meant mostly for the domestic EU public, so that they would feel that their politicians are on location, looking for solutions,” wrote the Jerusalem Post 6 January, citing Israeli diplomats. The main events took place in Cairo, during a debate on the conditions for a peace agreement, where Schwarzenberg went 17 January.

So was the task of the Czech presidency to balance out western Europe’s anti-Israeli instincts? (And there were many examples. According to Lidové noviny, the Italian union FLAICA-CUB proposed a boycott of Jewish shops in Rome. Not of Israelis but of Italian Jews!) Maybe more than that.

Independent MEP Jana Hybášková, who specialises in the Middle East, doesn’t have many reasons to applaud Topolánek’s cabinet. But on 20 January she wrote in her blog: “Schwarzenberg negotiated the opening of humanitarian corridors in Gaza, the humanitarian ceasefire and the plan to send in monitors in an unusually strong and successful delegation.”

Self-confidence toward the east

When it comes to the “gas war” between Russia and Ukraine, the London Times on 12 January had this praise: “Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Italy helped the eastern European countries that were the hardest hit.”

In his article for EuropeanVoice.com on 15 January, Brussels expert John Wyles said Topolánek’s mission to the east, where he negotiated with fighting Ukrainians and Russians the placement of international monitors along the gas pipeline was a good attempt. “Even the most drastic reaction from Brussels would not be able to deter Russia and Ukraine from interrupting the gas supply.” After all, if it were easy, why didn’t the French or the Germans go on a mission to Moscow?

The Czechs acted with self-confidence and maintained the unity of the EU. They insist that Russia and Ukraine should resolve their dispute among themselves. And that ended up happening this week. The critical MEP Hybášková, who says the Czech EU presidency generally does a poor job of communicating and is trying to address too many topics, summarised the situation thus: “Let us try to emphasise in [western] media what we are doing and what we can accomplish. We already have two successes behind us.”

The Czech school of irony

And finally, diplomatic judo. On Tuesday Chancellor Merkel said on television ARD something that made the Czechs pay attention. She dusted off the idea that Russia should be included in the US missile defence project. “I consider it necessary, and I will focus on it.” A libation to Putin, following his Berlin visit?

After his negotiations with NATO, Minister Schwarzenberg said he would be “overjoyed” if Russia “took part in a meaningful way”. A nice example of the Czech school of irony.