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Relations with the Czech Republic Enlargement


Czech flag     
This page was archived on the 1st of May 2004.
The information concerning this ex candidate country has not been updated since that date.

Bullet Country profile
Bullet Overview of key documents related to enlargement
Bullet Interesting links
Enlargement

Country profile

Map of Czech Republic 

 

I. Snapshot of the Czech Republic

This landlocked country, nestled in between Poland, Slovakia, Austria and Germany, has long played a pivotal role in the history of Central Europe. Its location and history have formed the national character and culture, which have both Germanic and Slavic elements.

Prague, the capital, has through the centuries acquired an unrivalled richness of architectural treasures which have earned a place on UNESCO's world culture heritage list. The romanesque, gothic, renaissance, baroque and art nouveau styles form a unique aesthetic blend. In this way the city represents well the successive phases of Czech history; as a capital of the Holy Roman Empire, as an important cultural centre of the Habsburg Empire and, in the first half of the twentieth century, as the capital of an independent and democratic republic between the two world wars.

Yet the country has much more to offer than the beauties of its capital. The Czech Republic consists of three historic regions - Bohemia, Moravia and the Czech part of Silesia. The varied landscape of hills and plains boasts an impressive array of castles and chateaux as well as picturesque villages where folklore traditions still live on. Towns like Cesky Krumlov, Tábor and Karlovy Vary for example, all offer a rich cultural and historical heritage attracting millions of visitors every year. The "Czech lands" are well known for their long-established tradition of making high quality beer and in the cities of Plzen (Pilsen) and Ceské Budejovice one can find some of the country's most famous breweries. There is also a rich culinary tradition with influences from other countries in the Central European region, such as the German, Hungarian and Polish cuisine.

Sport is taken seriously and the country has produced many successful sportsmen and women, among them Martina Návratilová, Ivan Lendl and Emil Zátopek. Ice hockey is the most popular team sport and the national team has had great success in recent years, winning the World Championships in 1999, 2000 and 2001, along with Olympic gold in 1998.

The Czech Republic has made a significant contribution to European culture. In the sphere of music, the works of Antonin Dvorák, Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janácek are often played around the world. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived and worked in Prague for some time, holding the world premier of the opera Don Giovanni there in 1787. In literature, Franz Kafka, Jaroslav Hašek and Milan Kundera provide examples of a rich Czech literary tradition. Well-known Czech artists include the early eighteenth century painter Petr Brandl and the Art Nouveau painter and poster artist Alfons Mucha, while Czech cinema has produced names like Miloš Forman, Jan Sverák and Jirí Menzel.

Unfortunately, in 1997 and 2002 major floods caused extensive damage to cities, including to Prague in 2002, and to widespread rural areas across the country.

CZECH Data sheet

Population 10.3 million. About two thirds live in town, and a third in the country. 94% are Czech, 3% Slovak, and the rest are mainly Polish, German, Roma, and Hungarian.
Area 79,000 square km - about the same size as Austria.
Borders Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland.
Major cities: Prague, Brno, Pilsen, Ostrava.
Official language: Czech
Major religion: Christianity (but nearly as many self-proclaimed atheists)
Currency: Czech crown (ceská koruna): 1 koruna (Kc) = 100 halire = 0.032 Euro
Opinions on accession: The latest surveys show that 45% think EU membership is a good thing, 50% would vote "yes" in a referendum, 48% believe the EU would bring net benefits to the country, 36% believe it to be of benefit personally, and 51% tend to trust the EU. PLEASE USE EUROBAROMETER HORIZ.

 

II. A BRIEF HISTORY

The history of the territory that now makes up the Czech Republic goes back almost two millennia to the time when Slavonic tribes settled in the area. Bohemia first began to develop as an independent state in the 9th century and Prague came to be the seat of the Premyslid dynasty. In the 13th century, German immigration and colonisation of the borderlands took place, initiating a period of intense growth in trade and culture.

The power and influence of the kingdom of Bohemia reached its peak during the reign of King Charles IV (1346-1378) of the Luxembourg dynasty, who also became Holy Roman Emperor in 1355. Prague held a very prominent position as the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, and grew into one of the greatest cities of medieval Europe. Charles IV gave Prague some of the most important landmarks that now characterise the city, such as the Charles Bridge over the river Vltava, the St. Vitus cathedral and the New Town (Nové Mesto). He also founded central Europe's oldest university, the Charles University, situated in Prague.

