Czechs debate Trump’s impact on national political priorities

Miloš Zeman is a long-time critic of immigration from Muslim countries and has praised Donald Trump's new policy. [yakub88/ Shutterstock]

The election of Donald Trump is posing new challenges to the Czech Republic. Local concerns are focused on security and defence, business, and political relations. EURACTIV.cz reports.

Prague and Washington have a strong long-term strong relationship. This should not be hurt by the new American government. However, Czech politicians and pundits are curious if there is a change in store change for the Czech-American relationship in the coming years.

The discussion is focused on three main topics: security and defence, business relations and political relations.

Taking security seriously

Trump had mentioned strong doubts about NATO during his presidential campaign. According to his previous statements, it was feared he would turn his back on Europe. All will be clearer after the summit on NATO in May in Brussels. For the time being, there are signs that Europe can still rely on the United States in the future.

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We have to change NATO from a defence pact to tan offensive pact, Andrej Babiš, the Czech minister of finance, who also serves as deputy premier, told Euractiv Poland.

However, Trump´s rhetoric has made Europe and European leaders take defence seriously.

The European Commission plans to create a common defence fund and to strengthen military cooperation between the member states.

“NATO member states must react to Trump´s demand to raise defence expenditures. However, the Czech ministry of defence fails to fulfil our own coalition commitment to increase defence spending by 1. 4 % of GDP by 2020. We are going to have a real problem,” vice-chairman of the Czech parliamentary defence committee Ivan Gabal says.

“The Czech Republic should express a clear will to increase its defence spending. I would say that even if Hillary Clinton was the US President. Underfunding of our defence is a long-term debt of the Czech Republic and also of the other NATO member states. It has been criticised by almost all American administrations,” EURACTIV.cz was told by Vít Dostál, director of the research centre at the Association for International Affairs in Prague.

TTIP: Bad news

During his campaign, Donald Trump also stressed international business relations. He repeatedly emphasised his reservations about multilateral trade deals.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations are unlikely to continue in the coming months. According to some experts and politicians, the freezing of the process is a bad news for the Czech economy.

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“Trade deals negotiated with the United States or Canada open new markets for our entrepreneurs. The European Union always negotiates better conditions for its member states. And it depends only on how we take care of our interests in these contracts,” Kristýna Zelienková, vice-president of the parliamentary European affairs committee, says.

However, TTIP has also strong opponents in the Czech Republic. MEP Kateřina Konečná (GUE/NGL) is convinced that adoption of the agreement would cause higher unemployment and a decline in domestic trade.

“Supporters of TTIP claim that it helps to create new jobs. But Jeronimo Capaldo of Tufts University in the US used a UN method that examines possible consequences of the TTIP and reflects also macroeconomic elements, employment dynamics and a global trade. He predicts that the adoption of TTIP will cause a loss of six hundred thousand jobs,” she mentioned.

Trump´s stance on liberal trade is probably going to end current negotiations. Nevertheless, it does not mean the end of EU´s effort to negotiate and adopt trade deals with other countries. If that happened, it would be bad for the Czech economy.

“The Czech Republic has an export-oriented economy. It means that deals that support EU exports are useful for us. It is not just about reducing tariffs. Removing non-tariff barriers and technical obstacles, reducing administration and simplification of customs procedure are also very important,” Tomáš Hartman, deputy director of the Czech Business Representation to the EU, thinks.

Czech Trump

Czech President Miloš Zeman was one of the few European politicians to support Trump during the campaign. It is probably the reason why he has already been invited to the White House. President Zeman repeatedly expresses that they both have a similar opinion on the migration crisis and the fight against terrorism. The question is what this possibly warm relationship is going to mean for the Czech Republic.

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“It is always good when politicians are close to each other. For example, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has very good relations with the German Chancellor, the French President, the Slovak or Swedish Prime Minister or with the Austrian Chancellor,” Tomáš Prouza, the Czech state secretary for European affairs, said.

“It helps a lot when we have to find a solution in some difficult topic. It will be interesting to observe if and how President Zeman and the whole country will profit from this relationship,” he added.

Vít Dostál is less optimistic. “I do not perceive any clear benefits. Recently, the Czech-American relationship has been losing its content. The ethos of new democracy and a need to protect it has almost disappeared,” he claims.

“It is wrong to think that one visit to the White House might create some new basis of the relationship between Prague and Washington,” Dostál added.