A diplomatic Czech mate


By Daniella Peled
December 31, 2008
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Czech President Vaclav Klaus must be overwhelmed by his stroke of diplomatic luck. His country has been handed the EU presidency right in the middle of a major Middle East crisis. With 27 members, each country has to wait well over a decade before it gets its crack at the six-month presidency. So he is ensuring they make the most of it.

Centuries of culture are all very well, but the Czech Republic has yet to recover its mittel-european standing following the depredations of the twentieth century. Now is its chance to finally show that it has more to offer the world than beer and cheap stag weekends.
Hence its startlingly pro-Israel stance over the Gaza operation, ahead of leading an EU mission to the region. The voice of “New Europe” indeed.

The Czech Republic finds itself filling something of a power vacuum at the moment. America is remaining distant from the Gaza conflict, at least until 20 Jan and the new dawn of President Obama. The UN is as usual toothless, the Arab world divided. When it comes to the EU hard-hitters, Germany is by default disqualified from involvement in anything approaching criticism of Israel, whereas the UK is floundering. Never mind that the EU is incapable of formulating any kind of unified foreign policy – by accident it appears to be pretty much the only international body really getting involved in the Middle East at the mo.

But watch out! Here comes French President Nikolas Sarkozy cantering on to the world stage, in full white knight finery. Sarko has long fancied himself a bit of an international peacemaker, brokering ceasefires in Georgia and what have you, accompanied by his trusty Foreign Minister sidekick and humanitarian superstar Bernard Kouchner. Now he also has the chance to position himself as the de facto leader of the EU, despite the small fact that France’s presidency has just ended.

It will be interesting to see which party is more successful – or whose intervention will have any effect at all.

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