Jan Hus, a preacher and rector of Charles University, is a central figure in Czech history. In the late 1300s, a century before Martin Luther, he formed a reform movement with the aim of fighting corruption in the Catholic church. The Hussite movement as it came to be called, was a national, as well as a religious phenomenon; in particular, the translation of the Bible led to the establishment of the Czech language in written form. The ideas of the Hussites threatened the power of the Catholic Church and Jan Hus was ultimately burnt at the stake in Constance in 1414. This event initiated the Hussite Wars in which followers of Hus successfully fought off for many years the crusades ordered by the Pope before finally being defeated.

In 1526, the Czech kingdom came under the control of the Catholic Habsburg Empire. In 1618, the Bohemian Estates, who were disappointed with the Habsburgs' failure to live up to promises of religious tolerance and who were disgruntled about the loss of privileges, threw two Habsburg councillors from a high window in Prague Castle. This famous "defenestration" sparked off the Thirty Years' war in which the Czechs initially fought on the Protestant side. At the decisive Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, however, the Czech forces suffered a comprehensive defeat. A severe repression followed and the Habsburgs intensified the process to Catholicise and Germanise the country.

In the 19th century there was a revival of national awareness culminating in the 1848 revolutions, when Prague was the first city in the Hapsburg Empire to demand reform. The Czech dream of forming an independent state however, was not realised until after the First World War. With the support of the Allied powers the Czechs and the Slovaks - who despite having very similar languages had long lived politically quite separately as Slovakia was part of the Hungarian Kingdom - agreed to create the democratic federal state of Czechoslovakia in 1918.

In the inter-war period Czechoslovakia prospered, led by the charismatic President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The industrial and economic development that took place allowed the country to became one of the world's ten most industrially advanced. Czechoslovakia developed into a liberal democracy and the ideals and philosophy of Masaryk came to play an important role in the development of the Czech humanistic and democratic legacy. Although Czechoslovakia flourished economically, political problems persisted. The dominance of the Czechs in the new federal state, for example, led to calls for Slovak autonomy, while ethnic Germans pushed in the Sudeten areas, where they were a majority, for links with Germany and Austria. The Munich agreement of 1938 between Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy led to the secession of the Sudetenland, and in March 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Bohemia and Moravia, putting an end to the independent Czechoslovak state. During the Nazi occupation virtually the whole Jewish population perished in concentration camps or were driven into exile and several terrible reprisals for partisan actions were taken against civilians.

In 1945 the Red Army liberated most of the Czechoslovak territories from Nazi occupation and the power and ideology of the Soviet Union came to play a decisive role in the political development of Czechoslovakia. After the war, President Beneš and his government-in-exile returned to the Czechoslovak state for a brief interval before the Communist Party seized power in the coup d'etat of 1948. In the years 1945 to 1946, approximately 2.5 million former Czech citizens of German origin were expelled.

The Communist coup ushered in a long period of political repression and a harsh process of collectivisation and nationalisation of agriculture, industry and trade took place. In the late 1960s a reform movement known as the "Prague Spring" emerged in Czechoslovakia under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek, a reform-minded general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party who aimed to create "socialism with a human face". The Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries, however, feared that these ideas threatened the existence of the communist system, and they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. A hard-line regime was consequently installed under Gustáv Husák, which erased all traces of reform in a process known as "Normalisation". However, some dissident thinking continued, as expressed by Vaclav Havel and other adherents of "Charter 77". During this period of political stagnation the communist system further eroded and finally collapsed in the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989. After more than forty years of communist dictatorship former playwright and dissident Václav Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia, symbolising the re-emergence of democracy in the Czech lands.

III. POLITICAL CONTEXT

In November 1989, under pressure from massive demonstrations, the Communist regime agreed to a peaceful and gradual democratisation of the political system which led to the downfall of the Communist regime. Through this process, known as the Velvet Revolution, the country took up the task of resuming its pre-Communist traditions and building a genuinely democratic political system.

The Czech Constitution establishes a Parliamentary Republic. The President is Head of State with largely symbolic powers and is elected by the Parliament. The Parliament is composed of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Deputies are elected for four year terms by proportional representation whilst Senators are elected for six year terms on the basis of a majority system. The Chamber of Deputies is the supreme legislative authority and has the final say on budgetary and legislative matters.

