The Czechs do not know anything about the EU’s global strategies or the interconnection of energy networks. But they know very well that they can buy cheaper and better food in Germany, says MEP Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP).
Tomáš Zdechovský is a Czech EPP MEP and a member of the Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL).
He spoke to EURACTIV.cz’s Editor-in-Chief Adéla Denková.
How would you evaluate the current relationship of the Czech Republic to the EU as an organisation that the Czech Republic is part of?
The current government has made a great shift. From the troublemaker who has always been against everything, to the current state where the Czech Republic is playing a rather constructive role in the EU. This is reflected in the fact that the Czech Republic is invited to meetings in which it could not take part before. Topics which have been brought forward by the Czech Republic – such as the dual quality of food – are taken relatively seriously in the EU. Which of the Czech topics was able to reach the European agenda over the past period from 2010 to 2013? I cannot remember any. Now it is not only about the dual quality of food, but also the question of safety of long-distance drivers or the question of cyber security which the Czech Republic has repeatedly raised in recent years.
Is it not funny that in the Czech Republic, the dual quality of food is the biggest issue connected with the EU, while elsewhere the future of the whole European project is being discussed?
Most people in the Czech Republic do not understand the meaning of the EU. But it can be explained on details like this. For those who think that the issue of dual food quality is ridiculous, I would like to say that, according to surveys, the Czechs simply do not know anything about global EU strategies or energy networks. But they know very well that they may buy cheaper and better food in Germany. And that a product with the same brand and in the same package may have different ingredients in the Czech Republic and in Germany. The EU simply begins in the stomach of a Czech citizen and goes further to topics that are associated with global security. But we cannot underestimate any of these issues.
So, do you agree with the frequent opinion that the problematic relationship to the EU stems from the fact that the Czechs simply do not understand it?
The Czechs do not understand it and nobody informs them about the EU. When we drive by car from a session in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, we are tuning through various radio stations. In western Europe, you hear a lot of information on the radio about what the European Parliament has been doing. There is little of similar information in the Czech Republic. That is why I try to point out issues that the citizens are concerned with. For example, it is the safety of lorry drivers. This is not only about drivers themselves but also about their families and, of course, employers. Or, if someone gets an unjustified fine in the Netherlands, the remedy will be easier than if it happened in a country outside the EU. It is important to emphasise that democratic principles work in the EU and it is easier for people to get justice.
Europe is not visible
You are suggesting that the media should try harder. What about the educational process? How should it focus on the EU?
I often give lectures at Czech schools and I hear from teachers that they do not know how they should teach about the European Union, that there is no proper teaching material, that teaching the history of the EU and teaching the geography of the EU is useless. In my opinion, emphasis should be laid on information about EU competences to show what it is good for. Many teachers do not know it, which is a shame. In this, we should definitely extend our education.
Does the situation in the Czech Republic differ from other “new” EU member states? The EU is perceived more positively in Poland, Slovakia or Hungary.
From my own experience, I can talk about Poland, where the EU is much more visible. I must be quite critical to the European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency, which is based in Prague. It is in charge of one of the most important parts of research in the EU, but it is simply invisible. It has a building in Prague with a “GSA” abbreviation and some logo that does not even look like it belongs to the EU. Flags of the Czech Republic and the EU should fly in front of this building and information on the results of their research should be reported in the media. Czechs complain about Brussels, but they can complain about Prague, too. There are three hundred people in Prague who are paid from the EU budget, including people who represent the Commission, Parliament, and so on. Who knows about them? The situation is quite different in Poland.
When we look at the European institutions, their communication seems to be gradually improving. And from Juncker’s last speech on the state of the Union, it is evident that the Commission has also learned how to communicate with central European countries. Would you agree?
Juncker’s last speech was the best in history and showed that people connected with the European Commission are changing their thinking. They begin to understand that if they do not want to lose the central and eastern European states, they cannot just command, but should discuss things and take seriously the issues which some people are laughing at. I see this in the European Parliament. When I arrived at the beginning of my mandate in 2014, I felt that there was a bigger effort to “crush” us. I do not have this feeling anymore.
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