Trans Europe Express: Three fun facts about Czexit

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

The Czech Republic’s ‘pragmatic’ approach to the EU will not change significantly with the new government. But more unpredictability can be expected in the long term, with “Czexit” as the worst-case scenario being more likely than before.

Adéla Denková is EURACTIV Czech Republic’s editor-in-chief.

Czechs elected a new lower house, the Chamber of deputies, last week and are now waiting for a new cabinet. Controversial businessman Andrej Babiš and his populist ANO party won three times more mandates than each of the three nearest competitors. But he will not have an easy time finding coalition partners.

ANO could restore the existing alliance with Social Democrats (ČSSD) and Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). A second option is to form a coalition with the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), member of ECR. Another still would be a minority government which could – besides other parties – gain support of the far-right SPD party, led by Tomio Okamura, a businessman with Japanese roots.

Most parliamentary parties have ruled out joining a government with Babiš, who faces charges of alleged fraud. The case, which concerns EU subsidies used for the construction of conference and holiday resort “Čapí hnízdo”, is being investigated by the Czech police as well as the EU’s anti-corruption agency OLAF.

The negotiations may therefore last long. In the meantime, it might be useful to have a more general look at the election result.

Parties that may at first sight be branded as “pro-EU” voices, suffered defeat in last week’ vote, mainly because of their inability to form a coherent bloc. Therefore, they will not play any major role in the process.

Their marginalisation is not something the nation will regret at the moment. Opinion polls (see here or here) show that the Czech Republic is one of the most Eurosceptic countries in the EU – much more sceptic than its Visegrad neighbours.

On the other hand, it does not mean that the new government’s approach to the EU will change significantly in the coming months or years. ANO is expected to keep the existing course, which may be best described as “pragmatic”.

Babiš himself is perceived as a pragmatic businessman who will not seek to damage his own interests, which bond him to countries like Slovakia or Germany.

However, as a political figure, the Czech election winner is much less predictable and usually adapts his rhetoric to fit the public opinion. Because of that, the vice-president of the European Parliament, Pavel Telička, (ALDE), who had been elected to the EP on ANO’s slate, ended his cooperation with the party.

“Unpredictability” is the expression that best describes the Czech Republic’s relationship with the EU in the long term. Such unpredictability is a fertile ground for speculation about the “Czexit” scenario, feared by some of the more sensitive observers.

The idea of holding an EU referendum is mainly championed by Okamura’s far-right SPD, which gained 10.6% of votes. At the moment, it does not seem to have sufficient support among other parties.

Even if the dominant mood in the Chamber of Deputies should start leaning towards ‘Czexit’, any referendum proposal would probably be blocked by the upper chamber of the Parliament – the Senate.

And here come the fun facts: Babiš has said he would like to dissolve the Senate in the future (it would not be easy but he is not the only one who talks about it).

Fun fact number two: President Miloš Zeman, who stands a good chance of being re-elected in January 2018 for another five years, has already said he would support the referendum.

Fun fact number three: in a survey from spring 2017, commissioned by Globsec, 29% of respondents in the Czech Republic said they would vote for leaving the EU, while 41% would prefer to stay. That is the worst result among the seven countries of central and Eastern Europe.

Would the EU miss the Czechs?

The Inside Track

Who is Andrej Babiš? More on the views of the Czech prime minister-to-be in this exclusive interview conducted by EURACTIV Poland earlier this year, now republished. Babiš discusses the future of Visegrad, refugee relocation, and scenarios for Europe and NATO.

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