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26/09/2016

Zahradil: Brexit is not a good option for Central Europe

Future EU

Zahradil: Brexit is not a good option for Central Europe

“Brexit will shift the geographical and geopolitical centre of the EU eastwards and Germany will become the dominant power of the bloc,” said Czech MEP (Civic Democratic Party ) and European Conservatives and Reformists Chairman Jan Zahradil

An MEP since 2004, Jan Zahradil entered politics during the Velvet Revolution, and is a scientific researcher by profession.

Zahradil was interviewed by EurActiv Czech Republic Editor-in-Chief Lucie Bednárová.

The United Kingdom is voting on its membership in the European Union today. The latest poll results show a split electorate, and it is difficult to predict whether the UK is heading towards Brexit or not. What do you hope the result will be?

Interfering with the internal affairs of other another country is counterproductive. We could see it in case of American President, Barack Obama, who tried to influence the results of the referendum in Britain, and it was not well received. As a Czech politician, I have to respect the sovereign right of the British people to decide their issues on their own, and accept the result.

On the other side, as Czech politicians, we have the right to assess what is good for the Czech Republic and what is not. Brexit is extremely disadvantageous for my country, and I wish it could be avoided.

Why would Brexit be bad for the Czech Republic?

Brexit will shift the geographical and geopolitical centre of the EU eastwards and Germany will become the dominant power of the bloc. I do not consider it a good option for Central Europe, and the Czech Republic as well.

Sobotka speaks out against Brexit and Czexit

Speaking to EurActiv.cz, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has corrected media interpretations according to which the eventuality of Brexit could open the door to Czexit. He said he wishes for the UK to remain a member of the EU and considers any suggestion of the Czech Republic leaving the EU to be unfounded, harmful and dangerous.

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In addition to that, we can expect Britain will probably lose its interest in continental Europe and will turn its attention towards the Commonwealth and the United States. Central Europe will particularly suffer, because we will lose an important partner in the fight for better regulation, less bureaucracy, the single market and the Atlantic connection.

We hear very often that after Brexit, there will be the champagne corks popping in the Kremlin. More likely it will be in Brussels. The offices of Mr. Juncker and Mr. Schulz will join in a toast to celebrate (the fact) that they finally got rid off those troublemakers, and can begin working on completing their dreamed model of a centralised Europe. Unlike the others, I do not think Brexit will lead to the end of EU integration.

Why should Central Europe be afraid of a strengthened Germany?

Germany will become the EU superpower. After Brexit, there will be no one who will be able to balance its influence. The dependence of Czech exporters on the German economy is unhealthy, and if there is strengthening of the position of Berlin in the EU, we can be sure it will raise its political influence.

We have problems with German policy towards migrants. It would be the same with their energy policy. I am also afraid of German anti-Russian, or anti-Putin rhetoric, as I do not trust it. Germany and Russia have always been able to reach an agreement behind our backs, and I think they may do so again.

The UK is not the only country able to match the power of Germany in the EU. We should not forget the V4 countries, or France.

France is not interested in Central Europe. Paris cares about the Mediterranean, and North Africa and its ex-colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. I believe France would leave Central Europe to Germany, and it will be happy that the spheres of interests have been split this way.

Are you expecting a strengthening of the Franco-German engine?

Of course. France would quietly welcome Brexit, because it would increase its power within the EU.

You mentioned that the European political elites led the European Commission and European Parliament, are preparing themselves for the centralisation of the EU after Brexit.

The Commission and the European Parliament will stand side by side on this matter. The EP has been the strongest supporter of integration among the institutions so far, so we cannot pin our hopes on it. Whether we like it or not, the political mainstream in Europe wants to have more Europe wherever it is possible. Germany which will become the EU superpower and is not interested in less Europe. It prefers centralisation, as it will have the strongest word.

How should Czech government react to a possible Brexit?

The Czech government should be prepared for it, and have a plan for the situation. We should open the EU treaties. It will be the right time for placing demands. I can imagine the Czech Republic could ask for an opt-out from the euro and the common asylum and migrant policy. If we could get the support of the other V4 countries, we could succeed.

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The EU is in the middle of the worst migration crisis after the Second World War, and it needs to find the solution. Is this the right time to ask for these opt-outs? Would it not be counterproductive?

Brexit will not be solved without opening the treaties. I see it as a chance for the EU as a whole to be reformed, and also for us to gain something more.

British MEPs are members of the ECR political group in the European Parliament. If they leave, it will weaken the position of the group. Do you have a plan to deal with this?

Britain will not leave the EU the day after the referendum. It is likely that current MEPs will finish their mandates and stay in until 2019. It is true that after Brexit, we would be weakened, but we would try to find a solution. We would start persuading parties in other groups in the Parliament, who we know are unsatisfied (to join us). I am convinced the ECR group will survive.

Let´s imagine the United Kingdom will stay in the EU. What should the next debate be about?

Regardless of the results of the referendum, it will be very tight. If Britain stays in the EU, supporters of the Remain vote should not celebrate the victory and act like nothing has happened. It is a wake-up call, and also for us, who have been trying to emphasise the need for EU reform. We should use it against the European political elite, to remind it that nothing is going to return to the old days.