Too Small to Make an Impact?

The Czech Republic’s Influence on the European Union’s Foreign Policy

by Marek Neuman (Author)
©2015 Monographs XV, 308 Pages


Do small EU member states exert influence over the EU’s foreign policy-making process? Ten years after the Czech Republic joined the European Union, Marek Neuman attempts to answer this question by looking into whether Prague succeeded in translating its foreign policy preferences vis-à-vis Russia and the larger post-Soviet space into the EU’s foreign policy making. Looking at three policy portfolios – the EU’s Eastern neighborhood, energy security, and external democratization – he argues that the Czech influence varies across issue areas and time. In studying the role of member states in EU foreign policy formation, he concludes that three master variables – quality of the national preference, ability to position oneself as a norm entrepreneur, and the character of interstate negotiations together with one’s negotiation skills – determine a state’s ability to make a difference in Brussels.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • List of Figures
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • On Theory and Methodology
  • Overview of the Book
  • Chapter One: From Bilateralism to Multilateralism: A Conceptualization of the Czech Republic’s Foreign Policy Making vis-à-vis Russia and the Larger Post-Soviet Space
  • Introduction: Czech(oslovak) Foreign Policy as a Continuous Struggle of Competing Ideas
  • Engagement vs. Estrangement: Establishing Relations with Russia and the Larger Post-Soviet Space in 1989–1999
  • Aggravation vs. Normalization: Maintaining Relations with Russia and the Larger Post-Soviet Space in 2000–2004
  • All Harmonious?: Maintaining Relations with Russia and the Larger Post-Soviet Space in the Post-2004 Period
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Two: Theorizing the European Union’s Foreign Policy Making: A Two-Level Game
  • Introduction: The Complexity of Theorizing EU Foreign Policy Making
  • Providing a Set of Analytical Tools I: Liberal Intergovernmentalism
  • Liberal Intergovernmentalism and EU Foreign Policy Making
  • Operationalizing Liberal Intergovernmentalism for the Purpose of the Present Study
  • Providing a Set of Analytical Tools II: Social Constructivism
  • Social Constructivism and EU Foreign Policy Making
  • Operationalizing Social Constructivism for the Purpose of the Present Study
  • Case Study Selection and Remarks on Methodology
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Three: From a Forgotten Region to Prague’s Protégé: the European Union’s Eastern Neighborhood
  • Introduction: The European Union and Its Eastern Neighborhood Prior to 2004
  • Czech Domestic Preference Formation on Reforming the European Neighbourhood Policy
  • Two Sides of the Same Coin: Czech National Preference vs. Czech Policy Strategies
  • Leaving the Domestic Level: Uploading the National Preference to the European Union Level
  • Arriving at the European Union Level: Negotiating the European Partnership
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Four: The Czech Republic’s Energy Security: Part of a Greater EU Puzzle
  • Introduction: The European Union’s External Energy Policy Prior to 2004
  • Czech Domestic Preference Formation on Reducing the European Union’s Energy Dependence on Russia
  • Two Sides of the Same Coin: Czech National Preference vs. Czech Policy Strategies
  • Leaving the Domestic Level: Uploading the National Preference to the European Union Level
  • Arriving at the European Union Level: Negotiating a New Approach to the European Union’s Energy Security
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Five: Emphasizing Democracy Promotion: The Czech Republic’s Niche in the European Union’s Foreign Policy
  • Introduction: The European Union’s External Human Rights and Democratization Policy Prior to 2004
  • Czech Domestic Preference Formation to Provide the EU’s Foreign Policy with a New Democratization Dimension
  • Two Sides of the Same Coin: Czech National Preference vs. Czech Policy Strategies
  • Leaving the Domestic Level: Uploading the National Preference to the European Union
  • Arriving at the European Union Level: Negotiating a Reinvigorated European Union Approach to External Democracy Promotion
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion
  • Master Variable No. One: The Quality of the National Preference
  • Master Variable No. Two: The Ability to Position Oneself as a Norm Entrepreneur
  • Master Variable No. Three: The Character of Interstate Negotiations and One’s Negotiation Skills
  • Supportive Variables
  • Implications for Theory
  • Epilogue: Recent Developments
  • List of Interviewees
  • Bibliography


“Central Europe longed to be a condensed version of Europe itself in all its cultural variety, a small arch-European Europe, a reduced model of Europe made up of nations conceived according to one rule: the greatest variety within the smallest space. How could Central Europe not be horrified facing a Russia founded on the opposite principle: the smallest variety within the greatest space?”1
Milan Kundera

