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Minutes from the Meeting of the Highest Constitutional Officials on Foreign Policy

10/10/2019

The President of the Czech Republic, Speaker of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Defence (the “participants”) met at the Prague Castle on 10 October 2019 to discuss, in particular, the following foreign policy issues:

Coordination of visits made by the Highest Constitutional Officials
The participants discussed the coordination of incoming and outgoing visits, especially in the light of the priorities of Czech foreign policy. In addition to important bilateral contacts, there will be a number of multilateral events including, but not limited to, Friends of Cohesion summit in Prague (5 November), commemorations of the fall of the Berlin Wall (9 November), NATO Leaders’ meeting in London (3–4 December), and V4 or V4+ meetings. The participants also discussed coordination of their participation in events commemorating the 30th anniversary of 17 November 1989.

Current EU topics (new Commission, Brexit and preparations for the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU)
The participants discussed the process leading to the approval of the new Commission, as well as assessed more broadly the process of formation of European institutions for the coming period. They agreed that the first-ever offer of the Commission Vice-President’s position, made to Ms Věra Jourová, confirms in broader sense the Czech Republic’s responsible approach to EU membership. However, the Czech Commissioner’s portfolio will obviously be a difficult one in terms of both organisation and content. This, on the other hand, creates opportunities for demonstration of her personal qualities. The Commission is a supranational body of the EU. Therefore, the participants are convinced that Věra Jourová will take into account the interests of all EU members including the Czech Republic.

While a deal-based Brexit remains the primary goal, the participants noted that there was a high probability of the United Kingdom leaving the Union without an exit agreement. They reiterated that any form of Brexit will cause some disruption to the EU-UK relationship. The EU as a whole, and the individual Member States including the Czech Republic, have been taking legislative and non-legislative steps to prepare for hard Brexit. Central administrative authorities have analysed the relevant legislation in order to prepare for such scenario and, as a priority, to minimize negative impacts on citizens’ lives and on business cooperation. At the same time, existing and past bilateral agreements between the Czech Republic and the UK were analysed to determine the feasibility of renewing these instruments or continuing the previous practice where the legal framework permits. The Czech Republic has in place legislation to regulate some of the relations in the context of Brexit – the relevant bill was signed into law by the President of the Czech Republic on 7 March 2019. The proposed legislation contains measures to be applied in the event of hard Brexit; it addresses the situation of British citizens in the Czech Republic as well as provides certainty to tens of thousands of Czech citizens living in the UK. In the event of hard Brexit, it will be crucial to seek actively, through dialogue with the British Government, to protect fully the rights of Czech citizens living and working in the United Kingdom.

The participants reviewed the current status of preparations of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2022. They agreed that the preparatory process was to be given constant attention, in particular to fulfil given tasks in given timeframes and that progress was to be reviewed again at their next meeting.

Regional cooperation formats – Czech Presidency of the V4
The participants met for the first time since the beginning of the one-year Czech V4 Presidency, characterised by the “Reasonable Europe” motto and focusing on three key areas – reasonable solutions, revolutionary technologies and reconciling approaches. V4 and V4+ meetings have taken place, and will continue, at all levels. The participants exchanged information on the most important meetings. The V4 proves to be an effective discussion and coordination forum on a number of topics and a practical tool for promoting common interests and values in areas such as security, energy, infrastructure development and EU enlargement.

Western Balkans
Following recent successful meetings of Heads of Governments in V4+Western Balkans format and Head of States in V4+Slovenia and Serbia format, the participants reiterated their conviction that the Union’s enlargement is the strongest tool enabling the EU to promote security, stability and prosperity on the basis of the partners’ free choice to meet the EU’s demanding conditions. As part of their support for the building of a unified Europe, the participants unequivocally support the EU accession of Western Balkan countries. The participants are aware of the fragile relations and the complexity of regional processes; however, they agree that permanent and sustainable stabilization and transformation of the entire region can be promoted only by providing a clear perspective of European integration. It is now crucial for the EU to confirm the credibility of its open-door policy. The participants therefore support an immediate opening of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and also with Albania. At the same time, they expect that the new Commission will place preparation for EU enlargement on its priority list with the aim to have the first candidates ready for accession during the next Multiannual Financial Framework (by the end of 2027). They also expect accession talks with Serbia and Montenegro to be accelerated.

However, important tasks also lie ahead of the Western Balkan countries. The participants emphasised that in all cases, progress in accession talks was to be linked to compliance with the prescribed criteria, credibility of political representation, and progress in resolving bilateral disputes in the region.

Following recent official visits of the President and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies to Serbia, the participants appreciated the friendly relations between the Czech Republic and Serbia, which manifested themselves among other things in the support provided at important historical moments (1918, 1938, 1968). Noting the fact that the Government of the Czech Republic recognised the Republic of Kosovo de iure in 2008, the participants discussed past circumstances under which Kosovo’s independence had been recognised. They acknowledged these circumstances were problematic for several reasons.  The Government’s recognition of Kosovo did not reflect the dissenting position of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament. Lack of full consensus at the highest political level in the Czech Republic is also demonstrated by the lower level of mutual diplomatic representation, which remains at the level of chargé d’affaires. However, this situation does not prohibit the development of bilateral relations. The participants pointed out that it would be impossible to complete the whole region's EU integration process without settling the Kosovo issue and called on Serbia and Kosovo to work on improving their relations and to remove barriers for mutual trade under the CEFTA. 

