Czech Republic

1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

Kryštof Kruliš

Attempts to explain the very role of the European Parliament to the general public

The key top­ics of the indi­vid­ual polit­i­cal par­ties cor­re­spond­ed to their spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tions and ranged from the func­tion­ing of the inter­nal mar­ket (includ­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, the low­er qual­i­ty and high­er price of food that is import­ed to the Czech Repub­lic in con­trast to the food stan­dards in the West­ern states of the EU) to issues of unem­ploy­ment and claims of the pos­si­ble adverse effects of the Transat­lantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship. Among the vis­i­ble top­ics of sev­er­al polit­i­cal par­ties, most notably the Civic Democ­rats (ODS), was also the issue of the Czech (non-)adoption of the Euro. These par­ties were heav­i­ly crit­i­cized in the media and by experts for stress­ing this top­ic as there is no direct com­pe­tence of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (EP) in this mat­ter.

Sev­er­al Czech think-tanks had tried to turn the pub­lic atten­tion to a deep­er reflec­tion on eco­nom­ic top­ics for the new EP, as, for instance, in the case of the debate of the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the key polit­i­cal par­ties orga­nized by the Asso­ci­a­tion for Inter­na­tion­al Affairs (AMO) and the Prague Twen­ty. The debate cov­ered top­ics such as the pro­posed direc­tives on gen­der equal­i­ty in super­vi­so­ry boards and the Com­mon Con­sol­i­dat­ed Cor­po­rate Tax Base. A series of debates was also orga­nized by the Euro­pean Val­ues think-tank.

The EU-wide ‘Spitzenkan­di­dat­en’ played almost no role in the Czech cam­paign. The Czech pub­lic tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ed one of the fron­trun­ners’ debates, but sup­port for the indi­vid­ual EU-wide fron­trun­ners was declared only spo­rad­i­cal­ly by the par­ties and hard­ly attract­ed the atten­tion of the gen­er­al pub­lic. In con­trast to this, the dis­cus­sion between the par­ties in the Czech nation­al gov­ern­ment about the nom­i­na­tion of the prospec­tive Czech Com­mis­sion­er attract­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly more media atten­tion.

The diminished relevance of euroscepticism in the Czech Republic

The over­all rel­e­vance of euroscep­ti­cism in the elec­toral cam­paign was low­er than in the pre­vi­ous elec­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. The right-wing polit­i­cal par­ty Civic Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (ODS), which won the last elec­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, remained the main stan­dard bear­er of euroscep­ti­cism. How­ev­er, it was dimin­ished into a sec­ond-rate polit­i­cal par­ty due to cor­rup­tion scan­dals of its for­mer nation­al gov­ern­ment and its sub­se­quent dis­mal results in last year’s Czech par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. Thus the main clash in the cur­rent Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­toral cam­paign was between the lib­er­al par­ty ANO 2011 (a rel­a­tive­ly new sub­ject on the polit­i­cal scene, whose pol­i­cy on the EU was large­ly under con­struc­tion dur­ing this elec­toral cam­paign), the social demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty (ČSSD) and the con­ser­v­a­tive TOP 09, with all of them show­ing a most­ly pro-Euro­pean ori­en­ta­tion.

Despite proud­ly pro­claim­ing its alle­giance to euroscep­ti­cism, the elec­toral cam­paign of the ODS showed mod­er­ate euroscep­tic posi­tions and argued that Czech mem­ber­ship of the EU is nec­es­sary.

Extreme euroscep­tic posi­tions were held only by minor polit­i­cal par­ties. Out of these, the Par­ty of Free Cit­i­zens (Svo­bod­ní) was the only rel­e­vant play­er, with the poten­tial to get across the 5 per­cent thresh­old for win­ning a man­date.

On the rad­i­cal left, the Com­mu­nist par­ty (KSČM) voiced its requests for a more demo­c­ra­t­ic and social­ly ori­ent­ed EU togeth­er with some anti-estab­lish­ment euroscep­tic lan­guage.

