september 13–17, 2017

Czech Integration to the EU:
Lessons Learned Since 2004

Tomáš Němeček

Professor of Czech and Slovak Modern History
Charles University

Professor Tomáš Němeček provided the Forum with a brief history of the Czech Republic from the 14th to the 21st century, using its bank notes as a historical guide. Each denomination of banknote carries a symbol of the unique Czech history of intellectualism, free markets, religious tolerance, legislative reform, universal suffrage for women, and cosmopolitan openness. These traits paved the way for Czech emergence as a westernized, democratic state and a member of the EU after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Professor Tomáš Němeček provided the Forum with a brief history of the Czech Republic from the 14th to the 21st century, using its bank notes as a historical guide. Each denomination of banknote carries a symbol of the unique Czech history of intellectualism, free markets, religious tolerance, legislative reform, universal suffrage for women, and cosmopolitan openness. These traits paved the way for Czech emergence as a westernized, democratic state and a member of the EU after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

“Where is my Home,” Czech National Anthem

Professor Němeček quoted the Czech national anthem, which begins, “Where is my home?” reflecting the possibility of a small state disappearing. The Czech Republic is smaller than South Carolina and has a population similar to the state of Georgia. Its neighbors also are small countries; Poland is smaller than New Mexico, Hungary has less territory than Indiana, and Slovakia is just twice the size of New Hampshire, Prof. Němeček pointed out. But small countries can disappear, he warned, as was the case with Czech lands. From 1526-1790, the Czech homeland disappeared under the control of the House of Habsburg, and subsequently until 1918, under the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The First Republic (1918 -1938)

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia, succeeded in gaining Czechoslovak independence as a republic after World War I. He instituted progressive reforms in areas such as housing, social security, and workers’ rights.

The Second Republic (1938–1945)

The Munich Agreement (1938), without consultation with the Czechs, gave the Czech region of Sudetenland to Germany, and formed a truncated state, renamed Czecho-Slovakia from three autonomous units: The Czech lands, Slovakia, and Ruthenia, under the oppressive rule of the German Protectorate throughout World War II.

Third Republic (1945–1948)

1945, Czechoslovakia was liberated from Nazi occupation by the Red Army and allied troops, supported by Czech and Slovak resistance.  Based on appreciation for their Red Army liberators, the Third Republic was led by a National Front coalition, where three socialist/Communist parties predominated. Czechoslovakia soon came to fall within the Soviet sphere of influence.

Communist Era (1948-1989)

In 1948, the Communists took power in a coup d'état, and declared Czechoslovakia a "people's democracy,” marking the start of the Communist era (1948–1989). Czechoslovakia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The 1960 Constitution declared the victory of socialism and proclaimed the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR).

Prague Spring 1968

However, the socialist victory was hollow, the Soviet-style managed economy was not working. In the early 1960s, the Czechoslovak economy was severely stagnant. Reforms were necessary, and a more liberal agenda was enacted, setting guidelines for a modern, humanistic socialist democracy that would guarantee freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, and travel.

Invasion 1968

The movement toward a liberal democratic state was called the “Prague Spring,” along with anti-Soviet demonstrations ushered in a period of harsh repression. Political, social, and economic life stagnated. Five Warsaw Pact member countries invaded Czechoslovakia, Soviet troops continued to occupy the country until 1989. The outcome was the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty, and the suppression of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party.

Back to Europe 1989

However, Soviet repression and economic stagnation brewed resistance, fueling an anti-Communist revolution in 1989. Faced with an overwhelming popular repudiation, the Communist Party collapsed, and Vaclav Havel, a key leader of the Revolution, was elected President in the so-called Velvet Revolution. In 1989, as the Iron Curtain fell, the Czech slogan was “Back to Europe.”

In 1990, when US diplomats asked President Václav Havel, “What can the US do to help the Czech Republic?” he responded, “We don’t need help. Instead, help our former aggressors (Russia) to transition to democracy.”

The first free elections since 1946 took place in June 1990 with more than 95% of the population voting. In 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in the so-called “Velvet Divorce.”

The Czech Republic on the World Stage

Throughout this turbulent history, the fundamental Czech cultural attitudes remained Western and progressive, therefore, the country was poised for rapid improvements. Czech quality of life improved, including a transition to a free market democracy, an increase in life span, and lower infant mortality rate in the post-Soviet era. In 1999, the Czech Republic became a full member of NATO, in 2004, joined the EU, and assumed the EU presidency in 2009.

Czech Influence on the EU

Professor Němeček quipped, “Formerly, Czechs were not invited to diplomatic dinners, unless their country was on the menu. Today they play a leadership role in the EU and in NATO.”  He dissected the modern-day changes shaping the Czech Republic today and the challenges it faces for the future.

A Model for Economic Success

The Czech Republic is a model for economic success in the EU. It is a prosperous market economy that boasts one of the highest GDP growth rates (2.5%) and lowest unemployment levels (4.9%) in the EU. Its sophisticated exports comprise some 80% of GDP and include automobiles--the country’s single largest industry--metallurgy, machinery and equipment, and glass. The Czech central state budget reached a $2.38 billion USD surplus in 2016, and national debt is 34.3% of the $192.9 billion USD (2016) GDP.

The Czech Republic’s smooth transition to a free market economy may not be readily replicated in other states, Professor Němeček advised, because the country was primed for advancement due to its essential western-looking focus.

