Exit Klaus

by Andrew Stuttaford

As I noted over at Ricochet, whoever won the election for a successor to Czech president Václav Klaus, it was going to be a sad day for euroskepticism. Klaus was the most prominent euroskeptic in office on the continent, and both the candidates in the run-off on Sunday were europhile.

In the event the lefty, Milos Zeman, won, making a bad situation worse, but, judging by this report in EUObserver, all is not quite lost:

Despite the departure of Klaus, Czech euroscepticism might be here to stay. For one thing, it is the government in the Czech republic which handles foreign policy and the government of Petr Necas, which rejected joining the EU fiscal compact, will not go away after the presidential vote.Necas is spectacularly unpopular and could well be replaced by the more EU-pragmatic Socialists in 2014. But even a left-wing, pro-EU government cannot ignore the popular mood.

Czech society is becoming more and more disenchanted with the EU. According to a 2012 survey, the level of trust in the Czech Republic in European institutions is at its lowest ebb since 1994. In just two years the level dropped from 53 to 37 percent. Klaus’ anti-European rhetoric has borne fruit.

But this is not the main reason for the mistrust.The root of euroscepticism in the country is the Czechs’ deep self-image as a nation created in opposition to treacherous powers. The main lesson learned from the Czech republic’s turbulent past is that small-sized states must protect their sovereignty at all costs.

The euro crisis is also a factor. Czechs rightly blame EU economic instability for the increasingly sharp downturn in the country. They fear that the crisis will ruin their car industry, the main pillar of the national economy. This is also why joining the eurozone is unimaginable. Czechs have become used to the stable koruna – a constant feature since the interwar period, through German occupation, Communism and the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. They simply cannot imagine the introduction of the euro at home.

In a 2011 survey, almost 80 percent of respondents said No to the common currency.

It is significant that among Czech entrepreneurs those who support the euro mostly work for subsidiaries of German companies. The owners of national firms are much less keen.

The end of the Klaus era does hold out the promise of a new dawn in Czech-EU relations.

But for that to happen his successor will have to undertake the great task of rebuilding confidence in Europe.

Good luck with that. 

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