Prague Spring

Besides continuing a distinct pro-Czech slant in his recent EU reporting, Steven Erlanger’s NY Times article on the Czech Republic’s desire to see President Barack Obama pass through on his European visit highlights the challenge of how to think of the EU. Is it Brussels and the president of the EU Commission? Is it the country holding the EU presidency? Is it the heads of state summit?

I remember some discussion of this point in the context of a presidential visit last fall, and how including the EU to the “Troika” (UK, France, Germany) would send a strong signal of support for European construction. To my mind, the Czech Republic visit makes for better optics, especially if the Obama administration ultimately pulls back on deploying the missile defense system that had been planned there. It lends support to the institutional idea of Europe, as opposed to the oft-maligned bureaucratic idea represented by Brussels, as well as to the idea that Europe really is more than just the larger countries of Old Europe (or New Europe when playing the two off of each other serves our interests). It’s unrealistic to expect that the smaller countries will have the same diplomatic influence, but that only makes a political gesture like the Prague visit carry disproportionately greater public diplomacy advantages.

Of course, Europe is by definition a political headache, because there’s no way to satisfy everyone. But a visit to Prague makes sense from a lot of different angles.