The EU elections in the Czech Republic

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Amid gloomy EU surveys on voter turnout, recent opinion polls suggest that the Czech Republic could beat the odds with as many as 50% of registered voters planning to cast their ballot, or twice as much as during the last elections in 2004. Meanwhile, the economic crisis, energy issues and the future of the EU are predominant topics in all the parties’ campaigns.

Background

In the Czech Republic, President Václav Klaus set the election dates as Friday 5 and Saturday 6 June. Any Czech citizen with a legal capacity and aged 21 or older may run in the elections. Even a citizen of another EU member state can run in the elections if he/she is eligible to do so in his or her country of origin and if he/she has been listed as a resident of the Czech Republic for at least 45 days. 

Lists of candidates may only be submitted by political parties and movements which had registered with the Czech Interior Ministry by the end of March 2009. 

2004 EU election results and predictions for 2009 

The 2004 EU elections in the Czech Republic were won by the right-wing Civic Democratic Party (ODS), which gained 30% of the vote. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) came second with 20%. Third place belonged to the Union of Independents–European Democrats (SNK-ED; 11%) and fourth to the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL; 9.6%). The then-governing Social Democratic Party (CSSD) barely managed to get 9% of the vote and thus came fifth.

Entirely different results are expected in this year's elections, according to the polls, which indicated that in March, 31% of voters would have voted for ODS, 29% for CSSD, 13% for KSCM, 7% for the Greens (SZ) and 5% for KDU-CSL. 

Czech MEPs currently occupy 24 seats in the Parliament: Nine ODS, six KSCM, three SNK-ED, two KDU-CSL, two CSSD and two independents. 

In June, a total of 736 European parliamentary seats will be distributed among the new MEPs because the Lisbon Treaty will not be ratified in time (the number of seats in the Parliament will be adjusted after the elections by means of transitory measures). The number of seats reserved for Czech MEPs will decrease by two to 22. 

Turnout expected to double 

Paradoxically, every time the Parliament's powers and membership has been increased, its attractiveness in the eyes of voters has fallen. The lowest turnout yet was recorded last time around – 46% across the EU as a whole. 

Turnout was lowest in the EU's newest member states. In the Czech Republic, turnout was only 28%, while in Slovakia, it was less than 17%. A recently-conducted survey indicated that the situation in the Czech Republic should improve thanks to its holding of the EU presidency. Had the elections taken place in February, some 54% of registered voters would have participated. 

For the first half of their mandates, four Czech MEPs were appointed as deputy chairs of different committees after the last parliamentary elections. For the second half, five Czechs applied for top positions in the committees. 

The most successful of these was Miroslav Ouzky (EPP-ED), who now leads the environment committee. The deputy chairs are Petr Duchon (EPP-ED; budgetary control committee), Zuzana Roithova (EPP-ED, internal market and consumer protection), Libor Roucek (PES; foreign affairs) and Miloslav Ransdorf (GUE/NGL; industry, research and energy). 

Internet campaigning on the rise 

Now, a matter of weeks before the elections and in contrast with the 2004 poll, political parties are applying innovative methods in communicating with voters. 

Parties that seek to address young voters are relying heavily on the Internet, for example social networking sites like Facebook, which has over 250,000 members aged 15-24 in the Czech Republic. 

Jan Zahradil (who tops the ODS list), Katerina Jacques (second on the Greens' list) or Richard Falbr (a CSSD candidate) are seeking to attract young people to their political views in this manner. 

Education Minister Ondrej Liska is the most advanced Czech politician as far as the use of electronic means of communication is concerned. 

The Christian Democrats do not favour the Internet, nor do they have tens of millions of crowns (CZK) to lead an election campaign. The ODS is expected to spend around 40 million CZK (around 1.5 million euros], compared to the socialist CSSD's 30 million). 

The party will launch its 'fences' project under the slogan: "We perceive fences as opportunities, not obstacles". The Christian Democrats want to make use of their wide electoral base (about 40,000 people) by asking their adherents to put up promotional material on their walls, fences and other visible sites. 

