Czechs cosy up to Visegrad pals as relations cool with Western Europe

Czechs cosy up to Visegrad pals as relations cool with Western Europe
Czechs are happy with their Visegrad peers despite recent spats.
By Henry Kirby in London February 2, 2016

Rising tension between the Visegrad countries and the EU over the ongoing migrant crisis appears to have taken its toll on the views of Czechs. A recent poll shows that their opinions of Western European nations have lowered dramatically in the last two years.

The poll, conducted by the Prague-based Public Opinion Research Centre (CVVM), asked Czech respondents to rate their views of various countries on a scale from “very good” to “very bad”. While positive opinions tended to comfortably outweigh negative views across the board, opinions of Western European countries have fallen considerably since the last poll in 2014.

Along with Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, the Czech Republic has been resisting the EU attempt to impose migrant quotas on member states. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka announced last week that the Visegrad Four (V4) will meet on February 15, three days before an EU summit which will discuss the crisis.

Tapping into public panic surrounding the migrant crisis has proven to be an easy win for the populist governments in the region. It also appears to be helping produce greater cohesion in a club that has been rent by differing agendas. That is reflected in the poll, which finds that Czech views of the other V4 nations have grown steadily.

Views on China and Russia also appeared to improve over the last three years, in line with an increase in interest in the Czech Republic from investors from the east in recent years. Frequent reports of possible Chinese-led acquisitions of Czech firms and the recent launching of direct flights between Beijing, Shanghai and the Czech capital are indicative of a mutual desire between China and the Czech Republic to boost trade.

The boost in favourable views of Russia also coincides with increasing levels of Russian investment in the Czech Republic. The first half of 2015 saw Russian purchases of Czech real estate grow by 31% compared to the same period the previous year.

The Czech Republic also stands to see a sizeable windfall in transit fees should the expanded Nord Stream gas link from Russia to Germany go ahead – much to the chagrin of other CEE and Visegrad nations.