The Czech parliament is set to elect the country’s president today (8 February) in a contest which pits euro-sceptic incumbent Václav Klaus against pro-EU challenger Jan Švejnar. The election is largely seen as a choice between ‘old’ and ‘new’ visions of the country’s future. With additional reporting from EURACTIV in Prague.
Today’s election pits 66-year-old incumbent Václav Klaus – the Civic Democrat (ODS) candidate who is seeking a second term – against Social Democrat (CSSD) nominee and US citizen Jan Švejnar. Pre-election polls had indicated that parliamentarians would narrowly opt to re-elect Mr. Klaus, although going into today’s vote, the likely outcome remained far from clear.
The candidates differ widely in their attitudes towards the European Union. Euro-sceptic Klaus sees the EU as a primarily economic system of co-operation between sovereign nations, and frequently opposes giving up competencies to “centralised” Brussels.
Moreover, he was a vociferous opponent of the EU’s doomed constitutional treaty and is likewise against the Treaty of Lisbon. Klaus is opposed to the Czech Republic joining the European single currency and is sceptical about EU policies on climate change.
Meanwhile, making the case for increased Czech engagement in European affairs, pro-EU Švejnar – a 55-year-old University of Michigan professor whose American wife does not speak Czech – declared “the best strategy for a medium-sized country […] is to defend her interests as part of a greater whole.” He believes that “putting forward our national interests and pro-European position are not in contradiction but go together, hand-in-hand”.
Švejnar wants the Czech Republic to move quickly to join the euro currency. Moreover, he calls for increased efforts to combat climate change, but Klaus disputes the notion that human activity is causing global warming – a phenomenon which he believes has not been sufficiently proved – and fears that efforts to curb it could harm national economies.
Both candidates support US plans to install part of their missile defence shield in the country, representing one of the few policy areas over which their opinions concur.
Švejnar has indicated that he will renounce his US citizenship in favour of Czech nationality if he emerges victorious in today’s vote.