Influence in the EU Institutions

Hungary and Poland are not as influential as the Czech Republic in EU institutions, but they see Czechs being leaders in EU embassies in Africa and in Syria, where the Czech national embassy also represents EU and US interests.

Czechs also are bringing Central European ideas into the EU. Czechs have a strong national focus on refugees and human rights; they are helping to focus the EU on support for refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Czechs also played a strong role in NATO, supporting NATO/US policy and committing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A major shift in the European landscape is the new relationship between Germany and the Czech Republic. For the first time, these historical enemies are militarily, politically, and economically aligned, with 30% of Czech exports going to Germany.

Conclusion

Professor Němeček pointed out that the Czech Republic has a long history of legislative stability, coexistence of different religions, and an open cosmopolitan view of the world. This social and cultural climate of the Czech Republic smoothed its path to become a participant in the advanced globalized world economy, he concluded.

Follow-Up

In the days following Professor Němeček’s comments to the Senate Presidents’ Forum,  the Czech Republic was the object of legal action from the EU over its refusal to accept its quota of refugees. We asked him how this refusal could be justified in a country with a celebrated history of openness to refugees.

Professor Němeček: Both are true. The Czech Republic has the highest net migration balance among all of the post-communist countries. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Czech Republic is in the 41st place in the world, measured by number of migrants per 1,000 inhabitants (behind the 31st US or the 39th United Kingdom but ahead of the 54th Germany or the 57th France). The World Bank statistic shows that the Czech Republic has consistently had a positive migration balance since 1989.

The country seems open both to the west and to the east, but not to the south, including the migration wave from the Middle East and northern Africa. During the Balkan wars in 1990s, the country smoothly absorbed 18,000 migrants from former Yugoslavia - no matter if they were Croats or Bosnian Muslims.

There are both emotional and pragmatic reasons for the emerging Czech resistance to accepting asylum-seekers. On the emotional side, the threat of terrorism, exacerbated by the 9/11 attack, the 2004 Madrid bombs, the 2005 London attacks, and the 2015 Charlie Hebdo Paris shooting, has caused the Czechs - as well as other Central and Eastern European nations – to become extremely cautious about the threats of fanatic bigotry.

The Czechs and other Central European countries objected to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel´s unilateral decision in 2015 to suspend the EU rules for asylum-seekers (the Dublin Regulation), and they protested the proposed refugee quota system. Pragmatically, they pointed to the empirical evidence that the quota system does not work. Middle Eastern or Northern African asylum seekers would not stay in Eastern Europe but would try, by any means possible, to get to Germany, Italy, or France, where large communities of their compatriots live.

Nevertheless, my personal opinion is that the Czech government should do much more to share the EU migration burden. I would like to see a larger financial contribution, a more active approach, and political leadership in offering a safe harbor at least to those Middle Eastern refugees who would like to reside in the Czech Republic. There was a promising pilot program to re-settle Christian refugees from Iraq but the Czech government, unfortunately, scrapped the project when the first problems occurred. I would expect much more of the country so proud of Vaclav Havel´s legacy.

Q&A

Q: Sen. John C. Cullerton (IL): Why hasn’t the Czech Republic joined the Eurozone?

A: Prof. Němeček: The country has a strong, independent central banking sector, the most effective central bank in post-Soviet Europe, which has done a good job of maintaining the stability of the Koruna (CZK). The Czechs avoided the currency fluctuations that happened in the Eurozone with the Greek crisis. Due to its stable banks, Czech Republic is able to attracts Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), unlike other Easter European countries, such as Slovenia, which need the Euro to attract FDI.

Q: Sen. Brent Hill (ID): Given the centuries of hostility between the Germans and the Czechs, what factors contributed to their new friendly relationship? Is it mostly economics, or was there a conscious effort by the leadership?

A: Prof. Němeček: Both leadership and economics contributed to the change. In 1997, in a public apology, a joint Czech/German declaration agreed to leave the past in the past. It expressed mutual sorrow for what went before. The Germans expressed sorrow for the injustices of the Munich Accord and the Nazi occupation, while the Czechs expressed sorrow for the violent expulsion of Germans. They also established a Czech/German Future Fund, which provides care for the victims of the Holocaust and student exchange programs. They also have appointed a joint historical commission to write their 19th century history. Furthermore, Germany has always supported Czech Republic in NATO and the UN.

Professor Němeček also noted that the Taiwanese government is considering a declaration modeled on the 1997 Accord to bring reconciliation after the Japanese occupation.

Q: Sen. Steve Yarborough (AZ): President Trump criticized the EU countries for not contributing sufficiently to their own defense. How is that sentiment viewed by the EU?

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Russia took back Crimea with military force. Slovakia and Poland border Ukraine and are spiritually connected. What has been the impact of Crimea on security in the eastern part of the EU?

A: Prof. Němeček: Western EU states such as Germany and France could accept the Crimea status quo, but not the Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles because they experienced partition and Russian occupation and are burdened by that history.  The Czech Republic supported the democratic forces in Ukraine and offered sanctuary to those opposing the Russian intrusion. The Czechs and Poles will never accept that Russia owns Crimea.