An indifferent majority

The most sig­nif­i­cant out­come of the 2014 Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in the Czech Repub­lic is the shift from the euroscep­tic polit­i­cal par­ties to par­ties with stronger pro-Euro­pean visions. From the 21 Czech seats in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment only 6 went to euroscep­tic par­ties. The right-wing and mod­er­ate­ly euroscep­tic ODS won only 2 man­dates and thus it has 7 man­dates less than in the pre­vi­ous elec­tions. The remain­ing four seats went to the EU-hos­tile Svo­bod­ní (1 seat) and the mild­ly euroscep­tic KSČM (3 seats). This con­firms the fact that the ODS was sup­port­ed not for, but despite its euroscep­tic ideas (sur­veys had shown its elec­torate was always more pro-Euro­pean than the par­ty itself). With the gen­er­al loss of sup­port for the par­ty, the for­mer elec­torate of the ODS moved to oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive or lib­er­al pro-Euro­pean par­ties, imply­ing that euroscep­ti­cism did not attract votes.

The remain­ing 15 man­dates went to polit­i­cal par­ties which are most­ly pro-Euro­pean. The win­ners of last year’s elec­tions to the nation­al par­lia­ment, the lib­er­al ANO 2011 and the social demo­c­ra­t­ic ČSSD, won 4 man­dates each. The third and small­est par­ty of the incum­bent coali­tion gov­ern­ment, the Chris­t­ian Democ­rats (KDU-ČSL), won the remain­ing 3 man­dates, most­ly thanks to its strong posi­tion in south­ern Moravia and its hard-core elec­torate there, which was deci­sive in this low-turnout elec­tion. The oppo­si­tion TOP 09 par­ty also received 4 man­dates; there­by con­sid­er­ably over­shad­ow­ing its for­mer coali­tion part­ner ODS on the right side of the polit­i­cal spec­trum.

The Czech Repub­lic’s vot­er turnout of 18.2 per­cent is the sec­ond worst in the EU (after Slo­va­kia with 13 per­cent). It can be con­trast­ed with the turnout at the last par­lia­men­tary elec­tions (59.5 per­cent) and the last Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions (28.2 per­cent). A pos­si­ble expla­na­tion for this, besides the Czech pub­lic’s gen­er­al lack of inter­est in the com­pli­cat­ed issues of the EU, is that nation­al elec­tions took place only sev­er­al months ago and peo­ple were thus not using the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions to vote against the incum­bent gov­ern­ment, as was the case in the past. More­over, Czech vot­ers are becom­ing indif­fer­ent to elec­tions due to their ris­ing fre­quen­cy: nation­al par­lia­ment elec­tions and the new­ly intro­duced direct elec­tion of the Czech pres­i­dent were held last year, where­as elec­tions for the upper cham­ber of the Czech par­lia­ment and for munic­i­pal­i­ties are sched­uled to take place lat­er in 2014.

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2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Daniela Chalániová

Czechs caught between norms and economic gains

Numer­ous offi­cials and large sec­tions of the pub­lic opin­ion in the Czech Repub­lic see par­al­lels between the Russ­ian annex­a­tion of Crimea of 2014 and the War­saw Pact’s inter­ven­tion in Czecho­slo­va­kia in 1968. The com­mon theme is, of course, the vio­la­tion of state sov­er­eign­ty and ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty. In light of the annex­a­tion of Crimea, the Czech Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs sum­moned the Russ­ian ambas­sador and crit­i­cized the Russ­ian engage­ment in Ukraine as dis­pro­por­tion­ate and aggres­sive. The main­stream media large­ly sup­port this view: Rus­sia is an aggres­sor in breach of inter­na­tion­al law.

Cur­rent­ly, there is no uni­fied posi­tion regard­ing the future of Czech-Russ­ian rela­tions – the biggest dilem­ma lies in respect­ing the West­ern val­ues and keep­ing up eco­nom­ic rela­tions with the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion at the same time. The issue of Temelín (a Czech nuclear pow­er plant look­ing to expand its capac­i­ty) is a case in point. On the one hand, min­is­ters Jiří Dien­st­bier and the Min­is­ter of Defence Mar­tin Strop­nický said it was “hard­ly imag­in­able” that a Russ­ian con­sor­tium could com­pete for the bid, while on the oth­er hand Prime Min­is­ter Bohuslav Sobot­ka replied that it iss unlike­ly that the Czech Repub­lic would cease its eco­nom­ic activ­i­ties with Rus­sia because of Ukraine. Fear of Rus­sia and defence of Euro­pean val­ues (democ­ra­cy, lib­er­al­ism, diver­si­ty) also appeared in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tion cam­paign of the Green Par­ty.

