Understanding pessimism of the Czech Republic toward European Union

I. European Union and Czech Republic
After ten years of the integration of Czech Republic into the EU there has been no evidence of an enhanced public opinion on the European Union. Principally over the last three years, this has been owing to the current difficult situation which has seen the EU fighting for the first time for its realisation on this grand scale.i Over this period, domestic governments have responded to these threats in a very negative way and have seen them as a fault of the European Union, which then has been blamed in the court of public opinion.
What is interesting is that 63% of Czechs are nevertheless in favour of further expansion of the European Union. The most important thing, as far as the Czech public is concerned, is economic revival. That priority is in the top spot for nearly all EU 27 countries (69%), with almost 40% saying that their country’s EU membership is a positive thing. The most valuable opportunity provided by the EU has been the notion of freedom to travel, study and work, which more than 55% of the Czech people have been in favour of.ii
The Czech Republic held its first national referendum about accession to the EU in 2003. More than 77% of people were in favour. In that year, the goal was to become fully involved in the EU and to institute a rigorous debate on the future of the Union. The Czech Republic participated in the first European Parliament elections on June 10-11th, 2004. Seats were won primarily by Eurosceptics from the Civic Democratic Party.iii
Over a relatively short time, the Czech Republic learnt how to behave within EU frameworks. However, Prague needs to learn more and start to behave more respectfully towards the EU, while learning how better to use it for its own advantage and to take all of the essential opportunities it provides. Our failure to achieve this accounts is for the fact that we have continued to maintain a low profile when it comes to engaging with the European integration project.iv

I. I. European Union
On May 1st 2014, the European Union celebrated the 10th anniversary of the 2004 enlargement. Former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy stated “finally Europe had become ‘Europe again’”.v However, after ten years of Eastern enlargement, negative associations in both – EU citizens and Member State governments about the union have only risen.vi The former “democrats” in post-communist countries democratised without the influence of the EU and the only way to restore knowledge about the union in Eastern Europe is to raise awareness among politicians and citizens alike regarding the better work and travel opportunities within their own government performances that it affords.vii A process of “Europeanisation” has been undergone not only by the Czech Republic, but also by countries such as Austria, Sweden and Finland (which joined the EU in 1995) which have already successfully adapted its ways of functioning, and accepted the European Union and its international institutions and multilateral structures.viii
Since its membership, the Czech Republic has been playing a middle-power game in the European Union, in which its top priorities have been pushing EU to be active in the stabilisation of the Western Balkans region, increasing partnerships with Eastern Europe, enhancing energy security, improving transatlantic relations, and working towards greater cooperation between the EU and NATO, while also fostering expansion of free trade and the promotion of international human rights.ix In these areas, the Czech Republic has on many occasions had opportunities to exert an influence on the European Union’s foreign policy. Moreover, we can observe that in the future we will seek to promote a better working relationship within the EU along the following lines of the Government of Czech Republic: “We will be active in the European Union, the United Nations, NATO and other organisations in line with the interests of the Czech Republic. We will promote equal cooperation among peoples and engagement in the fight against international terrorism and cyber-terrorism to protect the citizens of the Czech Republic.”x
In the near future, European policy elites believe that the single market will become stronger, which will be a primary issue for Czech European policy over the next decade. This is why Czech policymakers should pay attention to further liberalisation of international trade and easier access in overseaing markets (this is given further point by the fact that the EU will have signed free trade agreement with the US, China, Ukraine, India and Brazil by 2020).xi

II. Partners, Allies, Opportunities

The Czech Republic has deepen its roots in the Central European region, as can be seen from the historical and economic perspectives, and its establishment has been crucial to Czech importing and exporting. This is not about to change in the coming eleven years, which is one reason why the single market has to be a priority for Czech EU membership. Through this, the Czech Republic benefits from EU membership. We need to maintain our involvement at this stage, which will demand significant political investment as, at present, public opinion and political activity is on a very low level. We need to establish active debate and active participation in the EU internal market as well as in a multi-speed EU.xii The Czech Republic has became one of the most sceptical nations about the future EU project, in spite of its position in the middle of Europe, and its dependence on the Euro in view of its two strategical trade partnerships with Germany and Slovakia. However, the Czech economic situation has been gradually on the rise since its membership began, which can be seen at the level of Czech GDP. Furthermore, the Czech Republic has been witnessing the end of the highest per capita share of the EU budget over the period of 2007-13 (but Czech management of this was very ineffective, and failed to absorb its benefits).xiii
It remains the case that we need to maintain and establish a better partnership within our V4 ally, which is still preeminent as a key foreign policy strategy for the Czech Republic.xiv Through alliances and partnerships, we can use it as a tool for achieving European priorities and goals. This is why Visegrad cooperation will remain an important tool of Czech foreign policy.xv The Czech Republic’s most recent European Policy Strategy set up seven priorities as follows: (1) support for the development of the internal market; (2) efficient use of the EU Cohesion Policy and its link to the Europe 2020 Strategy; (3) prospects of single currency adoption in the Czech Republic; (4) further sectoral priorities; (5) the EU as an area of freedom, security and justice; (6) EU enlargement and Eastern Neighbourhood policy; (7) common foreign and security policy and (8) common trade policy.xvi Partnerships and alliances in European politics are a key indicator of the prominence of member states, as we can see in the German-French alliance which is a motor for further European integration.xvii This is a very important example, as nothing can be achieved in European politics without their consent, which is why the Czech Republic must think very carefully about these alliances within the EU framework. Nowadays, we see Germany as a strategic partner and we are supporting each other not only in EU policy, but also in our foreign policy strategies.xviii

 

 

References
Czech Government, Draft Government Statement, https://www.vlada.cz/cz/jednani-vlady/navrh-programoveho-prohlaseni-vlady-162319/ (accession 21. 12. 2017)

European Commission, EuroBarometer 72: Public Opinion in the European Union (TNS Opinion & Social Autumn 2009) http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/archives/eb/eb72/eb72_cz_en_exec.pdf (accession 21. 12. 2017), 1-7.

Ivo Šlosarčík, The Czech Republic – impacts of and experience with EU membership (Eastern Journal of European Studies, Volume 2, Issue 2, December 2011), 21-30.

Michal Vít , Central Europe and the Rise of Nationalism (Coleccion Monografias Cidob 2017), 67-74.

Michael Baun, Dan Marek, Czech Foreign Policy and EU Membership: Europeanisation and Domestic Sources (Prepared for the, Eleventh Biennial Conference of the European Studies Association), April 23-25, 2009, Los Angeles, CA, http://aei.pitt.edu/33023/1/Baun._Michael.pdf (accession 21. 12. 2017), 1-39.

Tereza Novotná, The Eastern Enlargement of the European Union: Public Discourses in the Czech and Slovak Republics (JCER volume 3, issue 1), http://jcer.net/index.php/jcer/article/view/27/45 (accession 21. 12. 2017) 51-63.

Ulrich Sedelmeier, Europe after the Eastern Enlargement of the European Union: 2004 – 2014, http://eu.boell.org/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/06/eastern_enlargement.pdf (accession 21. 12. 2017), 1-13.

Vít Dostál, Partners and Allies of the Czech Republic in the European Union (Association for International Affairs, Research Paper 2/2013), 1-28.

Vít Dostál, From Integration to Differentiation: The Czech Republic in the European Union Ten Years On (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Auswartige Politik e.V., May 2014, Number 9), 1-20.

 

Adam Kubina

Student of International Relations and European Studies and Independent publisher - Member of the Diplomatic Academy in Prague. Czech Republic.