These new institutions have successfully provided the framework for a stable and vigorous democracy. For much of the 1990s Czech political life was dominated by the Havel-Klaus-Zeman triangle. President Havel, the main leader of the dissident movement and internationally recognised as a symbol of the end of the Cold War, represented the Czech Republic very effectively. Nonetheless, the orientation of government policy was set by the Prime Minister, first Mr Klaus and subsequently Mr Zeman.

Václav Havel, was elected President of Czechoslovakia in December 1989 and the first general election was held in June 1990. The Civic Forum, a broad democratic grouping, won and formed a government but later split up, leading in particular to the formation of the Civic Democrats led by Finance Minister Václav Klaus as well as the Civic Alliance.

By the next elections in June 1992 a wide diversity of parties existed. Klaus, who remained Prime Minister until 1997, and the Civic democrats won the elections on a platform of accelerated economic reform and a pro-Western orientation in foreign policy. On this basis he formed a coalition government with the Christian Democrats. One of this government's most important decisions was, in agreement with the Slovak Prime Minister Meciar, to dissolve the Czechoslovak Federation from 1 January 1993 and to replace it with the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Mr Havel had resigned his post rather then preside over the break up of Czechoslovakia, but he was re-elected as the first President of the Czech Republic. Mr Klaus launched an ambitious economic reform programme, notably through a strategy of "voucher privatization" by which the ownership of almost all companies was transferred to the public (see section 4 on the economic environment). In December 1996 the Czech government formally presented the request to join the European Union.

In 1998 there was a shift in the political centre of gravity as Miloš Zeman's Social Democratic Party won the elections and became the largest party in Parliament. Zeman's minority government served a full term in office on the basis of the "Opposition Agreement" whereby consensus was established with the Civic Democrats on major policy issues. This government secured membership of NATO in 1999 and intensified preparations for accession to the European Union.

Following the June 2002 elections the Social Democrats remained the largest party and Vladimír Špidla replaced Mr Zeman who retired from his post as Prime Minister. Mr Špidla went on to form a coalition government, with a narrow majority, with the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. The Civic Democrats are the largest party of opposition whilst the Communists continue to maintain a significant number of seats.

On 2 February 2003 President Havel brought to a close his second full term in office, the maximum permitted by the Constitution.

Vaclav Klaus was elected President of the Republic in early March 2003.

IV. THE ECONOMIC AND BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT

Czechoslovakia entered the reform process after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 with favourable initial conditions as the Communist regime had maintained prudent macroeconomic policies. The economic transformation proceeded rapidly with the liberalisation of prices, the restitution of most properties to their pre-1948 owners and the mass privatisation of most companies through two waves of voucher privatisation. After the Velvet divorce with Slovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic experienced the so-called Czech miracle, a combination of a rapid transfer of ownership to the private sector, low unemployment and no hyperinflation.
The country's mineral resources include coal and lignite, and deposits of mercury, antimony, tin, lead, zinc and iron ore, and uranium. Processing industries (particularly for machinery, steel, chemicals, glass, and agri-food) are highly developed. The country's main exports include manufactured goods, machinery, cars and transport equipment, and beer. Cereals, sugar beet and hops are intensively cultivated, although agriculture plays a comparatively small role alongside the traditional engineering and other industries.

Following a balance of payments crisis the country experienced a recession between 1997-1999. This revealed an unfinished reform agenda, notably concerning the financial sector where the major banks were still state-owned as well as the corporate sector which was unprofitable due to a lack of restructuring. Moreover, improvements in the legal framework had not been as rapid as the change in economic structures, and had allowed the development of 'tunnelling' ( asset-stripping).

The authorities took a number of corrective measures. The privatisation of the banking sector was completed in 2001 after a public bailout of the banks and their bad debts. Particular attention was paid to the restructuring of the largest loss-making companies. Finally, the legal framework was improved especially in terms of combating economic crime and establishing more efficient bankruptcy procedures.

A determined effort was aimed at attracting foreign direct investment, which reached 10% of GDP and made the Czech Republic the main recipient of FDI per capita in Central Europe. For instance, new foreign direct investment has been attracted from Toyota Motor Corp and PSA Peugeot Citroen - a Euro 1.5 billion greenfield car assembly plant in the Central Bohemian town of Kolín (the largest greenfield investment in the country). In a bid to diversify, the public investment promotion agency, Czech Invest, has recently been targeting investment incentives on hi-tech services.