Despite the main­stream crit­i­cism of Rus­sia, there is a small but loud group sup­port­ing Russ­ian poli­cies that is ide­o­log­i­cal­ly root­ed in euroscep­ti­cism. Accord­ing to Jiří Vyvadil (who found­ed the Friends of Rus­sia group ear­li­er this year), we are in an ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tle between the West and Rus­sia: the West start­ed the con­flict by sup­port­ing the “Maid­an fas­cists”, Putin got what he want­ed (Crimea, and desta­bi­lized Ukraine) and the West is already defeat­ed because Ukraine will end up in ruins, a bur­den for the West. For­mer pres­i­dent of the Czech Repub­lic Václav Klaus indi­rect­ly sup­port­ed the pro-Russ­ian cause by attend­ing a Sec­ond World War Vic­to­ry Day par­ty at the Russ­ian embassy in Prague.

Final­ly, the media dis­sect­ed Stropnický’s slip-of-the-tongue state­ment about a hypo­thet­i­cal per­ma­nent pres­ence of NATO troops in the Czech Repub­lic, which he called “psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly prob­lem­at­ic”; he also implied a com­par­i­son with the pres­ence of War­saw Pact troops in Czecho­slo­va­kia after 1968.

The Czech government supports Ukraine and Georgia and wants their ties with the European Union to be stronger

The polit­i­cal dis­course in the Czech Repub­lic is in line with the EU posi­tion towards Ukraine and the remain­ing East­ern Part­ner­ship (EaP) coun­tries. The Czech Min­istry of For­eign Affairs has repeat­ed­ly denounced the use of vio­lence in Ukraine, both on the side of sep­a­ratists and on the side of the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, and sup­port­ed the Ukrain­ian ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty along with EU lev­el sanc­tions tar­get­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Ukrain­ian and Russ­ian regimes that are respon­si­ble for the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. Fur­ther­more, the Czech gov­ern­ment, along with its Viseg­rad Four part­ners (Poland, Hun­gary and Slo­va­kia), called on the Euro­pean Union to step up the polit­i­cal asso­ci­a­tion and eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion with Ukraine.

The Czech gov­ern­ment also strong­ly sup­ports the Euro-Atlantic ori­en­ta­tion of oth­er EaP coun­tries, name­ly Geor­gia (which is about to sign an EU Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment in June 2014) and Moldo­va (which has recent­ly gained visa-free access to the Schen­gen area). In April, the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs and the Asso­ci­a­tion for Inter­na­tion­al Affairs (AMO) host­ed a high-lev­el con­fer­ence on the top­ic “The East­ern Part­ner­ship — Five Years On”, which was attend­ed by politi­cians and diplo­mats from the Czech Repub­lic as well as the EaP coun­tries, with a view to eval­u­ate the first five years of the Part­ner­ship’s exis­tence and dis­cuss future strate­gies relat­ed to it in light of cur­rent events.

There is vir­tu­al­ly no Czech dis­course on Azer­bai­jan or Arme­nia; how­ev­er, Belarus recent­ly got more media atten­tion in con­nec­tion with the Inter­na­tion­al Hock­ey Cham­pi­onship it host­ed. Espe­cial­ly the opin­ion-mak­ing media and civic soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions (such as Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al) recalled the sor­ry state of polit­i­cal free­dom and eco­nom­ic stag­na­tion in Belarus. Before this, in March, a Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic politi­cian (Petr Vys­loužil) voiced the pos­si­bil­i­ty of Belarus becom­ing Russia’s next vic­tim.

Turkey is not an issue, but Islam is

Turkey and the prospect of EU mem­ber­ship for Turkey are not a major issue in the Czech polit­i­cal or pub­lic dis­course. The most exten­sive cov­er­age Turkey recent­ly got was relat­ed to the Gezi Park/Taksim protests last sum­mer.