A: Prof. Harris: Mr. Putin saw the enlargement of the EU as a threat to Russia rather than a guarantee of security to those countries. The Putin government launched a program of disinformation in the Ukraine and EU to build support for the Russian occupation. Before that, Ukraine was perceived as being part of the “eastern neighborhood of the EU” and was about to apply for EU membership. Russia’s move against Crimea was unforeseen, and made it apparent that Russia’s global agenda is to roll back to pre-1989 and assert Russia as a world power at parity with the US, EU, and China.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): The Brexit vote was very close, and people underestimated how complicated it is to exit the EU. Is there likely to be another election to reconsider the decision to leave?  How will Brexit affect the Scottish independence movement?

A: Prof. Harris: A week is a long time in politics and there are 567 days until Brexit implementation, so a lot could happen. But the chances for change in Britain are not great.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said, “Brexit means Brexit.” As a result, the image of Britain is less attractive to those with a more global view, as the leaders are perceived as more introverted. Brexit is seen as an act of xenophobia that has engendered more such acts. Now British fruit farmers cannot get workers to pick the crops because of the atmosphere of fear generated in Britain.

When the UK leaves the EU, they will not have an improved situation. But they have not made clear what they want.  What the British should want is a free movement of labor. Younger people want to stay in the EU, where they see more opportunity. There is a lot of uncertainty, and the people’s will may change.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): In the US, there are strong and weak, young and old federations within the States, but the Supreme Court is respected by all the States and keeps it all together. What is the EU institution that is judicial, rather than political, that establishes and upholds new laws?

A: Prof. Harris: One justice from each EU country sits on the European Court of Justice. They rule on EU-wide issues such as labor rights or equality between men and women, and they resolve controversial decisions that need to be implemented across all the EU countries. They are responsible for the final interpretation of the EU laws. When Britain leaves the EU, a challenge will be to determine which laws rule Britain’s activities in the Common Market, the European Court of Justice or British rule.

Speaker Biography

Tomáš Němeček

Tomáš Němeček is a professor, lawyer, former reporter and editor. He holds a master´s degree in media and mass communication from the Charles University in Prague (Faculty of Social Sciences) and a master´s degree in law (Law Faculty). An award-winning journalist, Tomáš  spent 20 years in local media. He left in protest, in 2013, when the largest publishing house he worked for was acquired by a local billionaire-turned-politician. That same year, he started a new career as a lawyer in Prague hospital, and since September 2016 he has worked in a law firm in Prague.

Tomáš writes extensively on modern history. He wrote the biographies of three Czech Constitutional Court Justices. Since 2005, he has taught teaches at NYU in Prague. He served in the Board of the Transparency International Czech Republic and in the Board of the Transparency International Slovak Republic (both in 2014–2017). In 2014, he was elected non-partisan member of the City District Assembly in Prague 8, where he lives with his wife and three daughters.

 Czech history is a story of intellectualism, free markets, religious tolerance, legislative reform, universal suffrage for women, and cosmopolitan openness.

Throughout this turbulent history, the fundamental Czech cultural attitudes remained Western and progressive, therefore, the country was poised for rapid improvements.

Today, the Czech Republic holds leadership roles in the EU.

A major shift in the European landscape is the new relationship between Germany and the Czech Republic. For the first time, these historical enemies are militarily, politically, and economically aligned, with 30% of Czech exports going to Germany.

There are both emotional and pragmatic reasons for the emerging Czech resistance to accepting asylum-seekers.

 I would like to see a larger financial contribution, a more active approach, and political leadership in offering a safe harbor at least to those Middle Eastern refugees who would like to reside in the Czech Republic.

Sen. John Cullerton (IL)

Sen. Brent Hill (ID)

Sen. Steve Yarborough (AZ)

Sen. David Long (IN)

Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR)

Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR)

Tomáš Němeček

CONTACT

Senate Presidents’ Forum

26 Main Street

Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706

 

Tel: 914-693-1818

Copyright © 2017 Senate Presidents' Forum. All rights reserved.

september 13–17, 2017

Czech Integration to the EU:
Lessons Learned Since 2004

Tomáš Němeček

Professor of Czech and Slovak Modern History
Charles University

Professor Tomáš Němeček provided the Forum with a brief history of the Czech Republic from the 14th to the 21st century, using its bank notes as a historical guide. Each denomination of banknote carries a symbol of the unique Czech history of intellectualism, free markets, religious tolerance, legislative reform, universal suffrage for women, and cosmopolitan openness. These traits paved the way for Czech emergence as a westernized, democratic state and a member of the EU after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Professor Tomáš Němeček provided the Forum with a brief history of the Czech Republic from the 14th to the 21st century, using its bank notes as a historical guide. Each denomination of banknote carries a symbol of the unique Czech history of intellectualism, free markets, religious tolerance, legislative reform, universal suffrage for women, and cosmopolitan openness. These traits paved the way for Czech emergence as a westernized, democratic state and a member of the EU after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

 Czech history is a story of intellectualism, free markets, religious tolerance, legislative reform, universal suffrage for women, and cosmopolitan openness.

“Where is my Home,” Czech National Anthem

Professor Němeček quoted the Czech national anthem, which begins, “Where is my home?” reflecting the possibility of a small state disappearing. The Czech Republic is smaller than South Carolina and has a population similar to the state of Georgia. Its neighbors also are small countries; Poland is smaller than New Mexico, Hungary has less territory than Indiana, and Slovakia is just twice the size of New Hampshire, Prof. Němeček pointed out. But small countries can disappear, he warned, as was the case with Czech lands. From 1526-1790, the Czech homeland disappeared under the control of the House of Habsburg, and subsequently until 1918, under the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The First Republic (1918 -1938)

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia, succeeded in gaining Czechoslovak independence as a republic after World War I. He instituted progressive reforms in areas such as housing, social security, and workers’ rights.