The Czech Republic’s accession to the European Union on May 1, 2004 symbolized the end of the country’s transition period launched by the Velvet Revolution in 1989. At the beginning of this transition period a newly sovereign country – first Czechoslovakia, later the Czech Republic – found itself in a paradoxical situation. Prague embraced its so-desired independence, focusing on societal, democratic, and economic reforms, while at the same time declaring (re)integration into Western international structures as its primary foreign policy goal, which was to be achieved at the cost of sharing sovereignty with other member states in certain areas. This particular foreign policy goal, which can be summed up under the heading “return to Europe,”2 and which mainly consisted of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU), enjoyed unprecedented consensus across most of the domestic political spectrum3 and among the general public. The public in particular supported the idea of Prague’s participation in the European Union’s foreign policy, creating a “European modus operandi,”4 which it ← 1 | 2 → regarded as a means to increase the country’s reputation, further legitimizing its role in the international arena.

With speedy EU accession as the Czech Republic’s main foreign policy goal, the overall transformation of former communist Czechoslovakia into a democratic country with a market economy was largely successful.5 As a result of the smooth transition process, the Czech Republic became one of the frontrunners among the Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) for EU membership and subsequently did not face major difficulties with regard to the completion of accession talks before eventually joining the EU in 2004. Even in the evolving domain of the Union’s foreign policy, Prague effortlessly complied with the conditions imposed by the EU; the Czech Republic closed both Chapter 26 (on external relations) and Chapter 27 (on Common Foreign and Security Policy) of the acquis communautaire in a timely manner, and adopted the entire acquis politique.6 The Czech Republic readily aligned itself with the EU’s foreign policy statements and began to familiarize its representatives with the relevant international institutional bodies by sending observers to the individual working parties of the Council of the European Union. This enabled the Czech Republic to fully participate in EU foreign policy making once it became an official EU member.

While at the beginning of its transition period the Czech Republic found itself in an ambivalent situation, torn between guarding its recently gained independence and sharing this sovereignty within a (semi-)supranational organization, at the end of this period, which was marked by joining the EU, it faced another ← 2 | 3 → challenge. With the country’s main foreign policy priority of EU accession being fulfilled, the Czech Republic now faced the question of what its foreign policy should be moving forward. The intense focus placed on EU accession for fifteen years, while beneficial, came at a high cost. First, the Czech Republic lacked the capacity to formulate foreign policy priorities in other areas, both territorial and thematic. Second, the Czech Republic was in dire need of a conceptual framework and organizing document that would guide its long-term foreign policy efforts. This would have to result from a nation-wide discourse involving the various interested actors, such as political parties, non-governmental organizations, or think tanks, who were active on the domestic scene. Put simply, with EU accession completed and the Czech Republic fully participating in the EU’s foreign policy activities, the country needed to learn to define its foreign policy preferences outside the EU-scope, and how to have these translated into policy at the EU level.7

It is important to remember that while the Czech Republic was working towards joining the European Union, in reality, its target was shifting – the EU itself was in a state of constant flux, developing both institutionally as well as in scope. Particularly in the area of foreign policy cooperation, the EU experienced immense leaps forward from where it started. With the launch of the European Political Cooperation (EPC) in 1970, the member states decided to transform the Union from a strictly economy-based organization into an organization with an external outreach. Further institutional impetus came in the early 1990s, when the second pillar of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) established the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which was to help the EU in becoming a global actor. From then onwards, as Wong argued, the EU’s foreign policy is understood as the interaction of three strands comprising “(a) the national foreign policies of the member states; (b) EC external trade relations and development policy; and (c) the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU.”8 Most recently, the Lisbon Treaty, enforced as of December 1, 2009, further streamlined foreign policy making at the EU level by, among other ← 3 | 4 → things, abandoning the pillar structure introduced by the TEU and by creating the post of High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy. This post would be in charge of the Union’s new diplomatic service, the European External Action Service.