How­ev­er, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions served as a pre­text for the anti-immi­gra­tion and anti-Islam state­ments of extreme right par­ties such as the Úsvit přímé demokra­cie Tomia Oka­mury (Tomio Okamura’s Dawn of Direct Democ­ra­cy), the Česká suv­ereni­ta (Czech Sov­er­eign­ty) or the NE Bruselu – národ­ní demokra­cie (NO to Brus­sels – Nation­al Democ­ra­cy).

Fur­ther­more, the results of the EUVox elec­tion cal­cu­la­tor for the Czech Repub­lic show (on a sam­ple of 18,000 respon­dents) that Czech vot­ers are the least tol­er­ant towards Islam in the whole EU.

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3. Power relations in the EU

Alžbě­ta Kuchařová

Germany – a strategic partner with a key role in European politics

The Czech Repub­lic has only very rarely doubt­ed the lead­ing role of Ger­many in the EU. This point is main­ly valid because of Ger­many’s eco­nom­ic dom­i­nance. The con­cep­tu­al basis of the for­eign pol­i­cy of the Czech Repub­lic, which was adopt­ed already in July 2011, regards Ger­many as a strate­gic part­ner and even empha­sizes its key role in Euro­pean pol­i­tics, Euro­pean secu­ri­ty and the glob­al econ­o­my. Ger­man-Czech rela­tions are based on an extra­or­di­nary eco­nom­ic inter­con­nect­ed­ness.

Although the for­mer Czech gov­ern­ment led by Petr Nečas (Civic Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty — ODS) took a scep­ti­cal stance towards and tried to keep dis­tance from Euro­zone affairs, it strong­ly sup­port­ed the Ger­man approach to the debt cri­sis and the efforts to find a solu­tion to it (e.g. the Czech Repub­lic claimed to be a “shad­ow sig­na­to­ry” of the Fis­cal Com­pact) and stressed that Ger­many is its clos­est ide­o­log­i­cal ally.

The incum­bent gov­ern­ment has pur­sued greater involve­ment in EU eco­nom­ic issues. In March, it agreed to join the Fis­cal Com­pact, which should enhance the Czech Repub­lic’s coop­er­a­tion with Ger­many as a key play­er in the sta­bi­liza­tion and reform of the Euro­zone. The Czech Repub­lic has also late­ly shown that it would wel­come a stronger Ger­man lead­er­ship in for­eign pol­i­cy and defence issues, either through its greater engage­ment in NATO or by its stronger and more active involve­ment in the EU Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy.

The lead­ing role of Ger­many in the EU was also acknowl­edged by the Czech Pres­i­dent Miloš Zeman dur­ing a meet­ing with his Ger­man coun­ter­part Joachim Gauck in Prague in May 2014. Zeman claimed that Ger­many is the engine of the EU and that he would like the Czech Repub­lic to act at least as a “gear­box” and join Ger­many in the “hard core” of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion.

Accord­ing to a pub­lic opin­ion poll con­duct­ed in March, the Czech pub­lic shares the view of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment and pres­i­dent and con­sid­ers Ger­many the most influ­en­tial coun­try in the EU. The only recent crit­i­cal voice in regard to this issue came from the for­mer pres­i­dent Václav Klaus, a long-time crit­ic of the EU. He believes that the dom­i­nance of Ger­many in Europe is now much greater than it ever was dur­ing the 20th cen­tu­ry, and that it is, in fact, the Ger­man Chan­cel­lor togeth­er with the French pres­i­dent who make deci­sions in the EU.

A focus on fiscal discipline

Unlike in oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries, there has not been any sub­stan­tial “aus­ter­i­ty vs. growth” debate in the Czech Repub­lic.

