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Trans Europe Express: Three fun facts about Czexit


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EURACTIV | Trans-Europe Express

This week in Europe 27.10.2017, noon


Three fun facts about Czexit


By Adéla Denková

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 (CSSD) and Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL). 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 “Capí 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 TeliÄka, (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 and now published for the first time in English. Babiš discusses the future of Visegrad, refugee relocation, and scenarios for Europe and NATO.

Unpopular populism. The V4 countries are no longer looked up to as role models in European integration, due to growing populism and Euroscepticism, and they are losing traction among their neighbours.

Shattered budget dreams. German parties exploring a coalition government have dealt an early blow to French President Emmanuel Macron’s hopes for more expansive fiscal policies from Berlin, backing a balanced budget and rejecting the idea of a separate pot of cash for the eurozone.

Special relationship(s).  Serbia’s EU bid leader criticised remarks made by a top US diplomat in the region, who recently accused Belgrade of ‘sitting on two chairs’ and called for the country to choose between Brussels and Moscow if it intends to secure European Union status.

France’s green veto. France’s parliament is expected to ratify the CETA trade deal with Canada around the second half of 2018, but only if it includes “climate veto” powers.

Macron’s first victory. After lengthy negotiations, EU member states found a compromise on the reform of the posted workers directive, one of the pivotal issues of EU reform pushed by President Macron.

Slovakia: a pro-European island. Slovakia’s prime minister, president and parliament speaker pledged to keep to a pro-European path, after its Czech neighbours became the latest central European ex-communists to elect a populist taking a hard line on the EU.

Northern Italy referenda. Veneto (98%) and Lombardy (95%), two wealthy northern regions in Italy voted in favour of having increased independence from Rome in a non-binding referendum that set the stage for negotiations on more autonomy with the central government.

Nuclear option. The political climate for nuclear energy is “not very positive” in Europe, but the emergence of small modular reactors (SMR) built in factories ‘might be a game-changer’, argues William D. Magwood, former director-general of the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

A Yes to Europe. The French National Assembly this week voted to increase the French contribution to the EU budget by €20.2bn in 2018.

Headaches for Spain. Spain this week announced the drastic step of sacking Catalonia’s government as well as calling fresh elections to try and stop the country breaking up.

Political Christmas present. Austria’s likely next chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, wants talks over a new government to last no more than two months and hopes to finish negotiations by Christmas time.

Shifting positions? Rumors are rising that there might be a reshaping of government coming up in Poland with Prime Minister Beata SzydÅ‚o admitting that changes are in the pipeline but avoiding talking about her own future.

Hunting Merkel. Almost a hundred far-right MPs made their debut in the German Bundestag this week, where they plan to give Chancellor Angela Merkel a hard time in a display of nationalism unseen since 1945.

Back to the Bundestag. Outgoing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was voted for Speaker of the Bundestag as the German parliament saw its first sitting after elections in late September.

#MeTooBrussels. After the Weinstein scandal in Hollywood, a “culture of silence” surrounding sexual harassment was exposed to exist also in Brussels causing the European Parliament to debate the subject. However, in front of a rather sparse assembly.

Sleepless over Brexit? British PM Theresa May looked “despondent”, with deep rings under her eyes, EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker told aides after dining with the British prime minister last week, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

President vs. comedian. Slovenia’s Borut Pahor won by far the most votes in a presidential election last weekend but failed to secure an outright victory and will face a run-off on 12 November against a former comedian turned mayor.

Space Egg fumes. Investigations have been conducted in the Europa building in Brussels to make sure that no poisonous material was maliciously placed, after several people fell sick due to fumes and the building was evacuated two times in a week.

More than just electric cars. British Green MEP Michael Cramer told Euractiv Greece that Europe needs to completely rethink mobility and city design, rather than just switching to electric cars.

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