The Czechs do not have a great affinity with the European Union; in fact, they are among the most skeptical on the block.
But since his country is a net beneficiary of Brussels funds and there is currently no means of holding a referendum, a “Czexit” has remained the chimera of far-right parties and Eurosceptic columnists.
However, there is a slim chance of a referendum if the country’s main eurosceptic party can enter the corridors of power amid the political turmoil expected after the country’s October 8-9 general elections.
But a lot comes down to electoral arithmetic. The ruling ANO party is expected to win the vote that will take place today and Saturday, but its current partners are projected to lose seats.
Unable to obtain a majority, Prime Minister Andrej Babis may have to turn to the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party, the loudest advocate of a plebiscite on leaving the EU, for its endorsement.
Referendum on Czechs leaving the EU is ‘unlikely’
Japan-born Tomio Okamura, a leader of the anti-immigration SPD, said at a recent press conference that passing a new law to allow national referenda, including membership in the EU, was his condition for supporting Babis’s campaign for a second term in The charge. .
However, most commentators believe that it is unlikely, even if the SPD ends up supporting Babis in the next government.
“An EU referendum is unlikely to the point of impossibility,” said Sean Hanley, associate professor of Central and Eastern European politics at University College London.
An early 2020 study by research agency Behavio found that Czech public approval of membership in the EU was the lowest in the 27 member states, with only 33% saying it was a good thing. About 15% of those surveyed said it was bad, the third highest of the 27 nationalities, and only 47% said they would vote to stay in the bloc.
Despite the public mood, none of the major political parties support exiting the EU and, more importantly, its funds, of which the Czech Republic has been a net recipient since its accession in 2004. It is expected to receive more than 7 billion euros from Brussels between now and 2026 as part of the EU recovery fund, as well as other grants from the bloc.
The center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the country’s second-largest party, has Eurosceptic ideas but is committed to reforming the bloc from within, not leaving.
The ODS will challenge this weekend’s vote as part of the SPOLU alliance, which currently ranks a close second behind ANO, according to the latest opinion polls.
The Libertarian Pirate Party and the Party of Mayors and Independents (STAN), whose alliance is expected to finish slightly behind in third place, are staunch defenders of the EU.
The Czech constitution currently has no rules on the holding of national plebiscites. Only one has been held since the Czech Republic was formed in 1993, when 77% of voters voted to join the EU in a 2003 referendum.
The SPD, which is leaning to finish fourth with 10-12% of the vote, has long campaigned for constitutional reform. All of his numerous proposals have been rejected by parliament.
But the current ruling coalition, with the support of the Pirates, had tabled its own motion on a referendum law, although it would prohibit any scrutiny of EU and NATO membership. Because the lower house dissolved before this weekend’s election, the motion did not get a proper reading.
The SPD has some support for holding a referendum on EU membership. The far-left Bohemian and Moravian Communist Party (KSCM), which is inclined to collect 5-6.5% of the vote this weekend, is in favor of raising the issue to the public, as are the parties Smaller far-rightists are unlikely to win seats.
The KSCM has supported the outgoing government in parliament since 2018, a position the SPD could find itself in after this weekend’s general elections.
In the past, ANO and the SPD said they could not work together, and similar allegations that Babis would partner with Okamura after the last general election proved false.
“Babis would not be enthusiastic about cooperation with the SPD, but if he has no other possibility, it is possible,” Lubomir Kopecek, a professor of political science at Masaryk University, told Euronews last month.
Opinion polls on the eve of the elections suggest that the Social Democrats (CSSD), the junior partner in the outgoing ANO-led government, will lose seats or might even not enter parliament. The KSCM is also tilted to drop the seats.
Without this support, Babis will have a hard time boasting that he has enough MPs to win a vote of confidence in parliament, which he will need if President Milos Zeman recommends him as the next prime minister.
What could the post-election scene look like?
Experts estimate that it is possible that the far-right party would not formally join ANO in government, but rather offer its support in parliament, as the KSCM has done since 2018. In exchange, the SPD could demand that Babis accept support their referendum plans.
This could also work in Zeman’s interest, journalist Tim Gosling recently wrote. “Zeman is expected to pressure Babis to start working quickly with the SPD and any other illiberal parties that come to parliament,” he stated, adding that the SPD and KSCM support Zeman’s pro-Russia and pro-China agenda. .
In 2016, after the British referendum on leaving the EU, President Zeman also said he was in favor of the Czechs holding a similar plebiscite. Although he promised to campaign to stay in the bloc, he said that he would do “everything for [Czechs] have a referendum and be able to express yourself. And the same happens with the exit of NATO as well ”.
Following a meeting with Zeman late last month, SPD leader Okamura said that in exchange for the SPD supporting ANO, “one of the fundamental conditions is that the government manifesto … includes a referendum law that include the possibility of an exit referendum from the EU or potentially NATO. “
Radim Fiala, deputy leader of the SPD, also said in a recent interview with the Dnes newspaper that his party could agree to support ANO if it backed the far-right party’s plans for a national referendum law.
“There is no way Babis wants to look at Czexit because he has a realistic appreciation of the economic interests of the Czech Republic and his own, which are closely tied to Germany and Western Europe,” said Hanley of University College London.
If Babis and Okamura worked together, it would be unlikely that they would do so as a coalition, damaging their reputations, Hanley added. So, with some arrangement less than a coalition, the SPD’s condition on a referendum would be more easily forgotten. “Okamura has actually worded it in such a way that it can slip away,” Hanley said.
For Babis, this could be a “clever tactical move, depending on a negative outcome,” Radko Kubicko, a prominent Czech opinion columnist, wrote in an article this week for Czech Radio.
On the one hand, he could win much-needed support from the SPD in parliament if he accepts such a law. On the other hand, since Babis would not want to rule in a country devastated by the ravages of leaving the EU, he would have to bet that a ‘Czechxit’ referendum would never be held or, if it did, the Czech electorate would vote. Against.
However, it could end up in a similar situation to Britain when then-Prime Minister David Cameron launched the referendum on Brexit believing that it would be easily defeated and would silence the eurosceptic wing of his Conservative Party – a plan that failed.
“Although it seems that the issue of a ‘Czexit’ is only a secondary issue in Czech politics, after the elections … it may not be the case,” Kubicko wrote.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism