The aim of this work is to analyze the rise and evolution of Euroskepticism in Czech Republic. This country was chosen because it is interesting and important to understand why a member state that benefited so much from European integration ended up in being so Euroskeptical. It is a well-know fact that Czech Republic remains to be the most Euroskeptical state of Eastern Europe . The country’s position towards EU had been discussed once more after the successful referendum on Lisbon treaty in Ireland; hence Czech Republic (its president to be precise) is the only country blocking the full ratification of the treaty. Therefore this paper’s goal is to give an explicit analysis of the evolution of Czech’s Euroskeptical attitude towards EU.
The paper will be structured in the following way – first, the explanation of the term Euroskepticism will be given, later – the evolution of Euroskepticism in Czech Republic will be traced, concentrating on the most important aspects, which gave rise to the “Euroskeptical wave” in the country. In the end, the potential evolution of the country’s position towards European integration will be analyzed.
It is vital to understand the meaning of a term Euroskeptical, before going deeper into analysis. Skeptic descends from a Greek word “skeptikos” meaning opposed to easy acceptance of other arguments. If we look at Webster’s Unabridged we will find that skeptic “is a person who habitually doubts, questions or suspends judgment upon matters generally accepted” and that skepticism is “a philosophical doctrine that the truth of all knowledge must be always in question and that inquiry must be a process of doubting . Euroskeptic position is to doubt that European integration project is successful and necessary. It is important to note at this point that many of the Euroskeptics are not against the co-operation between particular states in order to benefit. However, the mainstream of the Euroskeptics is quite hostile to building one European power, sharing common interest and identity or, for instance, creating a united Europe able to represent European countries as one on the world stage .
It is important to add that the scholars over the years created their own classification of Euroskepticism. Among the different types of skepticism the ones that are most frequently used are the following ones: identity-based skepticism as a contradiction between national and European identity; cleavage-based linked to dividing lines in the society; policy based is a concrete reaction towards particular policy or action; institutional Euroskepticism deals with relations between national and EU institutions; national interest-based skepticism deals with the defense of national interests rather then applying to European goals; experience based skepticism is a result of membership negotiations, assumed to be unfair and imposed in a harsh way by EU .
Besides that we can often hear about two other forms of Euroskepticism – “hard” and “soft”. “Hard Euroscepticism points at a principled opposition to the EU and European integration, whereas the soft version implies an expression of qualified opposition to the EU, or a sense that national interest is currently at odds with the EU’s trajectory” .
To sum up it is important to mention that the only positive solution to the European project for Euroskeptics is the “minimum integration for peace and prosperity with a maximum preservation of national sovereignty” .
Dealing with the Czech case it is important to emphasize the three most notable points, which gave rise to the Euroskeptic ideas in the country. Looking at the research done by Czech and other European scholars it can be marked that the accession negotiations, national identity and economical uncertainty are those three key elements to be analyzed if we want to understand the country’s skeptical view.
I will start by analyzing the road of Czech Republic to the EU. It is interesting to mention that in the early 1990’s the perspective of joining the EU was seen by many Czechs as a very positive moment. It was country’s return to “normality”, which meant a return to Europe . The way European integration was perceived in the Czech Republic and generally in Central Europe in the early 1990s, after the fall of Communism, “is a good example of the cultural framing of European integration related to the experience of the immediate past” . But the origin of Czech Euroskepticism lies in the enlargement process itself . The process of becoming a member involves several steps, and EU as more influential side “used various forms of conditionality to influence the processes of political and economic change in the aspirant countries, specifying the obligations that candidate states must fulfill, and the laws they must adopt, as prior conditions of membership” . It was a fertile ground for skeptics who had seen this system as “a set of meaningless and extensive directives resembling the bureaucratic system under the Communist regime” . The other important point worth to be mentioned is the EU impact on the development of governance in Central and Eastern Europe, which had extended well beyond the competencies in the existing member states. Heather Crable in her research marked that “the tight conditionality applied to the candidate countries went beyond merely ensuring that EU norms, procedures and institutions are transplanted to the post-Communist world” . For instance, the minority issue could be an interesting example looking at the complicated German-Czech relations. EU had implied norms on equal treatment of minorities, although these kinds of issues were hardly addressed to any member state. It is clear the Czech perceived their own country as unequal bargaining power in the accession negations. In addition, the country had just freed itself from Communism oppression and it’s normal that when EU imposed many more rules on Czech Republic, population perceived it as some kind of post-communism legacy – the “kidnapping of the Czech Republic from Moscow to Brussels” . It was a ground for maneuver for identity-based skeptics and many of them successful used this chance.