Spurred by FDI inflows, the Czech economy has resumed growth since 2000 in a context of low inflation and stable but significant unemployment. The economy has weathered the recent global slowdown well, with real GDP growth at 3.3 percent in 2001, and 2.7% in 2002. Strong fixed investment and buoyant household consumption - underpinned by robust wage growth and modest gains in employment - helped sustain domestic demand. Moreover, the external current account deficit narrowed in 2001. Inflation remains subdued at 2%. However, the public deficit has been rising and needs to be stabilised. Also, enterprise restructuring has led to rising structural unemployment and large regional disparities in unemployment rates.

The privatisation programme is still not completed in the steel, petrochemical, energy and telecoms sectors.

UNICE, the European employers organisation, supports the accession of the Czech Republic, which it considers "a frontrunner", with the Czech economy making good progress. Further reforms need to concentrate on the administrative and legal framework and corporate restructuring.


POLITICAL SITUATION

Official name Czech Republic (came into being on 1/1/1993)
Constitution Parliamentary Republic; Constitution entered into force on 1 January, 1993
Electoral system Universal direct suffrage for party proportional representation, subject to 5% threshold

After World War II, the political system in Czechoslovakia was greatly affected by the introduction of a Soviet-style Communist regime, as it was in the other countries of central and eastern Europe. The system of power was distorted. In effect this imbalance meant that the three branches of power necessary for democratic development - executive, legislative and judicial - were substituted by a unified Communist power. Its power was based on the constitution and for forty years it ruled all layers of social and political life throughout the country with the help of oppressive institutions. After February 1948, the Communist Party became the only autonomous political entity. It allowed a few other parties to exist within the so-called National Front; however, these parties held no real power and were created to provide an outward image of Czechoslovakia as a democratic state.

After the revolutionary events of November 1989 which brought about the downfall of the Communist regime, the entire country faced the uneasy task of resuming its pre-Communist traditions and building a democratic political system. A wide diversity of political parties were well-established even before the break-up of Czechoslovakia on December 31, 1992. The constitution of the Czech Republic, which became valid on the day of the birth of the new state, explicitly defined civil rights, the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of power, and the independence of the judiciary.

Head of State :

President Vaclav KLAUS, elected March 7th, 2003

CURRENT GOVERNMENT (As of March 2003)

Dr. Vladimír Spidla Prime Minister
Stanislav Gross Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior
Dr. Cyril Svoboda Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
Karel
Cermak
Minister of Justice
Petr Mareš Deputy Prime Minister for Research and Development, Human Rights and Human Resources
Bohuslav Sobotka Minister of Finance
Miroslav Kostelka Minister of Defence
Milan
Urban
Minister of Industry and Trade
Zdenek Skromach Minister of Labour and Social Affairs
Milan Simonovský Minister of Transport
Jaroslav Palas Minister of Agriculture
Dr. Marie Soucková Minister of Health
Dr. Petra Buzková Minister of Education, Youth and Sports
Pavel Dostál Minister of Culture
Dr. Libor Ambrozek Minister of Environment
Pavel Nemec Minister for Regional Development
Vladimír Mlynár Minister for Information Technologies
Jan Kohout State Secretary for European Affairs

Overview of key documents related to enlargement

PDF format

EN

FR
DE
 
Regular Report -November 5, 2003 256kb 491kb 283kb All
countries
Regular Report -October 9, 2002 All
countries
Regular Report -  November 13, 2001 All
countries
Regular Report - November 8, 2000 All
countries
Progress Report - October 13, 1999 All
countries
Progress Report - October 13, 1998 All
countries
Accession Partnership - November 13, 2001 pdf file
English 37kb

All countries

French 40kb
German 41kb
Accession Partnership - October 13, 1999 (revised February 2000) 
English pdf file 52kb

All countries

French pdf file 58kb
German pdf file 60kb
Opinion on the Czech Republic's Application for Membership of the European Union - July 1997

Danish

pdf file 511kb
German pdf file 765kb
Greek NA 
English pdf file 708kb
Spanish pdf file 423kb
Finnish pdf file 431kb
French pdf file 775kb
Italian pdf file 446kb
Dutch pdf file 489kb
Swedish pdf file 406kb

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