The institutional upgrade brought about by the TEU, for which negotiations began in the late 1980s, coincided with the end of the Cold War, the consequent fall of the Berlin Wall, the emergence of newly independent countries at the EU’s Eastern border, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Particularly the latter two events posed a great challenge to the emerging external dimension of the EU. First, the EU needed to design a framework that would allow close cooperation with the newly independent countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), which soon expressed their wish to apply for full EU membership. Second, as the EU realized that enlargement to the East was inevitable, the Union had to devise a strategy towards the new Soviet successor republics (grouped together in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)), which would soon constitute the EU’s immediate neighborhood. As such, the EU faced the challenge of designing a comprehensive strategy towards Russia, which needed to take into account the other post-Soviet republics and Russia’s claims towards them. At the same time, the approach towards CEECs would need to differ significantly from the one applied towards CIS countries. With regard to the first group, the EU introduced mechanisms that were to lead to the countries’ inclusion into the Union, and the latter group of states was to be supported in its stabilization efforts, without, however, the prospect of participating in EU institutions.

Dealing with Russia was one of the greatest EU foreign policy challenges of the 1990s. EU-Russian relations were difficult from the very beginning and the openly proclaimed desire of many Central and Eastern European (and some CIS) countries to join both the EU and NATO certainly did not help the situation. Early in the Eastern EU enlargement process scholars realized that EU widening towards the East could bring additional strain to the EU-Russian relationship as the new member states had numerous pending bilateral disputes involving Moscow.9 The amount and the range of issues the EU would face vis-à-vis Russia ← 4 | 5 → were expected to increase as a result of the new member states’ potential ability to upload their own Russia-specific agenda to the EU level. In line with this, the Czech Republic’s post-2004 foreign policy intersected with the EU foreign policy agenda on the very topic of Russia and the larger post-Soviet space.10 Based on its own specific historical development, coupled with its recent political and economic transition experience, the Czech Republic formulated its foreign policy towards Russia and the larger post-Soviet space and decided to promote this policy on and through the EU level. However, the question of Prague’s successful ability to do so remains yet to be determined. Consequently, this study is interested in establishing the extent to which the Czech Republic has been capable of translating its domestically defined foreign policy preferences vis-à-vis the Russian Federation and the larger post-Soviet space into EU-wide foreign policy.

In other words, the present study aims to answer whether the EU’s foreign policy towards Russia and the other post-Soviet countries has changed since 2004 as a result of the Czech Republic promoting its foreign policy preferences vis-à-vis the respective countries at the EU level. This research question merits closer analysis, clarifying the subject and object duality of this study, the processes under scrutiny, and the underlying assumptions. The point of departure for this study is an observed discrepancy between the EU’s and the Czech Republic’s foreign policy approach towards Kiev, Minsk, Moscow, and Tbilisi, among others. Therefore, the first underlying assumption behind the above-presented research question is that the Czech Republic indeed has diverging interests towards these as compared to the European Union as a whole, and that it seeks to adjust the EU’s foreign policy accordingly. The discrepancy stems from a ← 5 | 6 → number of factors ranging from a different perception the two entities hold on Eastern Europe, their distinct security sensitivities, and the diverse human rights concepts each promotes. Yet, the mere desire to shift the EU’s policy on Russia and the larger post-Soviet space in a certain direction does not imply that the Czech Republic was capable of having its preference translated into EU-wide policy. Consequently, the second underlying assumption of this study is that the Czech Republic is an equal EU member state to all the others; it can employ all relevant mechanisms at its disposal within EU institutions to have its foreign policy preferences reflected in EU policy making. The purpose of this study is to find out whether the Czech Republic has translated this theoretical ability to influence EU foreign policy making into practice.

On a broader level, this research is interested in the process of foreign policy making at the supranational (EU) level, or the structure, while assessing the role of an individual member state, or the agent. Specifically, this study analyzes the interaction between the two subjects of the study, the EU and the Czech Republic, against the background of the object, Russia and the larger post-Soviet space, as the recipient of EU-developed foreign policy. The analytical choice of the EU as the multilateral forum in which the Czech Republic pursues its foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia and Eastern Europe in general is given by the EU’s outreach potential and by the close involvement of its member states, currently also spilling over into the foreign policy domain. Here the EU is treated as a single, yet not necessarily a unisonant, actor with legal personality, which is enabled by a broad understanding of its foreign policy. This is opposed to a narrow understanding, which would only analyze policies brought under the CFSP framework. Therefore, this study adopts a holistic approach to EU foreign policy making in line with Wong’s argument presented above: the foreign policy of the EU is a combination of individual member states’ foreign policies, the external aspects of single EU policies, and actions brought under the CFSP.

