Czechs before Rome: No to multi-speed, yes to common defence

Czech Prime Minister Premier Bohuslav Sobotka [European Council]

EU leaders are going to meet in Rome on Saturday (25 March) to discuss the future of European integration. The Czech Republic is still not sure what to do. EURACTIV.cz reports.

“At the moment, it is difficult to discuss the scenarios proposed by the Commission. In my view, member states including the Czech Republic still have to analyse them. We are working on it,” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka from the social democratic ČSSD party told lawmakers during a senate EU committee meeting on Tuesday (21 March).

The Rome Declaration will be rather an unspecific and general document, he said.

“I suppose that there will be an intensive domestic debate about our national interest. I perceive the Commission´s proposal as some kind of a technical base. These scenarios would come to everyone´s mind,” he added.

Multi-speed vs. enhanced cooperation

Sobotka also stressed that Czechs must firstly deliberate whether multi-speed Europe is acceptable for them or not.

The conclusions of the V4 summit in Warsaw were quite clear about it at the beginning of March. Multi-speed Europe is not the way V4 countries prefer at all, but an existing concept of enhanced cooperation could be a good compromise.

The Chairman of the Czech Parliament´s Lower Chamber, Jan Hamáček (ČSSD), has a similar stance. According to Hamáček, states should not be concrete about which scenario they want to prefer.

“The scenarios are rather something we should just think about,” he told EURACTIV, adding that creating multi-speed Europe is surely not a good way. With one exception, though.

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“I can imagine one field where a concept of multi-speed Europe could be very useful and it is the defence and security policy,” he added.

Hamáček also stressed that defence cooperation between some member states does not mean creating a common European army. In his view, it is more about “smaller projects such as organising joint training and stabilisation missions”.

Defence cooperation is a priority

The Czech government will probably not be proposing the concept of multi-speed Europe backed by Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

However, it will also emphasise enhanced cooperation, mainly in defence policy. That could be acceptable also not only for the other V4 countries but also for Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Malta and maybe even other states.

“Just as Sweden will focus on the social dimension of Europe [in the current debates about possible EU reform], the Czech Republic will also have a topic in which it could demonstrate a clear position,” Jakub Dürr, the Czech deputy minister of foreign affairs, said at a foreign policy debate in Prague on Thursday (22 March).

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In June, Prague will host an international security conference attended by the president of the European Commission and other European leaders.

“We are trying to support debate about stronger defence and security policy,” Sobotka mentioned during the last European summit in Brussels.

Let’s stay outside

Even though most Czech political parties are not supporters of multi-speed Europe, the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has a different opinion.

“Mr Sobotka doesn´t want multi-speed Europe. On contrary we support it. We even think that it is the only feasible way for the future. We want to stay outside the eurozone, outside the common asylum and migration policy, outside the common European army,” said ODS MEP Jan Zahradil (ECR).