With an apparent pro-EU swing in the Czech parliament but lingering scepticism amongst citizens, May 2014 will be a decider for the Republic. By Ece Kepekçi
The Czech Republic became an independent state in 1993 after the split of Czechoslovakia into its two component parts. With currently 10.5 million inhabitants, the Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004 during the biggest enlargement process of the Union’s history in terms of territory, number of states and population. It is the 6th most peaceful country in the Union according to the 2012 Global Peace Index survey. 90% of Czechs have completed at least secondary education, the highest score in the EU (alongside Poles, Slovaks, and Slovenes).
Czech politics was shaken last year by a corruption scandal of highly positioned state officers, politicians, and important lobbyists, mostly affecting the then Prime Minister Petr Nečas, his Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and his coalition government. The scandal resulted in the resignation of the cabinet, as well as Nečas quitting as the leader of ODS. After a decision to dissolve the legislature in August 2013, new elections were held in October, which resulted in a rather left-leaning coalition of Social Democrats (ČSSD) and Communists (KSČM). The Civic Democratic Party had played a crucial role in the country’s democratic renovation since 1991. 95 days after the October elections, President Milos Zeman officially signed in the new government on the 28th January 2014. This is the first to be led by the ČSSD since 2006, with the new Prime Minister as Bohuslav Sobotka.
Over the years, the Czech Republic has gained a reputation as having a cold attitude towards further enlargement and deeper integration of the European Union. Important government officials such as former President and Prime Minister Václav Klaus, who initiated the EU accession talks in the 90s, has more recently taken a strongly Eurosceptic position. With this new government, for the first time since 2006, both the prime minister and the president are known to be pro-EU.
The 2004 European elections, held between 10th and 13th June, was the sixth election held for the Parliament. However, as the Czech Republic had only joined the European Union on 1st May 2004, these elections were the first ever European Parliament elections to be held in the Czech State. The turnout for 2004 was one of the lowest, at only 28.32%. The second elections in 2009 also saw a very low voter turnout; at only 28.1%, the Czech Republic was again one of the lowest in the Union.
A survey conducted by Eurobarometer investigated the view ‘My voice counts in the EU’ across member-states in 2011-2012. 79% of the people who participated in this survey from Czech Republic said they didn’t think their voices count, where only 19% answering positively. This demonstrates that the distrust of the Czech population towards the EU has not changed since the 2009 elections. Despite the current pro-EU government, it is highly likely that the turnout in the upcoming 2014 elections will again be very low compared to the EU average.
Currently, the Czech Republic is represented by four political parties in the European Parliament – the Civic Democrats (ODS) with 9 MEPs, the Social Democrats (ČSSD) with 7 MEPs, the Communist Party (KSCM) with 4 MEPs and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) with 2 MEPs.
Results of the recent national parliamentary elections in October 2013 could give an indication of the political power that would affect the European election results in the country. The noticeable success of the party, ANO 2011, based on the former “Action of Dissatisfied Citizens movement” was rather surprising for the Czech national elections. The percentage of votes they received in the October elections (18.65) is a signal that they are likely to gain a significant number of seats in the European Parliament this May. The Social Democrats, meanwhile, are likely to have little problem preserving their position; the Communists have been very consistent in getting around 10-15% of the vote. They also managed to get 2 seats in the previous European Parliament elections in 2009, and look to do the same this time. After the corruption and bribery scandal, the highly negatively-affected Civic Democratic party showed a steep fall in the national elections of 2013. Demonstrating an almost 13% drop in the percentage of the votes, the party only managed to get 7% of the Czech national votes. This will most likely result in the Civic Democratic Party losing a significant number of the 9 seats they have in the European Parliament.
It is hard to predict how the levels of Euroscepticism will change in the Czech nation. Despite the current pro-EU government, the Eurobarometer study of 2012 had shown the Czech views of pessimism towards the EU. The national elections of last October have definitely demonstrated a shift in Czech political power. The corruption scandal of 2013 and the presence of ANO 11 in the Czech national parliament have definitely changed the balance of Czech politics. These changes inevitably will affect the European Parliament elections of 2014.
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