The Second Republic (1938–1945)

The Munich Agreement (1938), without consultation with the Czechs, gave the Czech region of Sudetenland to Germany, and formed a truncated state, renamed Czecho-Slovakia from three autonomous units: The Czech lands, Slovakia, and Ruthenia, under the oppressive rule of the German Protectorate throughout World War II.

Third Republic (1945–1948)

1945, Czechoslovakia was liberated from Nazi occupation by the Red Army and allied troops, supported by Czech and Slovak resistance.  Based on appreciation for their Red Army liberators, the Third Republic was led by a National Front coalition, where three socialist/Communist parties predominated. Czechoslovakia soon came to fall within the Soviet sphere of influence.

Communist Era (1948-1989)

In 1948, the Communists took power in a coup d'état, and declared Czechoslovakia a "people's democracy,” marking the start of the Communist era (1948–1989). Czechoslovakia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The 1960 Constitution declared the victory of socialism and proclaimed the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR).

Prague Spring 1968

However, the socialist victory was hollow, the Soviet-style managed economy was not working. In the early 1960s, the Czechoslovak economy was severely stagnant. Reforms were necessary, and a more liberal agenda was enacted, setting guidelines for a modern, humanistic socialist democracy that would guarantee freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, and travel.

Invasion 1968

The movement toward a liberal democratic state was called the “Prague Spring,” along with anti-Soviet demonstrations ushered in a period of harsh repression. Political, social, and economic life stagnated. Five Warsaw Pact member countries invaded Czechoslovakia, Soviet troops continued to occupy the country until 1989. The outcome was the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty, and the suppression of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party.

Back to Europe 1989

However, Soviet repression and economic stagnation brewed resistance, fueling an anti-Communist revolution in 1989. Faced with an overwhelming popular repudiation, the Communist Party collapsed, and Vaclav Havel, a key leader of the Revolution, was elected President in the so-called Velvet Revolution. In 1989, as the Iron Curtain fell, the Czech slogan was “Back to Europe.”

In 1990, when US diplomats asked President Václav Havel, “What can the US do to help the Czech Republic?” he responded, “We don’t need help. Instead, help our former aggressors (Russia) to transition to democracy.”

The first free elections since 1946 took place in June 1990 with more than 95% of the population voting. In 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in the so-called “Velvet Divorce.”

The Czech Republic on the World Stage

Throughout this turbulent history, the fundamental Czech cultural attitudes remained Western and progressive, therefore, the country was poised for rapid improvements. Czech quality of life improved, including a transition to a free market democracy, an increase in life span, and lower infant mortality rate in the post-Soviet era. In 1999, the Czech Republic became a full member of NATO, in 2004, joined the EU, and assumed the EU presidency in 2009.

Throughout this turbulent history, the fundamental Czech cultural attitudes remained Western and progressive, therefore, the country was poised for rapid improvements.

Czech Influence on the EU

Professor Němeček quipped, “Formerly, Czechs were not invited to diplomatic dinners, unless their country was on the menu. Today they play a leadership role in the EU and in NATO.”  He dissected the modern-day changes shaping the Czech Republic today and the challenges it faces for the future.

Today, the Czech Republic holds leadership roles in the EU.

A Model for Economic Success

The Czech Republic is a model for economic success in the EU. It is a prosperous market economy that boasts one of the highest GDP growth rates (2.5%) and lowest unemployment levels (4.9%) in the EU. Its sophisticated exports comprise some 80% of GDP and include automobiles--the country’s single largest industry--metallurgy, machinery and equipment, and glass. The Czech central state budget reached a $2.38 billion USD surplus in 2016, and national debt is 34.3% of the $192.9 billion USD (2016) GDP.

The Czech Republic’s smooth transition to a free market economy may not be readily replicated in other states, Professor Němeček advised, because the country was primed for advancement due to its essential western-looking focus.

Influence in the EU Institutions

Hungary and Poland are not as influential as the Czech Republic in EU institutions, but they see Czechs being leaders in EU embassies in Africa and in Syria, where the Czech national embassy also represents EU and US interests.

Czechs also are bringing Central European ideas into the EU. Czechs have a strong national focus on refugees and human rights; they are helping to focus the EU on support for refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Czechs also played a strong role in NATO, supporting NATO/US policy and committing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A major shift in the European landscape is the new relationship between Germany and the Czech Republic. For the first time, these historical enemies are militarily, politically, and economically aligned, with 30% of Czech exports going to Germany.

A major shift in the European landscape is the new relationship between Germany and the Czech Republic. For the first time, these historical enemies are militarily, politically, and economically aligned, with 30% of Czech exports going to Germany.

Conclusion

Professor Němeček pointed out that the Czech Republic has a long history of legislative stability, coexistence of different religions, and an open cosmopolitan view of the world. This social and cultural climate of the Czech Republic smoothed its path to become a participant in the advanced globalized world economy, he concluded.