Euro-Atlantic Relations
The participants stressed the need to develop Euro-Atlantic bonds on both political and economic level. They called for preservation of free trade principles between the EU and the US.

Czech Republic’s relations with Asian countries
The participants discussed the Czech Republic’s relations with countries of the Asian continent. The Czech Republic is interested in effectively functioning multilateral system of international relations based on international law. Such a system is the basic prerequisite also for greater effectiveness in bilateral trade and investment. To achieve such a system, it is desirable to make use of relations with like-minded Asian partners, especially Japan, Korea and India. The participants supported achieving strategic partnerships with Japan and India, including by signing relevant agreements. In this context, the participants underlined India’s importance in maintaining balance on the Asian continent, as well as China’s growing global influence. This means that the Czech foreign policy must pay adequate attention to these countries. The Czech Republic’s relations with these big players is and will remain balanced – the Czech Republic recognises the sovereignty of Asian partners, including respecting One-China Policy acknowledged by the EU, and expects them to adopt the same respect-based approach in their relation to the Czech Republic. The participants appreciated that the Czech Republic consistently seeks to utilize Asia’s potential, diversify its economic relations, and find additional sources of effective investment coming to the Czech Republic. Given the current situation on Czech labour market, Asia is also an important source for a regulated system for recruiting skilled foreign workers e.g. from Mongolia or the Philippines, naturally taking into account security and other risks of their concentrated presence in the Czech Republic.

Climate policy
The Prime Minister informed the participants about the UN Climate Summit held in New York on 23 September. The participants noted that the issues, ambitions and commitments relating to climate change were coming to the fore in international relations and global politics. As a responsible member of the international community, the Czech Republic is ready to make a significant contribution. However, the EU and its member states must not remain alone in this endeavour and must ensure on all platforms that the costs of energy transformation do not disproportionately affect certain states or their regions and that transformation of economy and society is done in a socially just manner. The participants agreed on the need for a long-term, science-based vision of a responsible approach to the environment, but also pointed to the potential negative consequences of ideologisation of the climate change debate. They emphasized that fulfilment of the international commitments undertaken by the Czech Republic must be subject to the Czech Republic’s independent decision-making. It must respect domestic conditions and ensure social peace, and it must not impair the competitiveness of Czech economy or sovereignty of the Czech Republic to choose its energy mix, taking into account especially the potential of nuclear energy for carbon-free energy self-sufficiency of the Czech Republic. At the same time the participants agreed that commitments and goals must be fulfilled by all countries on a fair basis.

Mandate for foreign operations of the Czech Armed Forces beyond 2020
The participants continued their strategic policy discussion on the future involvement of the Czech Armed Forces in foreign operations once the current mandate ends in 2020. The key priorities under NATO, EU and UN mandates will be defence and security of Europe, the fight against terrorism, and the building of capacities of foreign partners. Geographically, the Czech Republic focuses primarily on areas adjacent to Europe and areas important for Europe’s security. The Czech Republic’s shared responsibility towards other participants in operations and missions is an important principle of the “together in, together out” approach.  The participants supported further linking of the Czech Republic's foreign activities with the aim to integrate diplomatic, military, economic and development tools used for stabilizing crisis regions and to ensure sustainability of activities of the Czech Republic in respective regions. In this context and as part of the fight against terrorism and illegal migration, the participants supported the possible further increase of the Czech Republic's military presence in support of the Sahel countries, especially Mali and the related opening of the Czech embassy, and recommended to accompany these steps by implementing relevant development programmes and other activities. The participants also supported potential legislation adjustments concerning the deployment of the Czech Armed Forces abroad in order to timely respond to anticipated security challenges. The participants will address foreign operations of the Czech Armed Forces also at their next meeting.

Development cooperation
The Czech Republic is ready to participate in promoting ​​stability, security and prosperity by providing development assistance. It takes into account that development cooperation is not only an economic tool but it is also becoming increasingly linked to further aspects of security, illegal migration and preparations for climate change. This approach has to be reflected in the list of priority recipients of Czech development aid. The participants believe that the use of up-to-date methods of development cooperation, which lead to sustainable results and increase the economic and social potential of the beneficiary countries, is important. The participants appreciate that the Czech Republic can offer such projects, e.g. International Development Cooperation Guarantee. The participants support the constantly growing percentage share of the Czech Republic’s GDP that is reserved for development assistance.

Government air fleet
The participants agreed that the current capacity of the Czech Republic’s government air fleet is insufficient and that the fleet is outdated. As a result, this reality influences outgoing visits planning and negatively impacts the effectiveness of diplomacy, especially the economic diplomacy. The participants expect concrete steps to be taken by the Ministry of Defence in order to increase the number of fleet aircraft and will support them within their remit of competence.

Jiri Ovcacek, Director of the Press Department and Spokesman for the President

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