Thursday 26 November 2009

Czech EU mysteries explained

Is the Czech Republic a constructive and contributing member of the European Union, or still lost in Europe after prolonged Soviet occupation and Communist rule?

EU citizens have been mystified by Czech happenings in 2009.

Czech president Vaclav Klaus long resisted signing the ratification of the EU Lisbon Treaty, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) joined the anti-integrationist European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament and the Czech presidency of the EU Council during the first half of 2009 left a mixed record, including the fall of the government.

A caretaker government is fairly steadily led by Jan Fischer is in charge until the general election in May 2010, but outside government party political fragmentation undermines the picture of a mature democracy.


The European Policy Institutes Network (EPIN) has published a paper by Mats Braun: Understanding Klaus – The Story of Czech Eurorealism (EPIN Working Paper No. 26 / November 2009; 11 pages).

Vaclav Klaus and ODS

Braun notes that the Czech population is less “eurosceptic” than members of the political elite, especially within the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), and even the ODS voters are more positive to the EU than the party. The ideological “eurorealism” of the ODS, founded by Vaclav Klaus, is based on fears of domination of the European Union institutions by big countries, and it seeks refuge in Czech sovereignty. In addition to ODS reticence on the right, the Communist Party opposes the EU on the left.

The ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty in the Czech Republic was slow, and some ODS senators loyal to Vaclav Klaus put up stiff resistance during the parliamentary debate and later. Vaclav Klaus’ view of intergovernmental cooperation is far outside the mainstream in Europe and the Czech Republic, but he signed the ratification instrument in order to evade a constitutional complaint for failing to fulfil his constitutional duties.

Europeanisation – slowly

Braun sees an ongoing process of Europeanisation of the ODS and its leader, ex prime minister Mirek Topolanek through interaction within the European Union, but the party is still split. On the other hand, joining the ECR group in the European Parliament together with the UK Conservative Party and the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) may conserve “eurosceptic” attitudes.

Braun draws the conclusion that the hard core of Czech eurosceptics is becoming more and more isolated, although the ODS party discourse is sticky.

According to Braun, the ratification problems of the Lisbon Treaty can be seen as an attempt by an ever-shrinking part of the political elite who resist socialisation (into Europe) to make a final effort to make an imprint on Europe. He even describes them as a dying breed, although he does not expect the ODS to leave the ECR group within a foreseeable future.

Klaus’ opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights clearly exceeded the mandate of his office, but it remains to be seen if there will be a domestic debate on the legitimacy of this op-out in the Czech Republic.


Braun’s clear and well written working paper sheds light on events which have mystified Europeans A.D. 2009.

I checked Czech Happenings on the recent ODS party congress, but failed to find any news in English about the EU relations of the party. Mirek Topolanek is in charge until the elections, but there seem to be undercurrents of opposition.

Ralf Grahn

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