Czechia in front of the European elections

Analysis from our member organisation “SPED” on the political landscape that shapes the European Elections in Czech Republic.

Those who tend to be engaged in a political life, especially in the European one, may face an unpleasant surprise. A survey conducted in the second half of January 2019 has showed that the majority of Czechs are not very much concerned about the upcoming European Parliament elections. Some sort of consolation could be brought by the declared intention of the one third of respondents to attend the vote. If this turns out to be true, the attendance ratio would be twice higher than in the past elections. On the other hand, almost a fifth of the respondents has ruled out their participation completely. The most eager to go to ballots have turned out to be the voters of ODS (Czech right-wing Civic Democratic Party), Pirates (neo-liberal pro-European centrists), and ANO (broad-spectrum populist movement founded by A. Babis – a billionaire turned politician and, consequently, Prime Minister). Rather peculiarly, only 29% of respondents were able to name at least one current Czech MEP. It is a rather positive sign that Kateřina Konečná, a communist MEP (and a leader of a radical left-wing group at KSČM top ranks) has obtained a relatively decent score of recognition. This is, however, the only positive result out of this survey. On the negative ones, only the 29% of the respondents are aware of the European Parliament elections taking place this year. Another 5% expect it to be held next year. 56% have no clue when the European Parliament elections take place in general. In terms of representation of Czechia’ s interests in the EP 38% of respondents do believe that they are not represented by MEPs while the other 56% have the opposite view.

If there will not be any unexpected global or European development that will affect the Czech political scene, the key focus of the upcoming EP elections in Czechia will most probably stay on the domestic agenda. However, Brexit and its possible turn of events remains a wild-card. EP has just published its first forecast of a possible outcome of the European elections based upon the extrapolation of national elections results. According to that, most of EP mandates in Czechia are expected to be won by ANO – 8 seats, ODS – 4 seats, Pirates and CSSD – 3 seats, Communists – 2 seats (a loss of one mandate), SPD – 1 mandate. However, this projection does not take into consideration other political entities that will nominate their candidates alongside the main political players and thus have a potential to affect the distribution of mandates.  

So what kind of topics to expect on EP election agenda?

The most resonant probably are:

— The governing ANO movement is starting to prepare for a slowdown in the economy (to a possible recession as a worst-case scenario) based upon the recent developments in Germany. Therefore, its overall course is shifting slightly to the right in an attempt to re-address its initial electoral base of right-wing voters (small and medium-size entrepreneurs, middle class) while working at the same time on retaining the left-leaning voters through substantial rise of pensions, salary increases for state employees, etc. The movement’s leadership started to talk about saving measures like budget cuts and reduction of civil servants etc. ANO currently enjoys a stable long-term support of 30% of the Czech electorate and stays well ahead of its pursuers like ODS or Pirates with a score of 15 % for each one. The question is whether in this situation some leftist voters could “return” back to left-wing parties.

— Czech people continue to regard as a problem the relatively low level of domestic wages comparing to the ones in Western countries against the background of similar price levels. There is also negative perception of the large outflow of capital effected mainly through dividend payments to the foreign owners of global (and European) companies operating in Czechia. These outflows significantly exceed the funds allocated to Czech Republic through European programs. The fact that most of the Czechs blame the EU for that is a significant factor affecting the critical attitude of a nation towards the EU.

— Czech society is being increasingly split in terms of income and wealth property, a trend that is regarded as unacceptable by a significant part of population. The number of property seized by debt collectors also tend to increase. The debt accumulation has become a lucrative business through the imposition of high penalties to households with just short-delayed unpaid amounts of debt.

— The issue of migration is gradually losing attention. Lately, it has been used mainly as a matter of conflict between the nation-oriented forces and the pro-European ones.

— Recently, there has been an increase in the clashes between the various political blocs in their attitude toward the issues of foreign policies – the relationship with Russia, the role of China in the global balance of forces (affair of Huawei, etc.). The question is whether this will find its reflection within the topics of the EP electoral campaign.

So far it is certain that the KSČM candidate list will go to this EP election round with the support of other left-wing organisations (including the SDS). On the other hand, Czech social democracy will bring its own list. Its agenda will be characterised, above all, by the European orientation and, most probably, by the re-set of traditional European social democratic policies. So far it does not seem that this agenda would bring them better results comparing with the outcome of the last EP elections (7.3%). A radical left-wing (KSČM) list will be built upon the results of the last polls, with an estimated result of 6-8.5% pf votes (the national election result in 2018 were 7.8%). The programmatic orientation will be based on the rather sceptical attitude of potential voters towards the EU without being anti-EU in principle, but certainly opposing the neoliberal EU policies. The concept of the European Left and the Pan-European leftist movement will be just marginally emphasised, primarily at the topics related to the opposition of the militarisation of Europe and the attitude towards NATO where the views are rather similar. Other left-wing political entities (DiEM, various leftist groups reporting to the “new left”) have not yet made clear whether they will go to the election on their own, nor did they comment yet on the possible support of other parties’ candidates.