Changing Czechs’ anti-EU sentiments is proving far from straightforward

#CriticalThinking

Picture of Petr Kaniok
Petr Kaniok

Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations and European Studies, Masaryk University, Czechia

Now entering its second year of government, the Czech Republic’s coalition of Social Democrats (ČSSD), mildly populist liberals (ANO 2011) and Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) have been making it abundantly clear that Prague’s approach of European integration must become more co-operative, active and pro-EU. But it is a tough sell politically, as almost all governments since the Czech Republic’s EU accession in 2004 have in varying degrees adopted EU critical stances. This reflected the fact that the eurosceptic conservative-liberal Civic Democrats dominated these coalitions and actively promoted an image of the Czech Republic as an unco-operative, unpredictable and largely sceptical member state.

Over the past year a more mixed picture of Czech membership has been created. In two key areas, the new government has been rewriting the Czech approach. First, there is a new strategy for the country’s EU policy, and secondly a new debate on EU policy is taking place inside the Czech Republic. There’s much ground to be recovered, as the last EU-related strategic document dates back to 2013, and was heavily criticised within the coalition which produced it, as well as by outside observers. As to public debate on the EU’s future development, previous governments weren’t interested and therefore never actively stimulated it.

The new Czech government’s EU strategy should have been presented last summer, in a document that defined how the Czech Republic perceived the European integration project, and that then put forward a limited number of priorities. But its publication was postponed several times, and its character was changed to a less ambitious “concept paper”. Publication date of this concept paper is now set to be mid-March, but even this isn’t certain. Current thinking is that the concept paper is to be circulated around all government ministries, with requests for their comments and amendments. This process usually takes several months and is creating doubts over when the paper will at last be made public.

These delays to release of the new strategic document are not the only problem surrounding the new EU approach. Rather surprisingly, the preparation of the concept paper has not gone hand-in-hand with any sort of public debate. The paper hasn’t been discussed with the non-governmental sector, and the ‘National Convention for the EU’ launched last September as a new platform for debate between policymakers and NGOs like think tanks and social partners has not played any real role in the formulation of new medium-term goals. During 2014, it organised four thematic roundtables on energy efficiency, immigration, EU institutions and cohesion policy, but produced just one recommendation on immigration policy by the scheduled deadline. Its limited impact is triggering doubts that the National Convention for the EU will turn into just another “talking shop”.

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