According to a recent poll conducted by the SANEP agency, nearly three in four Czechs are against the introduction of the euro. Roughly half of the respondents even say they would vote against joining the EU today – a big shift from the result of the 2003 referendum, when 77 percent of the country’s population voted in favor. David Král, director of the Czech think tank Europeum, speaks about the connection between the financial crisis and growing reservations towards the EU, and whether or not he found the result of the poll surprising.
“The Czech population has up till now been more skeptical in the opinion polls towards the single currency than the populations of the other new member states, so I think that it goes in line with what we’ve seen so far in the other opinion polls and of course is to some extent explicable by the escalation of the recent crisis in the eurozone as well as some of the political decisions of the Czech political representation.
“If we just refer to the last summit of the European Union in Brussels, the Czech prime minister clearly said that the Czech Republic will not join the euro while the permanent mechanism to help countries in the eurozone dealing with sovereign debt is in place. So from that perspective, I really don’t think that the result is a big surprise.”
Czechs are also skeptic towards the institution of the EU as a whole, 45 percent say they would now vote against joining, compared to 77 percent who voted in favor of that in the 2003 referendum. What does this say about the current state of the EU?
“It’s difficult to make a direct link. First of all, the Czech public opinion is rather volatile. And I think that what we’ve seen in this poll is again explicable by the current crisis in the eurozone. And somehow, for the Czechs, it is difficult to distinguish between the European Union as an institution and the crisis which concerns some of the member states.
“It is also in contrast with some of the other polls that we have seen. It’s interesting to point out that Czechs still trust European institutions more than their national government. And in fact, some of the other opinion polls, such as Eurobarometer, show that Czechs think that the European Union is well suited to tackle some of the issues.
“They are in favor of, for example, stricter financial regulations. They are very much in favor of closer coordination of economic and monetary policies at the EU level. They support EU activities in the G20. So here, I would not say that the result is very clear-cut and I think we have to be very cautious in interpreting it.”
Which factors do you think have lead to this significant change in opinion, and maybe we can take a look at some of the factors that would have to change to reverse this negative attitude towards the EU and the eurozone?
“I have already mentioned I think the most significant single factor, which is the sovereign debt crisis that especially the southern members of the eurozone are facing at the moment. And the feeling, that we as Czechs, as a country that is still relatively poor in European terms, should not be obliged to help those countries which are behaving in an irresponsible way.
“But of course the second factor is still that domestically, we are fighting with the aftermath of the financial crisis, so I think what can happen is that once the economy starts booming again, especially the indicators seem to be very good, which is the most important factor for the Czech recovery as well, then again, the Czech public can swing back and the trust in the European Union and its institutions can recuperate.”
Do you think that result of this poll reflects the sentiment in other EU member states? Are there comparable survey results from countries?
“I don’t think that the public opinion in other countries has a significant impact on Czech attitudes. As far as the euro is concerned, one thing that we can say is that we can see a bit more skepticism in those countries where the Euro has not been adopted yet, such as Sweden for instance, or Poland, where the government has clearly declared that it is in favor but now they are very cautious.
“In some cases, there is a link between the attitude of the political representation and the public opinion, and particularly three countries I would say, which is the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Czech Republic, I can imagine that the very reserved attitudes of those governments towards anything that concerns the euro would be somehow reflected in the other countries, including the public opinion.”
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