EU-sceptic Czechs keen to maintain strong relationship with the UK

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Czech-in: EU-sceptic Czechs keen to maintain strong relationship with the UK
One could be forgiven for thinking Brexit is a situation that concerns half a dozen western European states and the UK. After all, the UK’s largest trading relationships in the EU are with countries like Germany, France, Spain, Italy and The Netherlands.

But look beyond the myopic view of the negotiations in London, Paris, Brussels or Berlin and it becomes clear that states in the east of Europe also have a lot to lose from Brexit.

Citizens rights are a key aspect of the negotiations for the Czech Republic, for example. “The Czech government expects for the UK to show an extent of amicable flexibility here even if migration of EU workers featured as a prominent issue in the perceptions of the British people in the Brexit referendum,” Irena Valentová, a spokeswoman for the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Local.

“It expects for the UK to offer such a level of guarantees for EU citizens living there so that they will not become second class citizens,” she added. Czech President Miloš Zeman emphasized the same point during a dinner in June 2017 with Queen Elizabeth II, reported Brno Daily.

At least 54,000 Czech citizens were resident in the UK as of December 2016, according to the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS). According to Valentová, 6,288 UK citizens were resident in the Czech Republic as of the same date.

Trade between the two countries has been growing steadily since the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004. “Bilateral trade CZ-UK in year 2016 reached record levels,” says Czech foreign office spokeswoman Valentová. In 2016, the volume of bilateral trade was 298 billion Czech crowns (approx €11 billion/$11.6 billion).

The Czech Republic exported 206 billion Czech crowns (€7.6 billion) of goods to the UK in 2016, making Britain a top 5 export partner for the Central European state. Budvar beer, Škoda cars and Škoda machine tools are some of the key exports to the UK.

“The most important sectors of our trade are automotive industry, machinery and food processing,” says Valentová. “We hope that Škoda cars will remain as popular among British buyers after Brexit as they are now.”

Students have also been a major export to the UK for the Czech Republic. In 2017, there was a 56 percent increase in enrolment at UK universities by Czech nationals, reports Radio Praha. At least five British universities also offer courses in Czech, according to the website of the Czech Republic’s London embassy.

But the weakened pound has already had an impact on Czech-UK trade. In 2017, exports to the UK reduced 3 percent, while imports to the Czech Republic from the UK were also down 1.5 percent.

The Czech Republic’s new oligarch president, Andrej Babiš, the country’s second richest man and owner of agribusiness giant Agrofert – which in turn owns some of the country’s largest food processing companies – is likely to protect these in any future negotiations with the UK.

Babiš has expressed sympathy for the UK’s drawn-out negotiations with “the Brussels bureaucracy” and opposes any further integration of the the Czech Republic into the EU, including euro adoption. Regarding the Brexit negotiations however, Babiš told Czech online news site that “business is of course a priority.”

“The UK ranks approximately 11th in the ranks of foreign investors in the Czech Republic. These have created (estimate) some 55,000 working places in the Czech Republic,” Czech foreign office spokeswoman Valentová told The Local.

“Strengthening our trade relations should go hand in hand with fostering our cooperation in other areas, e.g. in security, defence, science, research, education,” added Valentová.

She highlighted the UK’s support to Czechs in fighting nazism – such as Operation Anthropoid, code name for the assassination of the Nazi commander Reinhard Heydrich in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during World War II.


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