Issues

Civic Democratic Party (ODS

The ruling Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has not yet unveiled its campaign programme and until the end of April refused to answer even basic questions regarding the European Parliament elections. 

The only thing that is clear so far is that the list of candidates will be topped by MEP Jan Zahradil. Second on the list is former governor of Moravia-Silesia, Evzen Tosenovsky, and third is another MEP, Oldrich Vlasak. 

Regarding energy, ODS MEPs are expected to support efforts to diversify energy supplies (like the disputed Nabucco pipeline), as well as a renaissance of nuclear energy. 

To deal with the economic crisis, ODS wants to support business without massive spending aimed at boosting demand. 

Support for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is uncertain, even though Prime Minister-in-resignation Mirek Topolánek voiced his backing for the document. The party itself remains divided on the issue (including MEPs). 

ODS declared recently that it would pull out of the EPP-ED group and, together with the UK's Conservatives, would form a new eurosceptic party. 

Social Democrats  (CSSD

The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) chose Jiri Havel, a university teacher, former deputy prime minister in charge of the economic issues and current shadow education minister, to top its list of candidates. Current MEP and long-standing trade union boss Richard Falbr is second, and another current MEP, Libor Roucek, is third on the list. 

According to its manifesto, the CSSD is anchored in the European structure thanks to its close cooperation with the Party of European Socialists (PES), of which CSSD is a member. 

As the economic crisis continues, the CSSD is pushing for measures to increase consumer demand while at the same time preserving current social expenditure and strengthening price regulation of monopolies (for example, by promoting the "rational" development of electricity prices), stopping privatisation of public property and improving coordination of monetary and fiscal policy. 

In energy policy as well as in its approach to climate change, the party is positioned firmly in the European mainstream – it wants to promote savings in energy consumption, improve energy infrastructure and support renewable resources. 

CSSD supports a speedy ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and continued EU enlargement. 

European Democratic Party (EDS

The European Democratic Party (EDS) is a new political entity which, according to its official statement, wants to emphasise the "quality of [its] list of candidates and team". 

The party relies on the abilities of its leader and respected MEP Jana Hybaskova, who is an expert on foreign affairs. When drawing up its list of candidates, the EDS sought to cover all the important areas of EU concern: security, defence, energy (General Jiri Sedivy), European funds and enlargement (Vera Jourova), and science research and education (Ivan Wilhelm). 

The EDS is planning a reserved campaign centred primarily on European issues which can be resolved in the EU assembly. The party wants to refrain from using words that would go beyond its own capacity, effectiveness and expertise. 

The EDS is strongly pro-European. Standing "against the fragmentation of Europe," it aims to consolidate economic ties within the EU. The party thinks that adopting the single currency and thorough use of European funding for science and research would help the Czech Republic to overcome the current economic crisis more effectively. 

The EDS wants to unify the energy policies of EU member states, improve the interconnection of networks and search for feasible alternatives, with a particular emphasis on nuclear energy. The party unanimously supports the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and EU enlargement. 

Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL

The KDU-CSL wants to appeal to voters with the help of well-known faces that represented the party in the last European elections. 

Zuzana Roithova has gained a reputation for protecting the rights of European consumers, while Jan Brezina – apart from having dealt with energy issues – has defended manufacturers of traditional Czech products. 

The Christian Democrats emphasise their role in the European People's Party (EPP). They are consulting within the EPP regarding the management of their campaign. According to KDU-CSL's campaign manager Jaroslav Polacek, his party managed to prove that European issues influence Czech life and is therefore convinced of the need to address these issues further in this year's campaign. 

The party wants to handle the economic crisis from below by supporting small businesses and thus preventing unemployment. The Christian Democrats are continuing to stress the need to co-finance export stimulation projects from both EU and national budgets. The costs of the proposed measures must not cause state debt to rise, they say. 

Regarding energy policy, KDU-CSL supports carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, energy-saving initiatives and the development of nuclear energy. 

The Christian Democrats are for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. 

Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) is looking to capitalise on the successes of its current MEPs. Top spot on the list belongs to current MEP Miloslav Ransdorf, who is followed by his two colleagues in the EU assembly: former astronaut Vladimir Remek and doctor Jiri Mastalka. 

