Pro-European and Eurosceptic

This year’s elections to the European Parliament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia did not bring any major surprises. Traditionally, turnout was among the poorest in Europe (29% in the Czech Republic and 22.74% in Slovakia), confirming the low level of public interest in European issues.

Nevertheless, as many as two thirds of the new MEPs (14 out of 21 for the Czech Republic and 8 out of 13 for Slovakia) have joined the ranks of four pro-European factions that will be calling the shots in the European Parliament in the coming years: the European People’s Party (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the liberal Renew Europe (former ALDE) and the European Green Party.

Only a minority of the MEPs will be in marginalised groups such as the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), Matteo Salvini’s and Marine Le Pen’s Identity and Democracy (ID), or the radical left-wing GUE- NGL (in contrast to the Polish deputies).

It is also worth noting that in the Czech Republic and Slovakia (as in the other countries of the Visegrad Group) the largest number of MEPs joined the ranks of centrist and centre-right groups: the European People’s Party (EPP), the liberal Renew Europe (RE) and the conservative ECR (15 out of 21 for the Czech Republic and 8 out of 13 for Slovakia). This means that also in Prague and Bratislava socialists (or rather parties that tried to resurrect the social democratic traditions after half a century of communist rule) seem to have their best years behind them.

In the Czech Republic, the co-ruling Social Democrats, who scored 3.95%, failed to obtain even one mandate. Candidates of the Slovak social-democratic Smer did better, but even in this left-wing party, the mood is far from jubilant. With 15.72% of the vote, Robert Fico’s party came second and its three MEPs joined the Socialist Group (S&D). The coalition of extra-parliamentary groups associated with the unexpected winner of this year’s presidential election, Zuzana Čaputová, is celebrating great success. The candidates of liberal Progressive Slovakia (Progresívne Slovensko) and the Christian party Spolu (Together) took advantage of the president’s electoral success by winning 20.11% of the vote and four seats.

In the new parliament, as previously agreed, two MEPs from Progressive Slovakia joined the liberal RE and two representatives of Spolu went to the Christian Democratic faction of the European People ́s Party (EPP). However, European Christian Democrats can count on a total of five MEPs from Slovakia, as two Christian Democratic Movement candidates (KDH, 9.69%) and the first Roma MEP from Slovakia, Peter Pollák, representing OL’aNO (Ordinary People and Independent Personalities, 5.25%), also netted one mandate. Two MEPs of the opposition party Freedom and Solidarity (SaS, 9.62%) joined the ranks of the ECR. Two representatives of Marian Kotleba’s far-right People’s Party—Our Slovakia (ĽSNS, 12.07% and third place) also took their seats in the European Parliament but did not find allies in any faction.

In the Czech Republic, the European liberals were the biggest winners. There are six of them, and if it were not for the logic of internal political rivalry in that country, there could have been nine. Both the winning ANO party (21.18%, six seats) of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and the Czech Pirate Party (13.95%, three seats) declared their willingness to work with the liberal ALDE before the elections. However, as the leaders of the Czech groupings ruled out joint membership of this faction, the leaders of European liberals Guy Verhofstadt and Emmanuel Macron chose to continue their cooperation with the ANO team, which is twice as numerous. Faced with this situation, the Pirates joined the European Greens.

The European People’s Party, the largest group in the new European Parliament, can count on three members of the STAN-TOP09 coalition (11.65%) and two members of the People’s Party (KDU-ČSL, 7.24%). Four politicians from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS, 14.54%) will join the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) faction. Two members of Tomio Okamura’s extreme right-wing party Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD, 9.14%) joined the new grouping led by Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini.

In Slovakia, as in Poland, the European poll was the last test before the parliamentary elections. It will take place in the spring of 2020—and that is all we know for sure. Despite the defeat in the European elections, the ruling Smer still heads the polls. However, the party may lose power to a coalition of opposition parties, including the PS-Spolu coalition around Zuzana Čaputová. Politicians of these parties are currently in talks with former President Andrej Kiska, who also intends to take part in the parliamentary elections at the head of his own party. However, there are even more candidates to take power; there are at least six centre-right and centre-right parties that have the chance to take some seats on their own. Currently, Čaputová’s associates from the PS-Spolu coalition have joined this group, which will make the power struggle even more complicated and possible coalition talks even more difficult. However, there is much to suggest that some coalition with the supporters of the outgoing president and his successor will be formed. If in less than a year from now it takes power, Slovakia will have the most pro-European government in the region.

In the Czech Republic, despite many-thousand-strong anti-government demonstrations, there are no signs of a revolution. Even with a modest turnout (and thus a moderate mobilisation of the electorate), Andrej Babiš not only was able to win the election but even increased his party’s gains by two seats (from four to six). Divisions within the opposition are also working in favour of Babiš. The two strongest opposition parties, the Civic Democratic Party and the Czech Pirate Party, eagerly invoke liberal ideas and traditions, but they understand them in quite different ways. Despite a similar urban constituency, they are on the opposite poles of the political spectrum. This is also evidenced by their European affiliations (ECR versus European Green Party).

Strong showings of the two far-right parties, Tomio Okamura’s SPD and Marian Kotleba’s ĽSNS, testify to the fact that after years of radical left-wing dominance, extreme nationalists in the Czech Republic and Slovakia have won the hearts of the most disaffected citizens. Thus, parties hostile to membership in the European Union and NATO have become a permanent fixture of the political landscape of both countries. However, thanks to the pragmatic policy of the liberal-left populists from ANO and Smer, the Czechs and Slovaks, the two most Eurosceptic nations in Europe, have the most pro-European governments in the Visegrad Group for years. And they elected the two most pro-European delegations to the European Parliament in the region.

Aleksander Kaczorowski

Aleksander Kaczorowski is an editor-in-chief of Aspen Review Central Europe, former deputy editor-in-chief of Newsweek Polska and chief editor of the Op-ed section of Gazeta Wyborcza. His recent books include biographies of Václav Havel or Bohumil Hrabal. He won Václav Burian Prize for cultural contribution to the Central European dialogue (2016).

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Current issue - 03/2019

Saving Europe?

Judging from the recent election to the EP, Europe seems to be increasingly fragmented. However, Czechs and Slovaks, the two most Eurosceptic nations in Europe, elected the two most pro-European delegations to the European Parliament in the region. Perhaps we should not panic.

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