Czech Parliament Approves Defense Agreement with the US
The lower house of the Czech Republic has completed the parliamentary approval process for a defence cooperation agreement with the United States, which will come into effect after President Petr Pavel signs it.
After 4.5 hours of debates on the Czech-American defence agreement, only representatives from the Eurosceptic party "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) and a few members of the ANO party led by former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš voted against its approval.
The approximately forty-page document discusses various areas related to the possible presence of American soldiers in the Czech Republic or cooperation between American and Czech armed forces on Czech territory. This includes the legal status of American soldiers, environmental protection, the use of vehicles by American soldiers and their families, or possibly the status of American military suppliers. The agreement also provides for exemptions from taxes and duties for American military personnel. A list of Czech military facilities and premises that Americans will be able to use under pre-arranged conditions is also part of the agreement.
Czech Defence Minister Jana Černochová stated in parliament that the defence agreement with the US provides Prague with additional security assurance, which is particularly important given the current security situation due to Russian military aggression against Ukraine.
"In this situation, we cannot do without a strong alliance with other democratic countries," emphasized Černochová.
On the other hand, SPD representatives demanded a nationwide referendum on the agreement or at least its approval by a constitutional majority in three-fifths of the parliament, as according to the head of the SPD club, Radim Fiala, it represents interference in sovereignty. He also claimed that the agreement is unequal and subordinates the Czech Republic as the weaker party.
"SPD firmly says 'no' to American soldiers and foreign bases in the Czech Republic," stated the party's leader, Tomio Okamura, during a plenary session.
Other members of the SPD pointed out that citizens are sensitive to the presence of foreign troops due to the "temporary" stay of Soviet forces in former Czechoslovakia after 1968.
"You are exposing the Czech Republic to a dangerous military game," said Karel Sladecek.
"It's not a cooperation agreement; it's an agreement about the future US military presence in the Czech Republic, allowing the US Armed Forces to use military facilities and buildings," stated his SPD colleague, Radovan Vich.
Ondrej Lohman from the coalition movement STAN urged the SPD representatives not to compare the current agreement to the events of 1968.
"The Americans won't come here with tanks; they won't shoot people or overthrow the Czech government," he emphasized.
The centrist ANO party, with the support of the coalition, pushed through an accompanying resolution in which the Chamber stated that the conclusion of the agreement means deepening practical defence cooperation with the United States and contributes to the increased security of the Czech Republic. The resolution also clarified that the agreement does not grant the US the right to establish permanent military bases or to permanently reside in the country without prior Czech consent. It also does not establish the right to deploy nuclear weapons.
It is worth noting that SPD representatives also voted in favour of the points related to bases, residency of US soldiers, and nuclear weapons.
During a press conference after the vote, Defence Minister Jana Černochová stated that there were no problems in the government with the accompanying resolution, as it aligns with the cabinet's position.
Since the upper house of parliament approved the agreement last week, Czech President Petr Pavel can now sign it, completing the ratification process in the Czech Republic.