This study is interested in the impact the Czech Republic has on EU foreign policy making. But why the Czech Republic and not another member state? The Czech Republic has been selected for multiple reasons, which can be categorized into two clusters – material/geographic and cognitive. With regard to the first category (material/geographic), the Czech Republic is a new, medium-sized country, located in Central Europe. The country joined the EU only in 2004 and it is therefore interesting to study whether in this rather short time-span Prague has been able to find its position as an equal partner in the EU, enabling it to leave its mark on the Union’s foreign policy making. Population-wise, and consequently also in terms of the number of votes in the Council of the ← 6 | 7 → European Union, the Czech Republic can be grouped together with such countries as Austria, Belgium, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Sweden.11 As some of these states have proven to play an important role in the EU’s foreign policy over the past decades,12 dismissing the potential impact of the Czech Republic a priori cannot be justified, regardless of it not being one of the big member states. Moreover, the Czech Republic is rhetorically and physically firmly anchored in Central Europe, positioning it at the border of former Western and Eastern Europe, or as some maintain, old and new Europe.

The second category for explaining the focus being on the Czech Republic lies in the country’s cognitive features. First, the role of public figures needs to be stressed. Through their activities, particularly in the communist dissent, these figures have become moral authorities, and influence foreign policy making both directly and indirectly. The three most prominent figures are Jiří Dienstbier, the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia after 1989, Šimon Pánek, student protest leader in 1989 and later director of the biggest NGO in Central and Eastern Europe, People in Need, and former Czech President Václav Havel. These public figures frequently comment on the Czech Republic’s foreign policy and their appeal is not restricted to the country’s borders. As their own political conviction was largely formed during times of political and cultural oppression, they advocate a modern foreign policy firmly grounded in ethical values. As Havel put it:

[the] sense of responsibility [for the whole world] grows out of the experience of certain moral imperatives that compel one to transcend the horizon of one’s own personal interests and be prepared at any time to defend the common good, and even to suffer for it. Just as our ‘dissidence’ was anchored in this moral ground, so the spirit of our foreign policy should grow and, more important, continue to grow from it.13

Second, Prague continues to find itself cognitively torn between the West and the East. Whereas the country resembles its Western counterparts as it successfully transformed from a communist, centrally planned economy to a ← 7 | 8 → democratic country with a market economy, it nevertheless has strong links to the East, stemming from decades of mutual cooperation and cultural links. The Czech experience with transition, coupled with the above-described moral duty to support others in their efforts to democratize, has led to the internalization of the belief that the Czech Republic could set an example by actively promoting stabilization, democratization, and market liberalization in the countries it uniquely understands. As political scientist Jiří Pehe argued:

just like during the interwar period, when Czechs believed they were the upholders of democracy in Central Europe and the Slavic world in general, and in 1968, when Czechs believed their ‘socialism with a human face’ would salvage the communist ideology, the Klaus government believed the Czechs were destined to play a special role in reviving democracies and market economies in the post-communist world.14

The Czech Republic’s potential in establishing healthy EU relations with Russia and other post-Soviet countries has been highlighted by a study conducted by Mark Leonard and Nicu Popescu. By placing the Czech Republic in its dealings with Russia within the group of “frosty pragmatists,”15 Leonard and Popescu maintain that the country is able to continue its balancing act between economic pragmatism and normativism. The Czech Republic, as an actor, is pragmatic enough to appreciate the strengthening of constructive EU-Russia relations, yet does not shy away from criticizing Russia and other countries for their behavior if their actions are in contradiction with its own modern values. This pragmatic/rational character of Prague, as opposed to a more emotional/irrational one, coupled with expertise on Eastern Europe, sets the Czech Republic apart from most of the other new EU member states. A closer look on the impact of Czech foreign policy making within EU institutions is thus merited.

Besides these two categories that stand as clarification for assessing the very impact of the Czech Republic on the EU’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia and the larger post-Soviet space, one additional element needs to be emphasized – the Czech Republic’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first six months of 2009. Traditionally, the presiding country is expected to refrain from promoting its national interests during its mandate and act rather as an ← 8 | 9 → honest broker between other member states, observing the norms of impartiality, neutrality, and efficiency.16 However, recent literature on the EU Presidency has begun to assess matters differently, indicating that the presiding country may employ numerous instruments to alter the EU’s political agenda, exercising agenda setting, agenda structuring, and agenda exclusion.17 In this study, in line with Tallberg’s argument, the presiding member state is regarded as a strategic actor, “seeking to satisfy national preferences within the confines of [its] formally delegated role.”18 Prague has duly recognized this potential power exercise, as witnessed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) statement that “the organization of the EU Council Presidency is a very effective tool for the presentation of national interests and for influencing the running of the whole Community, as it – in the given period – enables the presiding country to realize its own priorities.”19 As the Czech Republic was the first new Central European member state to hold the EU Presidency, this study is interested in whether (and how) the country made use of being at the EU’s helm with regard to promoting its national foreign policy towards the larger post-Soviet space.

