In 2009 the Eastern Partnership, a project seeking closer ties between the EU and its Eastern European neighbours was proclaimed in Prague. Ten years later, the union is evaluating its progress and searching for prospective strategies. Whatever the future brings, it seems that this is likely to be a long-haul effort.
Last week’s leaked preliminary EU Audit, which found Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to be in a conflict of interests, continues to make headlines across the country. Mr. Babiš has denied any wrongdoing. Civil servants are now waiting for an official Czech translation to be sent after which they will send their state’s reply to the findings. I asked the director of the Transparency International’s Czech branch, David Ondračka, whether he thinks there is any chance the findings of the preliminary report will change in the final version.
As the dust settles in the wake of the European elections individual parties and movements are counting their political and financial gains and losses. The latter has little to do with the given entity’s political success, but depends largely on how much the party or movement spent on campaigning and whether they won enough votes to get a contribution from the state. In line with Czech law every party or movement that wins over 1 percent voter support gets 30 crowns for every vote collected.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s centre-right ANO party “won” the European Parliament elections this weekend. Their junior coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democrats clearly “lost”. Those are the newspaper headlines. But, as always, the political landscape is more nuanced. Mr Babiš’s foes in the main opposition parties together will have twice as many MEPs, at a time when he is under investigation for alleged EU subsidy fraud.
Czechs have started voting in elections to the European Parliament with 841 candidates from 40 parties running for the country’s 21 seats in the assembly. Although the Czech Republic is the only country where voting is possible over the course of two days, voter turnout is traditionally expected to lag behind the EU average.
Radek Špicar is vice-president of the Czech Confederation of Industry. But since last year – spurred into action by the UK’s Brexit vote – he has also been travelling the length and breadth of the country trying to convince ordinary Czechs of the merits of remaining in the European Union. When we spoke, Špicar shared the insights he has gleaned from dozens of such public debates. But first I asked him why he felt the pro-EU atmosphere in Czech society prior to accession in 2004 had evidently dissipated so much.
A recent study conducted by the polling agency MEDIAN for the think-tank Moje Evropa revealed a more complex division of Czech voters than the often posited pro-EU vs anti-EU divide. According to some experts, who looked at the results, Czechs are not as Eurosceptic as many perceive them to be, but they often trust too much in myths.
EU leaders are meeting in Sibiu, Romania on Thursday for a summit that was originally intended to affirm post-Brexit unity and chart a course for future development. Although member states are expected to adopt a declaration of “unity and confidence in the future”, the summit is overshadowed by uncertainty regarding the outcome of European elections, due later this month, and the many question marks surrounding Brexit.