France and Czech Republic
France played a key role in founding the First Czechoslovak Republic: on 30 June 1918, French President Poincaré presented the flag of the new Czechoslovakia to 6000 Czech and Slovak legionnaires, at Darney in the Vosges, France. On 15 October that year, France recognized the provisional Czechoslovakian government, established on Rue Bonaparte in Paris. While these relations lapsed during the Cold War, the two countries grew closer together again following the Velvet Revolution, during the process of Czech Republic’s pre-accession to the European Union.
The election of President Miloš Zeman in 2013 and Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka in 2014 marked a renewal in European sentiment in the Czech Republic and gave new momentum to the bilateral relationship between France and the Czech Republic. Meetings were particularly frequent in 2014, with visits to Paris by Prime Minister Sobodka in February and President Zeman (September), and the visit to Prague of French Prime Minister Valls in December. Several meetings also took place between the respective Foreign Ministers and Europe Ministers
On 11 January 2015, President Zeman inaugurated a bronze bust of François Mitterrand in Prague, commemorating his support for the Velvet Revolution.
A strategic partnership was signed in 2008, setting out the framework for cooperation between France and the Czech Republic. The visit to Prague by the French Prime Minister in December 2014 was an opportunity to sign a 2014-2018 action plan for the strategic partnership, providing for enhanced political dialogue and cooperation in the cultural, educational, economic (trade and investment), energy and defence sectors. Three other cooperation agreements were also signed on that occasion, in the space, nuclear and educational fields.
On 24 August 2015, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Laurent Fabius, was the guest of honour of the annual conference of Czech ambassadors.
Despite rapid growth in trade over the last decade (+160%), France’s trade deficit with the Czech Republic – its second-largest economic partner in the new EU Member States – is its largest in Central Europe, standing at €2.4 billion in 2014). The steps taken have slightly increased, for the second year running, France’s market share, reversing the trend of the previous decade. In 2014, France became the Czech Republic’s fifth-largest trade partner (7ᵗʰ-largest supplier and 4ᵗʰ-largest customer), overtaking Russia for the first time. It also holds the fifth-largest stock of foreign direct investment, and had the fourth-largest investment flow in 2014, with 500 companies employing almost 100,000 people. French companies have real assets in the key sectors of energy, infrastructure (road and rail) and defence.
In a context of economic recovery, 2014 saw excellent performance in our bilateral trade (+5.5%, €9.5 billion), with both imports and exports exceeding their records. That positive trend continued in the first 11 months of 2015, with French exports growing 4.4% and imports 2.9%.
Our network includes the Institut français (French Institute) of Prague (2812 learners in 2015); 6 Alliance française branches in the regions (Brno, České Budějovice, Liberec, Ostrava, Pardubice, and Plzeň); bilingual sections in 4 schools (five non-language subjects in French); six European sections with extra French (two non-language subjects taught in French); and the French school (lycée) in Prague, which taught 810 pupils in 2015, half of whom foreign.
The French Centre for Research in the Social Sciences (CEFRES) set up in summer 2015 in the premises of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, with the support of Charles University in Prague and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). An inaugural lesson was given on 7 October 2015 by Professor Bernard Lahire of the French École normale supérieure of Lyon.
French teaching was almost inexistent at the beginning of the 1990s, but has grown steadily over two decades and 4% of pupils now learn the language. It is now the fourth most-taught foreign language behind English, German and Russian with 43,000 learners. French has managed to stabilize numbers through a wide range of teaching and learning mediums, the promotion of certification, and Czech policy supporting multilingualism (in which the Prague Institut français is greatly involved).
Linguistic cooperation is also supported by Czech sections in French high schools (Lycée Carnot in Dijon and Lycée Alphonse Daudet in Nîmes). Another scheme was established in 2009, the “year in France” allowing several dozen Czech students to spend a year (the penultimate or second-to-last years of high school) in one of the 18 French partner high schools.
France is the second-largest destination for Czech students under the Erasmus university exchange programme. French students are also the second-largest group of foreign students in the Czech Republic. The Campus France offices in Prague and Brno support more than 800 Czech students every year in preparing to continue their studies in France.
French cinema also holds the third-largest market share in the Czech Republic, with approximately 40 films screened every year. Francophone literature also has the third-largest share of the market. French works are broadly promoted by the Institut français in Prague, including through the French film festival and the programme to support publishing (Salda).
Relations in the area of research look towards the prospect of building a European knowledge space. Support is provided in particular through the Barrande bilateral scientific exchange programme, which co-finances with the Czech party 26 bilateral projects every year, particularly in the areas of chemistry, particle physics, biology and medicine. This scheme provides preferential access to European research programmes and their various financing sources (FRDP, Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, EUREKA / Eurostars).
The French Embassy in Prague supports Franco-Czech higher education courses which train some 100 students per year, partly in French. Every year, some 40 students graduate from one of the three existing programmes: economics and management (Lyon III – VSE Prague), administration (Rennes I – Brno), and automobile engineering (ENSTA Bretagne – Czech Technical University).
Dynamic decentralized cooperation is supported by some 60 partnerships between French and Czech local government bodies: Bourgogne-Franche-Comté / Central Bohemia, Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine / Northern Moravia, Paris / Prague, Rennes / Brno, Limoges / Plzeň. Events are organized regularly on subjects such as conversion of industrial sites, services of general interest, competitiveness clusters, and general and higher education.
- French Ambassador to Prague: Mr Jean Pierre Asvazadourian (October 2013)
- Czech Ambassador to Paris: Ms Marie Chatardova (July 2010)
- Chair of the France-Czech Republic Friendship Group of the French National Assembly: Mr Marc Laffineur
- Chair of the France-Czech Republic Friendship Group of the French Senate: Mr Philippe Nachbar.