German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday paid his first official visit to the Czech Republic since taking office.
President Steinmeier arrived in Prague shortly after 9 am and was greeted with military honours at Prague Castle before heading into one-one one talks with his Czech counterpart Miloš Zeman. The two officials discussed the state of bilateral relations, EU affairs, the migrant crisis, security matters and sanctions against Russia, among others.
At a joint press briefing following the talks President Zeman focused mainly on bilateral ties.
“One of the big projects in bilateral cooperation is the plan to establish fast rail-links between Prague and Berlin and Prague and Munich. We discussed cooperation in science and research as well as cooperation in the industrial sphere. As you know Volkswagen is extremely popular in the Czech Republic and Skoda Auto is our leading exporter. But we have some catching up to do -while there are some 4,000 German firms doing business in the Czech Republic, there are only about 150 Czech firms active in Germany – I think that in about 20 to 30 years we could even that out.”
President Steinmeier said he was happy to see how far the two countries had come since the signing of the Czech-German Declaration on Good-neighbourly Relations twenty years ago, a revitalization that he said was also made possible thanks to the work of the Czech-German Fund for the Future and the Czech-German Discussion Forum. However, the German president devoted more time to pressing European issues saying it was vital for the Czech Republic and Germany to cooperate in securing unity and cooperation within the EU.
“The European crisis which are now facing concerns many more issues than just the migrant crisis. We need to stand together not just in the Brexit negotiations, the 27 members need to overcome the crisis sparked by Brexit, we need to find consensus on how to secure economic growth for Europe, we need to find consensus on security matters. That is where the Czech Republic and Germany need to stand side-by-side.”
Despite the friendly atmosphere of the talks it was clear there were issues on which the Czech and German presidents failed to find common ground. One is the thorny issue of mandatory migrant quotas. While President Steinmeier stressed the need for all EU member states to respect the ruling of the European Court of Justice, President Zeman said he and the government stood united on this matter –not to open the door to migrants. Mr. Zeman said the Czech Republic was helping in other ways and was ready to help further, saying that electric power plants, clean water supplies, medical facilities and schools in the countries from which people were fleeing would do them a better service.
The two officials also failed to see eye to eye on the sanctions against Russia. While President Zeman has long been pushing for them to be lifted, on the argument that they are ineffective, President Steinmeier said that without progress in the peace process with Ukraine the sanctions must stay in place.
However, the German president added that, despite their differences, the two heads of state knew each well enough to sit down and thrash them out.