Follow-Up

In the days following Professor Němeček’s comments to the Senate Presidents’ Forum,  the Czech Republic was the object of legal action from the EU over its refusal to accept its quota of refugees. We asked him how this refusal could be justified in a country with a celebrated history of openness to refugees.

Professor Němeček: Both are true. The Czech Republic has the highest net migration balance among all of the post-communist countries. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Czech Republic is in the 41st place in the world, measured by number of migrants per 1,000 inhabitants (behind the 31st US or the 39th United Kingdom but ahead of the 54th Germany or the 57th France). The World Bank statistic shows that the Czech Republic has consistently had a positive migration balance since 1989.

The country seems open both to the west and to the east, but not to the south, including the migration wave from the Middle East and northern Africa. During the Balkan wars in 1990s, the country smoothly absorbed 18,000 migrants from former Yugoslavia - no matter if they were Croats or Bosnian Muslims.

There are both emotional and pragmatic reasons for the emerging Czech resistance to accepting asylum-seekers. On the emotional side, the threat of terrorism, exacerbated by the 9/11 attack, the 2004 Madrid bombs, the 2005 London attacks, and the 2015 Charlie Hebdo Paris shooting, has caused the Czechs - as well as other Central and Eastern European nations – to become extremely cautious about the threats of fanatic bigotry.

There are both emotional and pragmatic reasons for the emerging Czech resistance to accepting asylum-seekers.

The Czechs and other Central European countries objected to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel´s unilateral decision in 2015 to suspend the EU rules for asylum-seekers (the Dublin Regulation), and they protested the proposed refugee quota system. Pragmatically, they pointed to the empirical evidence that the quota system does not work. Middle Eastern or Northern African asylum seekers would not stay in Eastern Europe but would try, by any means possible, to get to Germany, Italy, or France, where large communities of their compatriots live.

Nevertheless, my personal opinion is that the Czech government should do much more to share the EU migration burden. I would like to see a larger financial contribution, a more active approach, and political leadership in offering a safe harbor at least to those Middle Eastern refugees who would like to reside in the Czech Republic. There was a promising pilot program to re-settle Christian refugees from Iraq but the Czech government, unfortunately, scrapped the project when the first problems occurred. I would expect much more of the country so proud of Vaclav Havel´s legacy.

 I would like to see a larger financial contribution, a more active approach, and political leadership in offering a safe harbor at least to those Middle Eastern refugees who would like to reside in the Czech Republic.

Q&A

Q: Sen. John C. Cullerton (IL): Why hasn’t the Czech Republic joined the Eurozone?

A: Prof. Němeček: The country has a strong, independent central banking sector, the most effective central bank in post-Soviet Europe, which has done a good job of maintaining the stability of the Koruna (CZK). The Czechs avoided the currency fluctuations that happened in the Eurozone with the Greek crisis. Due to its stable banks, Czech Republic is able to attracts Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), unlike other Easter European countries, such as Slovenia, which need the Euro to attract FDI.

Q: Sen. Brent Hill (ID): Given the centuries of hostility between the Germans and the Czechs, what factors contributed to their new friendly relationship? Is it mostly economics, or was there a conscious effort by the leadership?

A: Prof. Němeček: Both leadership and economics contributed to the change. In 1997, in a public apology, a joint Czech/German declaration agreed to leave the past in the past. It expressed mutual sorrow for what went before. The Germans expressed sorrow for the injustices of the Munich Accord and the Nazi occupation, while the Czechs expressed sorrow for the violent expulsion of Germans. They also established a Czech/German Future Fund, which provides care for the victims of the Holocaust and student exchange programs. They also have appointed a joint historical commission to write their 19th century history. Furthermore, Germany has always supported Czech Republic in NATO and the UN.

Professor Němeček also noted that the Taiwanese government is considering a declaration modeled on the 1997 Accord to bring reconciliation after the Japanese occupation.

Q: Sen. Steve Yarborough (AZ): President Trump criticized the EU countries for not contributing sufficiently to their own defense. How is that sentiment viewed by the EU?

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Russia took back Crimea with military force. Slovakia and Poland border Ukraine and are spiritually connected. What has been the impact of Crimea on security in the eastern part of the EU?

A: Prof. Němeček: Western EU states such as Germany and France could accept the Crimea status quo, but not the Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles because they experienced partition and Russian occupation and are burdened by that history.  The Czech Republic supported the democratic forces in Ukraine and offered sanctuary to those opposing the Russian intrusion. The Czechs and Poles will never accept that Russia owns Crimea.

A: Prof. Harris: Mr. Putin saw the enlargement of the EU as a threat to Russia rather than a guarantee of security to those countries. The Putin government launched a program of disinformation in the Ukraine and EU to build support for the Russian occupation. Before that, Ukraine was perceived as being part of the “eastern neighborhood of the EU” and was about to apply for EU membership. Russia’s move against Crimea was unforeseen, and made it apparent that Russia’s global agenda is to roll back to pre-1989 and assert Russia as a world power at parity with the US, EU, and China.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): The Brexit vote was very close, and people underestimated how complicated it is to exit the EU. Is there likely to be another election to reconsider the decision to leave?  How will Brexit affect the Scottish independence movement?

A: Prof. Harris: A week is a long time in politics and there are 567 days until Brexit implementation, so a lot could happen. But the chances for change in Britain are not great.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said, “Brexit means Brexit.” As a result, the image of Britain is less attractive to those with a more global view, as the leaders are perceived as more introverted. Brexit is seen as an act of xenophobia that has engendered more such acts. Now British fruit farmers cannot get workers to pick the crops because of the atmosphere of fear generated in Britain.