The Czech econ­o­my, while not in a bad shape in the begin­ning of the cri­sis, suf­fered from decreased exports through­out the cri­sis years. There­fore, the neces­si­ty of cor­rec­tive mea­sures was accept­ed across the polit­i­cal spec­trum. The for­mer cen­tre-right coali­tion gov­ern­ment dom­i­nat­ed by the con­ser­v­a­tive Civic Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, was ide­o­log­i­cal­ly in line with Euro­pean aus­ter­i­ty trends, and focused pri­mar­i­ly on macro­eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty and fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty. It was able to main­tain two of the Maas­tricht cri­te­ria (price sta­bil­i­ty and pub­lic debt), how­ev­er it was crit­i­cized by the oppo­si­tion and also by the trade unions for not pay­ing enough atten­tion to growth mea­sures and thus caus­ing an eco­nom­ic decline. The “end of the year” 2013 defla­tion of the Czech “koruna” under the aus­pices of the care­tak­er Rus­nok gov­ern­ment, aimed at sup­port­ing Czech export to the Euro­zone coun­tries, was met with mixed reac­tions.

Although fis­cal dis­ci­pline and sta­bi­liza­tion of pub­lic finances were pro­mot­ed at the Euro­pean as well as the domes­tic lev­el, the Nečas gov­ern­ment opposed pro­pos­als for greater coor­di­na­tion of eco­nom­ic poli­cies at the EU lev­el and refused to adopt the Euro Plus Pact or join the Fis­cal Com­pact.

On the oth­er hand, the incum­bent gov­ern­ment led by Bohuslav Sobot­ka (of the cen­tre-left Czech Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty) has adopt­ed a more pro-Euro­pean stance. It claims that sta­bi­liza­tion of the eco­nom­ic and mon­e­tary sit­u­a­tion in the Euro­pean Union is a pri­ma­ry con­cern of the Czech Repub­lic and the gov­ern­ment is tak­ing con­crete steps towards deep­er coor­di­na­tion of eco­nom­ic and fis­cal pol­i­cy, includ­ing join­ing the Fis­cal Com­pact.

The UK as an active and key actor in the EU and a counterbalance to the European “hard core”

There was a live­ly debate about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the so-called “Brex­it” after British Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron deliv­ered his speech in Jan­u­ary 2013, in which he promised to hold a ref­er­en­dum on EU mem­ber­ship in the UK. The then Czech Prime Min­is­ter Petr Nečas joined David Cameron and decid­ed to stay out of the Fis­cal Com­pact. The Czech Repub­lic was thus seen as a rather Euroscep­tic mem­ber and was regard­ed as a poten­tial British ally in the EU. Although the for­mer Czech gov­ern­ment shared the British stance towards the future of the EU and the need to reform it, it clear­ly stat­ed that it did not want Britain to leave the EU.

The Czech polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives gave sev­er­al rea­sons as to why the UK should stay in the EU and con­tin­ue to be an active and key actor of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion. Petr Nečas and the Civic Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty stressed that both the UK and the Czech Repub­lic pro­mote a more flex­i­ble and more open Europe and attach great impor­tance to the com­ple­tion of the sin­gle mar­ket as a tool for boost­ing the EU’s eco­nom­ic growth and com­pet­i­tive­ness. The Czech polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Ladislav Caba­da point­ed out that the Civic Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is a mem­ber of the same polit­i­cal group in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment as the British Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty – the Euro­pean Con­ser­v­a­tives and Reformists Group – and thus the UK’s exit from the EU would con­sid­er­ably weak­en its polit­i­cal clout. Fur­ther­more, the UK has been per­ceived as a coun­ter­bal­ance to ten­den­cies towards a deep­er inte­gra­tion or fed­er­al­iza­tion of Europe.

The cur­rent pro-Euro­pean Czech gov­ern­ment also speaks in favour of con­tin­ued UK mem­ber­ship of the EU. Tomáš Prouza, the State Sec­re­tary for Euro­pean Affairs, pri­mar­i­ly empha­sizes the sin­gle mar­ket as a com­mon pri­or­i­ty of both coun­tries (the Czech Repub­lic and the UK are both mem­bers of the like-mind­ed group that is com­mit­ted to expand­ing the sin­gle mar­ket) and the key role of the UK for the EU’s Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy.

Last but not least, the UK exit would def­i­nite­ly harm Czech busi­ness. The UK is the fifth most impor­tant export part­ner of the Czech Repub­lic, and the Czech Repub­lic has expe­ri­enced its third biggest trade sur­plus­es in its rela­tions with the UK.

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This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.