Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka began a two-day visit to France on Thursday, his first to Paris since taking office. Meeting with President Francois Hollande, Mr Sobotka weighed in on the continuing crisis in Ukraine, calling on Russia to recall troops on Ukraine’s border. But it was largely to rebuild ties with France – as well as to connect with the French Socialist Party ahead of European elections – that were reasons for the trip.
Ties between Prague and Paris cooled considerably under the previous government, ties not helped, for example, by the exclusion of French company Areva from a now defunct tender on the completion of the Czech Republic’s Temelín nuclear power plant. Even Prime Minister Sobotka made the admission during his visit – while promising brighter days ahead.
“It is true that Areva’s disqualification objectively cooled French-Czech ties but I can say that is a key factor no longer and it will not impede improved relations in the future.”
The difference is a much-publicised U-turn by the centre-left Czech government from the one which preceded it: last year’s parliamentary elections ended a seven year long reign of euro scepticism at the cabinet level, additionally bolstered by the Czech Republic’s famously euro caustic former president, Václav Klaus. It isn’t surprising that the reboot, taking a far more pro-European Union approach, has brought the Czech Republic and France closer again. French President Francois Hollande said this:
“We have had a chance to renew dialogue about our main preoccupations and objectives, namely advancing Europe.”
In France, Mr Sobotka, who is leader of the Czech Social Democrats was also due to attend several events held by the French Socialist Party as part of their campaign ahead of European elections. Given their current unpopularity in France, revitalising their message may be difficult; the relatively ‘new’ Mr Sobotka at home, by comparison, is still popular, although he remains third behind other politicians in his coalition according to at least one poll.
Meanwhile, in the face of the upcoming 10th anniversary of EU accession, notable Czech euro sceptics aren’t remaining silent either: former president Václav Klaus said just recently that he considered the pro-EU course set by the government his greatest ‘defeat’ as well as a defeat, in his view, for most Czechs. He also suggested that the upcoming 10th anniversary of accession should be marked but not celebrated. His words may not be falling on deaf ears, either. Recent polls suggest that trust in European institutions among Czechs is at an all-time low of just 34 percent.