Czech Republic (Česká republika) [print sheet]
Last updated: 18/05/12
The Czech Republic is located in central Europe. It shares borders with Austria, Slovakia, Germany and Poland. The Czech Republic was unified with Slovakia until 1993 as Czechoslovakia. Since the separatation, the Czech Republic has undergone major economic and social reforms as part of its efforts to achieve EU membership. This became a reality in 2004 when the Czech Republic joined the European Union along with nine other countries.
During the Cold War, Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule and was an ally of the USSR through the Warsaw Pact. Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the people of Czechoslovakia overthrew their Communist government in what was dubbed the 'Velvet Revolution'. Although Czechoslovakia remained a single country, the tensions between the majority Czech and minority Slovak populations made this situation unsustainable. On 1 January 1993, the two countries separated in a peaceful 'Velvet divorce'.
As an independent state, the Czech Republic set about adapting to the democratic liberal economic system. Under the presidency of revolutionary democratic leader Václav Havel, the Czech Republic initially made the most rapid development, leading to NATO membership in 1999. It was also the first former Eastern Bloc state to be given the status of a developed economy. However, following serious economic problems and a government reluctant to reform under President Vladimír Merčiar during the 1990s, its progress slowed.
The Czech Republic is a parliamentary republic. The head of state is the President, currently Václav Klaus of the right-wing Civic Democrat Party (ODS). Originally elected in 2003, he was re-elected at a close election in February 2008. Klaus is only the second President of the Czech Republic after Václav Havel held the position from 1993 to 2003. The President has some limited political powers, and is elected for five-year terms by a joint session of the Parliament. The Czech Parliament has two chambers, the Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecká snemovna), which has 200 members, and the Senate, which has 81 members. Most political power rests with the Prime Minister and his cabinet. In March 2009, the Czech government collapsed after Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek lost a vote of no confidence. This had huge implications for the EU because the Czech Republic was halfway through its six-month EU Council Presidency. The country was led by an interim government with Jan Fischer as Prime Minister until July 2010, when the current government took office, led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas of the Civic Democrat Party (ODS). He leads a centre-right coalition government which includes the Civic Democrats party, the conservative TOP 09 party and the centrist Public Affairs party.
Membership of the European Union was a key goal of the Czech government. To this end, it underwent major reforms in the 1990s to make its economy more competitive, including reform of the labour market and privatisation of state industries.
However, the Czech government has not been afraid to have a critical voice within the EU, for example Czech President Václav Klaus was an outspoken critic of the EU Constitution and halted the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty after the Irish rejected it at a referendum in 2008. Klaus was the last head of state to sign the Treaty into law in 2009 after securing an opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights for the Czech Republic. President Klaus also refused to fly the EU flag over Prague castle during the Czech Republic's six-month Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers between January and June 2009. The Czech Republic was the second of the ten member states that joined the EU in 2004 to hold the presidency. The priorities of the Czech presidency were 'the three Es', economy, energy and external relations.
In 2007, the Czech Republic became part of the Schengen Convention allowing visa-free movement across national borders. However, the Czech Republic has not been particularly keen to join the Euro, and is not expected to adopt the single currency until at least 2015 .
In March 2012, the Czech Republic was one of only two EU member states, along with the UK, to refuse to sign the EU's fiscal compact treaty which enforces budget discipline, citing 'constitutional reasons' to explain their refusal.
- The Czech Republic has a highly industrialised economy. Its major exports include automotives and electrical goods.
- The Czech Republic's economy shrunk by 4.7% in 2009 during the global financial crisis. It has, however, since recovered, by growing 2.7% in 2010 and 1.7% in 2011.
- The population of the Czech Republic is 10.5 million.
- Hills and mountains cover approximately 95% of the Czech Republic's land area.
Coalition: a formal agreement between political parties to share power in government.
Privatisation: the transfer of companies from state ownership to private control.