In the European Parliament, KSCM is part of the Confederation of European United Left and Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL). 

To remedy the crisis, KSCM supports "economic self-sufficiency" (state investments aimed at boosting the economy, etc.), "tax equity" (increasing tax progression and property declaration), increased social aid, and changes to the orientation of the Czech economy (to a greater extent to countries other than those of the EU and the USA). 

The party is calling for the establishment of a new state bank, which would offer loans to businesses and businessmen on the verge of bankruptcy. 

The Communists would also introduce measures "against speculative capital" and reduce value-added tax on food, electricity and heating by 5%. 

Regarding energy, KSCM wants to improve relations with countries on which the EU depends for energy supplies, and has not ruled out nuclear energy. 

The party is against ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and is demanding a referendum on the issue. 

SNK-ED (European Democrats)

Three of the five top candidates of SNK-ED (the European Democrats), including leader Lukas Macek, are aged 33 or under (the other two are Jiri Plecity and Eva Palatova). What these three people have in common is not just their unusually low age, but also direct experience of the EU institutions. 

Plecity, for instance, is a member of the office of European Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen. Palatova, on the other hand, is active in the foreign affairs committee of the Parliament. These candidates are complemented by the founder and director of the Nase Dite (Our Child) foundation, Zuzana Baudysova. 

All of the candidates are seeking cooperation with the EPP-ED group. 

According to Macek, SNK-ED offers a "pragmatic and realistic programme for right-wing or centrist voters who want the Czech Republic to be an influential member of a stable and operational EU". 

SNK-ED candidates support Prague's speedy adoption of the euro and its ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. 

The party supports the creation of a "functioning EU energy policy" and also wants to reform the EU budget. 

The party's motto reads: 'Neither isolation, nor left-wing policy'. SNK-ED supports enlargement in that it wants to "complete the EU enlargement on the Balkan peninsula". However, the party is trumpeting a "specific approach towards Turkey and Ukraine". 

SNK-ED does not view European integration as an alternative to the transatlantic partnership, not even on a security level. 

Party of Free Citizens (SSO

The Party of Free Citizens (SSO), recently founded by Petr Mach, has opted for an original approach to this year's EU elections: anyone can register on the SSO website and have a say over who should be on the list of candidates (there are some 30 candidates to choose from). 

The SSO wants to assume the role of a "real opposition party" opposed to "the cartel of the main EP political groups – PES and EPP-ED". SSO is against "current trends in European integration" and is thus against the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The party is demanding a referendum on the issue, as well as a referendum on the adoption of the euro. 

The opinions of the SSO regarding energy policy differ greatly from those of the European mainstream. The party wants to abandon the EU's renewable energy targets, abandon support for agrofuels, and abolish "all green euro-regulations". 

The SSO wants to combat the economic crisis by respecting the Stability and Growth Pact and by banning aid for private businesses. According to the SSO, solving the economic crisis must remain within the competence of each member state. 

Greens (SZ

The Green (SZ) party appointed current deputy environment minister Jan Dusik as its leading candidate. Second place on the list belongs to MP Katerina Jacques. Third place is occupied by the chair of the Greens in the Czech parliament, Premysl Rabas. 

The Greens opted for the so-called "zip approach" to compiling their list of candidates, which basically means that men and women are equally represented on the list. The Greens cooperate closely with the European Green Party (EGP). 

The Greens support the creation of "green working positions" and want to boost small and medium-sized businesses, "whose activity may improve the environment in the regional context". 

Among the top energy policy priorities are support for renewable energy resources, energy savings, limitation of dependency on Russia, and of course climate protection. 

SZ is for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, as well as for future EU enlargement. 

Timeline

  • June 2004: First EU elections held in the Czech Republic (Turnout: 27.9%). 
  • 5-6 June 2009: EU elections in the Czech Republic. 
  • June-July 2009: Negotiations on Parliament positions (new president and vice-presidents; new committee chairs, etc.). 
  • 13-17 July 2009: First plenary session of newly-elected Parliament. Election of new Commission president by secret ballot. 
  • 20 July 2009: First meeting of new Parliament committees. 

Further Reading

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