On the other side, if a country introduced some “painful” but important reforms under EU accession umbrella, Euroskeptics could still blame Europe for everything that could go wrong afterwards and eventually they did .
The opinion of political parties was also quite skeptic at the time of accession. CVVM pointed out that membership wouldn’t change much and bring many disadvantages to “private business, industry or farmers” . Another interesting example is the KSM , because “the Communists associated the current process of European integration with exploitative multinational capitalism, with the dictatorship of the large countries over the small ones, and with the domination of bureaucracy. The accession process itself is seen as dominated by, and protective of, (German) economic interests, at the expense of the welfare of candidate countries” . The party basic idea was and is to reject both the economic and political foundations underlying European integration and the EU itself. The last but no the least party to discuss is the ODS headed by Vaclav Klaus. Already in 1990’s ODS strongly criticized many of the milestones of EU integration. Supranationalism was not seen positively, because party supported intergovernmental approach giving more power to the Council of Ministers. “The EU bureaucracy, perceived as vast and unaccountable, was at the centre of its critique” . By that time Czech economy carried out more and more problems and such cases as the tough negotiations on subsides for the farmers even worsened the situation and brought more merit to the skeptics in and outside the party.
If to sum up, from the late 1990’s Czech Republic was moving slowly from being rather positive towards European integration to being skeptical. Not only people, but what is far more important – elites leading those people had distrust towards the “Brussels machine”. EU was often seen as an “oppressive international regime”, despite the fact that it could bring some vital benefits to the country and its citizens. The long-term and often unequal accession negotiations brought the feelings of humiliation and distrust in the society. As it was noted by Petr Kopecky these were “the defining characteristics of Czech attitudes in the newly enlarged Europe” .
After realizing how the country got on its Euroskeptical road we should analyze what fuels the “Czech Euroskeptical car” nowadays, on a new, EU-member highway. After the accession, issues of Europenisation and European identity were given the most significance. I think it is relevant to present now the position of Vaclav Klaus by analyzing his essays on Europenisation, using the article of Kenneth Hanshaw to help clarify the most important points this politician made. Klaus considered “all discussion of a common European identity, European people, or “collective psyche of Europe” to be a mere tool for reaching the goal of creating the Europe of regions in a “post-governmental Nirvana” . By drawing such a harsh comparison he still gained support of many, because the communist ideas, reborn in any form was and is something of a “red flag” for Czech people, remembering the times of Soviet oppression. Even more interesting is the fact that Klaus didn’t put the direct question of Czech identity in his essay; however the internet forums teemed with comments about the common identity issue. Tracing the vox populi is the answer to the raised identity question. After looking at forums we see that Czech population has no feeling of sharing a European identity. People don’t feel they can’t relate nor identify themselves with such a supranational body like EU .
Vaclav Klaus’ made a remark that there is no common European home or identity, because Europe is a very differentiate culturally area. Thus we can speak of Europe only in some general terms . These kinds of words seem to be very populist, but to some surprise they found a lot of support and it is important to understand why. Czech Republic is a small country and it tries to cherish its national identity. People strongly support their nation and are not willing to give up any sovereignty. After entering the EU, people had been feeling that the supranational organization they joined represents the interests of several larger European states (especially Germany or France). So even if some skeptics believed that the inequality of accession process would change after the country joins EU, they might have felt disappointed afterwards.
The Czech historian Dusan Trestík in his article “The Czechs and History in a Postmodern Purgatory” seemed to come to the same conclusion. He found out that in Сzech Republic no distinction is made between Europe and EU – they are widely used as synonyms. And the next very important point is that Europe and Europeans “are perceived to be a foreign Other” . Trestik also relates to Jacques Delor’s statement that Europe is a body without a soul. So it can be assumed that for Czech people EU is something distant, just an organization, which they had to join in order to have a better economical growth. Another important fact is that we don’t have one group of people who could share these views – the ideas are common among youth, elderly people and of course, some part of politicians. Youth doesn’t feel EU (Europe) can be treated as something close. To emphasize the point I can present a short comment of one of the high school pupils. In his essay a boy stated that “Home is trust, security and love. And Europe? It is still only a great challenge, in part a temptation and a dream chase, in part the unknown, a source of worries and fear. It isn’t home” .
