Fico and Fiala in Prague in November 2023. Credit:

Czech Cabinet Cancels Upcoming Intergovernmental Meeting With Slovak Counterparts

The Czech-Slovak intergovernmental consultations will not take place in the coming weeks or months, as the Czech cabinet does not consider it appropriate, Czech PM Petr Fiala announced after the regular cabinet meeting yesterday.

Fiala said there are numerous common topics that the Czech Republic and Slovakia should develop, but there are also significant differences of opinion on key foreign policy issues.

Since Robert Fico’s government took power in Slovakia last October, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have differed in particular in their stance on the war in Ukraine. While the Czech Republic is supporting Ukraine militarily in the face of the Russian invasion, Fico’s government has halted military aid to Kyiv from army stocks. According to Fiala’s statement last week, the countries also differ in their views on the causes of Russian aggression.

“We are convinced that there is no need for a joint meeting of the two governments today,” said Fiala. “We have informed the Slovak side of our decision and our intention to postpone the meeting.” He added that cooperation between the two countries must be focused on concrete projects.

“The relations are multifaceted, there are many common topics, we intend to develop them and to address them. But it is impossible to conceal the fact that there are significant differences of opinion on some key foreign policy issues,” Fiala noted.

Fiala highlighted the “significant differences of opinion” between the two governments on foreign policy. Credit:

For example, the Czech government considers the meeting between Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanar and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to be problematic. The two foreign ministers met last week at a regional forum in Turkey, and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto also met Lavrov. Blanar was criticised over the meeting by three former Slovak foreign ministers, among others.

Fiala said Slovakia is the country closest to the Czech Republic and the Czech government wants to maintain above-average relations. However, in the current situation, and with Slovakia going into the campaign for the presidential elections, “an extraordinary, above-standard step such as a joint meeting of the governments” is not appropriate, he said.

In reaction, Slovak PM Robert Fico (Smer-SD) said the Czech government has decided to jeopardise Slovak-Czech relations only because it is interested in supporting the war in Ukraine, while the Slovak government is talking about peace. The Czech government’s move would not affect Bratislava’s “sovereign foreign policy”, Fico wrote yesterday evening in a statement released to CTK by the Slovak Government Office.

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova said she would continue to seek to improve relations between the two countries. In a statement released to CTK by her spokesman Martin Strizinec, the president said that “If we weaken our foreign policy in terms of values, we may lose friends. I am sorry that this is happening. From my position I will continue to try to strengthen mutual relations.”

Slovak opposition leader Michal Simecka (Progressive Slovakia) described the Czech government’s decision to suspend the meetings as probably the worst moment between the countries since the establishment of the independent Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. “Because of the steps taken by Fico and Minister Blanar, the Czech government has decided to cancel the joint negotiations with our government. This is a huge shame and damage to mutual relations,” Simecka wrote in a statement.

Robert Fico (centre) became Slovak PM for the fourth time after elections in autumn 2023. Credit: Robert Fico, via Facebook.

He compared Fico to former Slovak PM Vladimir Meciar, under whose rule Slovakia faced criticism from Western countries in the 1990s over democratic backsliding. “It took Meciar five years to turn Slovakia into a black hole on the map of Europe. Robert Fico was able to catch up with him in five months,” said Simecka. Fico became prime minister for the fourth time in October 2023 after his party’s victory in snap parliamentary elections.

Simecka said he would travel to Prague on Thursday, where he has meetings scheduled with representatives of the Czech parliament and government. At these meetings, he said he would also raise the fact that many in Slovakia have clear pro-European and democratic values.

According to former Slovak foreign minister and current presidential candidate Ivan Korcok, the Slovak side bears full responsibility for the deterioration of relations with the Czech Republic.

“The government of Slovakia is leading Slovakia into isolation, burning bridges with its neighbours, getting rid of allies and seriously damaging national-state interests,” wrote Korcok, a longtime diplomat who served as Slovakia’s foreign minister from 2020 to 2022, and has now been nominated for president by the opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS).

Fiala (ODS) initially agreed with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico (Smer-SD) last November to continue the tradition of joint government meetings; the next one was to take place in the Czech Republic this spring.

The last intergovernmental consultations took place in Trencin, western Slovakia, in April 2023, when the previous cabinet of Eduard Heger was ruling in Slovakia.

The Czech cabinet also holds regular meetings with the Polish cabinet, most recently in July 2023 in Katowice. Intergovernmental consultations have also previously been held with Israel, and further meetings were also planned last year, but were cancelled after the beginning of the conflict in the region in October.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky (Pirates) supported the decision to suspend the intergovernmental consultations. “Our partners literally on the other side of the globe, on the other side of the world, understand that the security of Europe affects the security of the whole world. That is why I am sorry that my colleagues in Slovakia do not see it in the same way,” Lipavsky told the press conference yesterday.

Lipavsky spoke about Russian aggression in Ukraine during a tour of India, Australia and Japan last week. He said inter-ministerial talks on bilateral agendas should continue.

“I think friends should be honest with each other and should be able to tell each other even unpleasant things. If Slovakia tries to do diplomacy on both sides, experience tells us that you usually end up staying on one side,” Lipavsky added.

Nevertheless, he announced that a meeting of foreign ministers from the Visegrad Four (V4), i.e. the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, will take place in the Czech Republic on 21 March. The prime ministers of these countries held talks in Prague last week.

The V4 Prime Ministers in Prague last week. Credit:

According to Pavlina Janebova of the Prague-based Association for International Affairs (AMO), the suspension of the intergovernmental consultations is a rather sharp signal of the deterioration of bilateral relations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

“In the context of the recent meeting of the prime ministers of the Visegrad Group countries in Prague, this is a rather surprising step,” Janebova said. “However, the meeting between Juraj Blanar and Sergei Lavrov took place after the V4 summit.” She said does not expect further escalation and deterioration of mutual cooperation. “Slovaks care quite a lot about bilateral relations with the Czech Republic,” she added.

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