It is the combination of the above-mentioned aspects of the Czech Republic – its material/geographic and cognitive characteristics in addition to the scarce opportunity to stand at the head of the EU in 2009 – that (at least temporarily) ← 9 | 10 → sets the country apart from other new Central and Eastern European member states. Consequently, the Czech foreign policy input at the EU level was chosen over other CEECs for analysis. With this established, the choice of the object of this research – Russia and the larger post-Soviet space – also merits a detailed explanation. What makes the EU’s foreign policy (and within this its Czech aspect) towards Eastern Europe distinct from other EU foreign policy priorities, and subsequently worth analyzing? Why is the quality of the relationship between the EU and the post-Soviet countries significant to the Czech Republic, and ultimately, why should Prague seek to adjust this according to its own preferences? While the European Union’s proclaimed goal of becoming a global actor leads to multifarious foreign policy areas of interest in both geographic and thematic terms, the post-Soviet states are of particular interest to the EU and deserve closer attention. To the European Union and its member states, Russia, but increasingly also the other Eastern European countries, are important economic partners, specifically in the energy sector. At the same time, the region’s developing economy, together with its thirst for foreign direct investment, represent vast investment opportunities for EU companies. Simultaneously, and increasingly so after the 2004/2007 EU enlargement round, the post-Soviet space has arisen as a subject in the context of security. Matters such as energy security and security threats stemming from uncontrolled migration flows or organized crime have come to the forefront. In addition, the EU’s relationships with Eastern Europe are highly complex; for instance, the nature of EU-Russian relations determines to a large extent the EU’s relations with other CIS countries, and other countries in the EU’s direct neighborhood. This results directly from Russia’s close grip on the region at hand, which it regards as a part of its own sphere of influence. Ultimately, Russia collides with the European Union over this zone, since the EU has taken a special interest in the stabilization and democratization of its own direct neighborhood. Finally, that Russia and the other post-Soviet countries occupy a rather significant place in the EU’s foreign policy agenda has been further reinforced by the fact that Russia was the first country the EU signed a comprehensive Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with in 1994. This was soon followed by agreements with other Eastern European states such as Moldova and Ukraine in 1998, and Georgia in 1999.

Similarly to Eastern Europe being a prominent object of the EU’s foreign policy, it has also ranked high on the Czech Republic’s foreign policy agenda. With regard to Russia, Prague has been indecisive about the position it should adopt towards Moscow, seeing it as both a potential threat and a natural partner. While many, including former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, warn against ← 10 | 11 → Russia’s newly discovered neo-imperialist aspirations,20 they simultaneously acknowledge the vast potential for cooperation that exists between the two countries, and the resulting need to establish a functioning relationship. The Czech Republic’s historical experience with Russia and its predecessor might explain the troubled – and at times even highly emotional – past relationship. Prague’s present and future needs call for the establishment of a constructive relationship with the entire region. In conjunction with the argument of Prague’s pragmatism presented above, this materialist view of what the relationship between Prague and the post-Soviet capitals should be prevailed. Having established bilateral relations with the individual Eastern European countries, it was soon clear that Prague would make an effort to have its foreign policy preferences with regard to this region addressed at the supranational level once it became a full EU member. The accession of the Czech Republic to the EU brought new impetus to the Union’s relations with the East. As these preferences to some extent collided with the previously established EU-wide policy towards Russia and the post-Soviet space, a closer look at whether and how this EU policy was adjusted to accommodate Prague’s priorities, often pursued in tandem with other European partners, becomes inevitable.


XV, 308
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
östliche Partnerschaft postsowjetischer Raum Energiesicherheit Europäische Nachbarschaftspolitik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XVI, 308 pp., 6 graphs

Biographical notes

Marek Neuman (Author)

Marek Neuman is Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations and International Organization at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands). His research concentrates on the role Central and Eastern European states play within European Union policy making, primarily focusing on the Union’s foreign policy portfolio.


Title: Too Small to Make an Impact?
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
326 pages