When the UK leaves the EU, they will not have an improved situation. But they have not made clear what they want.  What the British should want is a free movement of labor. Younger people want to stay in the EU, where they see more opportunity. There is a lot of uncertainty, and the people’s will may change.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): In the US, there are strong and weak, young and old federations within the States, but the Supreme Court is respected by all the States and keeps it all together. What is the EU institution that is judicial, rather than political, that establishes and upholds new laws?

A: Prof. Harris: One justice from each EU country sits on the European Court of Justice. They rule on EU-wide issues such as labor rights or equality between men and women, and they resolve controversial decisions that need to be implemented across all the EU countries. They are responsible for the final interpretation of the EU laws. When Britain leaves the EU, a challenge will be to determine which laws rule Britain’s activities in the Common Market, the European Court of Justice or British rule.

Speaker Biography

Tomáš Němeček

Tomáš Němeček is a professor, lawyer, former reporter and editor. He holds a master´s degree in media and mass communication from the Charles University in Prague (Faculty of Social Sciences) and a master´s degree in law (Law Faculty). An award-winning journalist, Tomáš  spent 20 years in local media. He left in protest, in 2013, when the largest publishing house he worked for was acquired by a local billionaire-turned-politician. That same year, he started a new career as a lawyer in Prague hospital, and since September 2016 he has worked in a law firm in Prague.

Tomáš writes extensively on modern history. He wrote the biographies of three Czech Constitutional Court Justices. Since 2005, he has taught teaches at NYU in Prague. He served in the Board of the Transparency International Czech Republic and in the Board of the Transparency International Slovak Republic (both in 2014–2017). In 2014, he was elected non-partisan member of the City District Assembly in Prague 8, where he lives with his wife and three daughters.

september 13–17, 2017

Czech Integration to the EU:
Lessons Learned Since 2004

Tomáš Němeček

Professor of Czech and Slovak Modern History
Charles University

Professor Tomáš Němeček provided the Forum with a brief history of the Czech Republic from the 14th to the 21st century, using its bank notes as a historical guide. Each denomination of banknote carries a symbol of the unique Czech history of intellectualism, free markets, religious tolerance, legislative reform, universal suffrage for women, and cosmopolitan openness. These traits paved the way for Czech emergence as a westernized, democratic state and a member of the EU after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Professor Tomáš Němeček provided the Forum with a brief history of the Czech Republic from the 14th to the 21st century, using its bank notes as a historical guide. Each denomination of banknote carries a symbol of the unique Czech history of intellectualism, free markets, religious tolerance, legislative reform, universal suffrage for women, and cosmopolitan openness. These traits paved the way for Czech emergence as a westernized, democratic state and a member of the EU after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

 Czech history is a story of intellectualism, free markets, religious tolerance, legislative reform, universal suffrage for women, and cosmopolitan openness.

“Where is my Home,” Czech National Anthem

Professor Němeček quoted the Czech national anthem, which begins, “Where is my home?” reflecting the possibility of a small state disappearing. The Czech Republic is smaller than South Carolina and has a population similar to the state of Georgia. Its neighbors also are small countries; Poland is smaller than New Mexico, Hungary has less territory than Indiana, and Slovakia is just twice the size of New Hampshire, Prof. Němeček pointed out. But small countries can disappear, he warned, as was the case with Czech lands. From 1526-1790, the Czech homeland disappeared under the control of the House of Habsburg, and subsequently until 1918, under the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The First Republic (1918 -1938)

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia, succeeded in gaining Czechoslovak independence as a republic after World War I. He instituted progressive reforms in areas such as housing, social security, and workers’ rights.

The Second Republic (1938–1945)

The Munich Agreement (1938), without consultation with the Czechs, gave the Czech region of Sudetenland to Germany, and formed a truncated state, renamed Czecho-Slovakia from three autonomous units: The Czech lands, Slovakia, and Ruthenia, under the oppressive rule of the German Protectorate throughout World War II.

Third Republic (1945–1948)

1945, Czechoslovakia was liberated from Nazi occupation by the Red Army and allied troops, supported by Czech and Slovak resistance.  Based on appreciation for their Red Army liberators, the Third Republic was led by a National Front coalition, where three socialist/Communist parties predominated. Czechoslovakia soon came to fall within the Soviet sphere of influence.

Communist Era (1948-1989)

In 1948, the Communists took power in a coup d'état, and declared Czechoslovakia a "people's democracy,” marking the start of the Communist era (1948–1989). Czechoslovakia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The 1960 Constitution declared the victory of socialism and proclaimed the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR).

Prague Spring 1968

However, the socialist victory was hollow, the Soviet-style managed economy was not working. In the early 1960s, the Czechoslovak economy was severely stagnant. Reforms were necessary, and a more liberal agenda was enacted, setting guidelines for a modern, humanistic socialist democracy that would guarantee freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, and travel.

Invasion 1968

The movement toward a liberal democratic state was called the “Prague Spring,” along with anti-Soviet demonstrations ushered in a period of harsh repression. Political, social, and economic life stagnated. Five Warsaw Pact member countries invaded Czechoslovakia, Soviet troops continued to occupy the country until 1989. The outcome was the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty, and the suppression of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party.