The last point I want to make is to state that I agree with Kenneth Hanshaw that Czech politicians made a mistake by promoting EU as Europe. Even the younger well-educated generation began to reject the European identity project. I think that Czech politicians should have understood earlier that being only couple of years in one big European community is not enough to start promoting one identity, especially for a country that really values its unique culture, especially for a country that not so long ago had been already put under one Soviet identity. Thus I agree with Kenneth Shaw that “a key step in addressing Euroskepticism and moving the project EU forward would be a differentiation between the EU and Europe, free from the rhetoric of a common history and culture, and instead a concentration on pragmatic social and economic arguments, arguments even Euroskeptics often accept” .
After analyzing the accession and cultural preconditions of rise of Euroskepticism in Czech Republic I will move to the last important point in my paper – the economical interests of the country. Here I would like to mention that this element of the puzzle is less persuasive, because it’s hard to deny by any skeptic the benefits of single market or properly functioning market economy. Nevertheless, if we look at ODS’ main argument against EU in economical aspect we will find the following – EU policies do not accept Adam Smith’s economic theories of a self-regulating market, but the belief is that it’s “a state run command economy that will control the “anarchy” of the economic market” . Second point is that integration lacks of elimination of all unnecessary trade barriers or restrictions on the freedom of movement of people and capital. Reforms should instead be undertaken as a result of the natural competition between EU-member countries. Klaus contends that Europeanism “is an interventionist model of government” .
The Communist Party as another Euroskeptical party also sees the whole process of integration as “exploitative multinational capitalism” . The accession process and the policy making according to them are aimed at protecting the economical interests of larger states (Germany in particular).
In addition, if we look closer a lot of Euroskeptics tried to connect the economical interest with nationalistic ideas. I will try to clarify this by giving an example from the ODS manifesto and publications by Vaclav Klaus, who blamed EU for “alleged sellouts of Czech industry and property to Western (read, German) companies” . He pointed out that “traitors” among elite with help of EU integration policies were the ones who embraced those sell-outs. In the end their goal was “to reinforce the domination of Czech Republic by the interests of multi-national capital” . Mentioning the German factor in my point is a very good tactic as it is known that the Munich stereotype is still very popular among Czechs. The basic idea of this stereotype is that “EU is not only interpreted as a mere product of French and German interests, but the Czech Republic’s agreement to join the EU is equated with the Munich Agreement as well”. The criticism was always mostly directed against the EU in its present shape, that is too much dominated by Germany and too liberal and bourgeois .
Here I will give another burning issue widely used by skeptics in Czech Republic – the Benes decrees. The so-called “Benes decrees” that politicians, journalists, lawyers and property claimants frequently refer to, are in simple terms usually described as “post-war legislation that sanctioned the expulsion of ethnic Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia and the confiscation of their property” . To make the point more clear I will use the case of Franz Ulrich Kinsky, an Austrian aristocrat, who had filed a total of 157 lawsuits asking the Czech courts to give him back his property, taken by the decrees . The recent opt-out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights asked by Vaclav Klaus is a pure example of how population is afraid that the expelled people would be able to get back the their pre-war property. I think this argument is especially important in Euroskeptic arsenal because it combines two elements – national identity (how can we, Czechs, give anything back to the Germans – the nation that had invaded us) and economical (simple loss of property by country and its citizens).
Besides that, Klaus maintained his criticism of such policies as EMU and the common currency, which according to him “was no necessity depriving the countries the possibility of choosing their own monetary policy and decisions about the most proper exchange rates”. He believed that there is no financial and economic discipline, which meant that EU policies could harm a lot the fragile post-soviet economy. With having its own currency EU has no common policy to back up the project according to Klaus .
It is important to emphasize that if we deal with the economic element of Euroskepticism we don’t observe the “hard” Euroskepticism in the country, because even though Czech Republic is not a key player on the EU stage, the fear of being left outside the integration project had its influence on the people and elites .
In the conclusion, I want to restate that if we want to understand the Czech Republic’s Euroskepticism we should deal with three key elements – the accession process, which gave rise to skeptic ideas, the question of national identity in relation to the process of Europeanization as a key element and the economical interest issue, which could be named as probably the least reliable argument but in combination with some nationalistic approach it is still an important element for a proper understanding of the Euroskeptic views. In my opinion the Euroskepticism in Czech Republic will have an important influence in society for years to come, because the country is a member only for 5 years, thus in Czech case it is too early to talk about full integration in one European community. The country is still afraid to be absorbed, following the past Soviet experience, hence different groups of society (especially youth) don’t feel that they can fully relate to the European project. Country needs time to fully accommodate in a quite new environment. Now a solution for Czech politicians in order to combat skeptical views is to promote the economic benefits of EU membership – the fact that most Euroskeptics except, therefore it is a chance to stick to the positive side of integration, step which is the most appropriate for Czech Republic at this point of integration.
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