The roots of Euroscepticism among the Czechs go back 10 or 15 years and if Jiří Drahoš defeats the incumbent President Miloš Zeman in a runoff vote on 26-27 January, he will struggle to reverse the trend, political analyst Lubomír Kopeček told EURACTIV.
Lubomír Kopeček is a professor of political sciences at the Faculty of Social Studies in Brno, Czech Republic. Last summer he published a book on the political career of the current Czech President Miloš Zeman.
L. Kopeček spoke to EURACTIV Slovakia’s Marián Koreň.
Where can we find the roots of the Czech Euroscepticism?
The attitude of the elites is essential, but I am not talking only about the attitude of Miloš Zeman. Since 2006, the emphasis on European issues has been weakening even in case of the political parties which used to be pro-European. I do not mean to say they are no longer pro-European, but they stopped working on the topic. At that moment, Social or Christian Democrats stopped taking it as their priority.
The second thing is that the internal topics are getting a European label. It means shifting the blame for unpopular things on the European Union. On the other hand, certain absurd issues, which are coming from the EU and can be easily misused in the political debate, help nourish the Euroscepticism.
It is also important to mention the influence of the economic recession which in 2008 – a little bit paradoxically – turned against the positive perception of the EU. In the Czech Republic, the bad mood was reflected in the scepticism towards the EU.
You mentioned the attitude of the elites. It is often said that Czech Euroscepticism is very much influenced by the former and current Czech Presidents. Václav Klaus sowed the seeds and Miloš Zeman is continuing it. Could Jiří Drahoš reverse this trend if he becomes the new president of the Czech Republic?
Not to reverse but moderate it. In the sense that we will not have a head of state with such eurosceptic positions as we did during the mandate of the two previous presidents. Nevertheless, it is necessary to be careful – the head of the state is influential but he or she is not almighty and cannot completely reverse the moods in society. Jiří Drahoš is nowadays representing the part of the society that is neutral or slightly positive towards the EU. But he would not be able to reverse something which has been forming here for ten or fifteen years along.
How important as a topic is the EU in the presidential elections?
The Union is usually perceived not as a separate big issue but related to something else. When Zeman is emphasising the issue of the referendum and direct democracy, he is linking it with the withdrawal from the EU. Similarly, refugees and the EU are joint vessels – the EU dictated migration quotas to the Czech Republic.
In foreign media, we can read that the Czech president will play a substantial role in the democratic direction of the country after the parliamentary elections. Is this just a journalistic paraphrase or a realistic option?
The power pact between Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (who resigned after his government lost a confidence vote in mid-January) is not being formed these days, it has been existing in the Czech Republic for a couple of years. The reason for this pact is the fact that they are very helpful to one another.
But does it have a long-term perspective?
It is questionable. If the government of the ANO movement – with or without Babiš – gets the confidence vote and Miloš Zeman wins another mandate, the objective of the pact will run out, they will not need one another so much anymore.
Read full interview by EURACTIV.
2nd December 2020