Back to Europe 1989

However, Soviet repression and economic stagnation brewed resistance, fueling an anti-Communist revolution in 1989. Faced with an overwhelming popular repudiation, the Communist Party collapsed, and Vaclav Havel, a key leader of the Revolution, was elected President in the so-called Velvet Revolution. In 1989, as the Iron Curtain fell, the Czech slogan was “Back to Europe.”

In 1990, when US diplomats asked President Václav Havel, “What can the US do to help the Czech Republic?” he responded, “We don’t need help. Instead, help our former aggressors (Russia) to transition to democracy.”

The first free elections since 1946 took place in June 1990 with more than 95% of the population voting. In 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in the so-called “Velvet Divorce.”

The Czech Republic on the World Stage

Throughout this turbulent history, the fundamental Czech cultural attitudes remained Western and progressive, therefore, the country was poised for rapid improvements. Czech quality of life improved, including a transition to a free market democracy, an increase in life span, and lower infant mortality rate in the post-Soviet era. In 1999, the Czech Republic became a full member of NATO, in 2004, joined the EU, and assumed the EU presidency in 2009.

Throughout this turbulent history, the fundamental Czech cultural attitudes remained Western and progressive, therefore, the country was poised for rapid improvements.

Czech Influence on the EU

Professor Němeček quipped, “Formerly, Czechs were not invited to diplomatic dinners, unless their country was on the menu. Today they play a leadership role in the EU and in NATO.”  He dissected the modern-day changes shaping the Czech Republic today and the challenges it faces for the future.

Today, the Czech Republic holds leadership roles in the EU.

A Model for Economic Success

The Czech Republic is a model for economic success in the EU. It is a prosperous market economy that boasts one of the highest GDP growth rates (2.5%) and lowest unemployment levels (4.9%) in the EU. Its sophisticated exports comprise some 80% of GDP and include automobiles--the country’s single largest industry--metallurgy, machinery and equipment, and glass. The Czech central state budget reached a $2.38 billion USD surplus in 2016, and national debt is 34.3% of the $192.9 billion USD (2016) GDP.

The Czech Republic’s smooth transition to a free market economy may not be readily replicated in other states, Professor Němeček advised, because the country was primed for advancement due to its essential western-looking focus.

Influence in the EU Institutions

Hungary and Poland are not as influential as the Czech Republic in EU institutions, but they see Czechs being leaders in EU embassies in Africa and in Syria, where the Czech national embassy also represents EU and US interests.

Czechs also are bringing Central European ideas into the EU. Czechs have a strong national focus on refugees and human rights; they are helping to focus the EU on support for refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Czechs also played a strong role in NATO, supporting NATO/US policy and committing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A major shift in the European landscape is the new relationship between Germany and the Czech Republic. For the first time, these historical enemies are militarily, politically, and economically aligned, with 30% of Czech exports going to Germany.

A major shift in the European landscape is the new relationship between Germany and the Czech Republic. For the first time, these historical enemies are militarily, politically, and economically aligned, with 30% of Czech exports going to Germany.

Conclusion

Professor Němeček pointed out that the Czech Republic has a long history of legislative stability, coexistence of different religions, and an open cosmopolitan view of the world. This social and cultural climate of the Czech Republic smoothed its path to become a participant in the advanced globalized world economy, he concluded.

Follow-Up

In the days following Professor Němeček’s comments to the Senate Presidents’ Forum,  the Czech Republic was the object of legal action from the EU over its refusal to accept its quota of refugees. We asked him how this refusal could be justified in a country with a celebrated history of openness to refugees.

Professor Němeček: Both are true. The Czech Republic has the highest net migration balance among all of the post-communist countries. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Czech Republic is in the 41st place in the world, measured by number of migrants per 1,000 inhabitants (behind the 31st US or the 39th United Kingdom but ahead of the 54th Germany or the 57th France). The World Bank statistic shows that the Czech Republic has consistently had a positive migration balance since 1989.

The country seems open both to the west and to the east, but not to the south, including the migration wave from the Middle East and northern Africa. During the Balkan wars in 1990s, the country smoothly absorbed 18,000 migrants from former Yugoslavia - no matter if they were Croats or Bosnian Muslims.

There are both emotional and pragmatic reasons for the emerging Czech resistance to accepting asylum-seekers. On the emotional side, the threat of terrorism, exacerbated by the 9/11 attack, the 2004 Madrid bombs, the 2005 London attacks, and the 2015 Charlie Hebdo Paris shooting, has caused the Czechs - as well as other Central and Eastern European nations – to become extremely cautious about the threats of fanatic bigotry.

There are both emotional and pragmatic reasons for the emerging Czech resistance to accepting asylum-seekers.

The Czechs and other Central European countries objected to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel´s unilateral decision in 2015 to suspend the EU rules for asylum-seekers (the Dublin Regulation), and they protested the proposed refugee quota system. Pragmatically, they pointed to the empirical evidence that the quota system does not work. Middle Eastern or Northern African asylum seekers would not stay in Eastern Europe but would try, by any means possible, to get to Germany, Italy, or France, where large communities of their compatriots live.

Nevertheless, my personal opinion is that the Czech government should do much more to share the EU migration burden. I would like to see a larger financial contribution, a more active approach, and political leadership in offering a safe harbor at least to those Middle Eastern refugees who would like to reside in the Czech Republic. There was a promising pilot program to re-settle Christian refugees from Iraq but the Czech government, unfortunately, scrapped the project when the first problems occurred. I would expect much more of the country so proud of Vaclav Havel´s legacy.

 I would like to see a larger financial contribution, a more active approach, and political leadership in offering a safe harbor at least to those Middle Eastern refugees who would like to reside in the Czech Republic.

Q&A

Q: Sen. John C. Cullerton (IL): Why hasn’t the Czech Republic joined the Eurozone?

A: Prof. Němeček: The country has a strong, independent central banking sector, the most effective central bank in post-Soviet Europe, which has done a good job of maintaining the stability of the Koruna (CZK). The Czechs avoided the currency fluctuations that happened in the Eurozone with the Greek crisis. Due to its stable banks, Czech Republic is able to attracts Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), unlike other Easter European countries, such as Slovenia, which need the Euro to attract FDI.

Q: Sen. Brent Hill (ID): Given the centuries of hostility between the Germans and the Czechs, what factors contributed to their new friendly relationship? Is it mostly economics, or was there a conscious effort by the leadership?

A: Prof. Němeček: Both leadership and economics contributed to the change. In 1997, in a public apology, a joint Czech/German declaration agreed to leave the past in the past. It expressed mutual sorrow for what went before. The Germans expressed sorrow for the injustices of the Munich Accord and the Nazi occupation, while the Czechs expressed sorrow for the violent expulsion of Germans. They also established a Czech/German Future Fund, which provides care for the victims of the Holocaust and student exchange programs. They also have appointed a joint historical commission to write their 19th century history. Furthermore, Germany has always supported Czech Republic in NATO and the UN.

Professor Němeček also noted that the Taiwanese government is considering a declaration modeled on the 1997 Accord to bring reconciliation after the Japanese occupation.

Q: Sen. Steve Yarborough (AZ): President Trump criticized the EU countries for not contributing sufficiently to their own defense. How is that sentiment viewed by the EU?

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Russia took back Crimea with military force. Slovakia and Poland border Ukraine and are spiritually connected. What has been the impact of Crimea on security in the eastern part of the EU?

A: Prof. Němeček: Western EU states such as Germany and France could accept the Crimea status quo, but not the Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles because they experienced partition and Russian occupation and are burdened by that history.  The Czech Republic supported the democratic forces in Ukraine and offered sanctuary to those opposing the Russian intrusion. The Czechs and Poles will never accept that Russia owns Crimea.

A: Prof. Harris: Mr. Putin saw the enlargement of the EU as a threat to Russia rather than a guarantee of security to those countries. The Putin government launched a program of disinformation in the Ukraine and EU to build support for the Russian occupation. Before that, Ukraine was perceived as being part of the “eastern neighborhood of the EU” and was about to apply for EU membership. Russia’s move against Crimea was unforeseen, and made it apparent that Russia’s global agenda is to roll back to pre-1989 and assert Russia as a world power at parity with the US, EU, and China.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): The Brexit vote was very close, and people underestimated how complicated it is to exit the EU. Is there likely to be another election to reconsider the decision to leave?  How will Brexit affect the Scottish independence movement?

A: Prof. Harris: A week is a long time in politics and there are 567 days until Brexit implementation, so a lot could happen. But the chances for change in Britain are not great.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said, “Brexit means Brexit.” As a result, the image of Britain is less attractive to those with a more global view, as the leaders are perceived as more introverted. Brexit is seen as an act of xenophobia that has engendered more such acts. Now British fruit farmers cannot get workers to pick the crops because of the atmosphere of fear generated in Britain.

When the UK leaves the EU, they will not have an improved situation. But they have not made clear what they want.  What the British should want is a free movement of labor. Younger people want to stay in the EU, where they see more opportunity. There is a lot of uncertainty, and the people’s will may change.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): In the US, there are strong and weak, young and old federations within the States, but the Supreme Court is respected by all the States and keeps it all together. What is the EU institution that is judicial, rather than political, that establishes and upholds new laws?

A: Prof. Harris: One justice from each EU country sits on the European Court of Justice. They rule on EU-wide issues such as labor rights or equality between men and women, and they resolve controversial decisions that need to be implemented across all the EU countries. They are responsible for the final interpretation of the EU laws. When Britain leaves the EU, a challenge will be to determine which laws rule Britain’s activities in the Common Market, the European Court of Justice or British rule.

Speaker Biography

Tomáš Němeček

Tomáš Němeček is a professor, lawyer, former reporter and editor. He holds a master´s degree in media and mass communication from the Charles University in Prague (Faculty of Social Sciences) and a master´s degree in law (Law Faculty). An award-winning journalist, Tomáš  spent 20 years in local media. He left in protest, in 2013, when the largest publishing house he worked for was acquired by a local billionaire-turned-politician. That same year, he started a new career as a lawyer in Prague hospital, and since September 2016 he has worked in a law firm in Prague.

Tomáš writes extensively on modern history. He wrote the biographies of three Czech Constitutional Court Justices. Since 2005, he has taught teaches at NYU in Prague. He served in the Board of the Transparency International Czech Republic and in the Board of the Transparency International Slovak Republic (both in 2014–2017). In 2014, he was elected non-partisan member of the City District Assembly in Prague 8, where he lives with his wife and three daughters.