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Czech political parties and EU

All of the Czech Republic's five parliamentary parties are officially in favor of the country's EU membership. However, attitudes of three of those parties are ambivalent. The Communist Party (KSCM) says it is not opposed to EU membership but, at the same time, it favors protectionist policies and expresses xenophobic attitudes that are incompatible with EU membership.

The Social Democrats (CSSD) present themselves as the most pro-European party. They have officially embraced all major EU policies. On the other hand, the CSSD occasionally suggest that a degree of protectionism could help the Czech economy. The CSSD government recently engaged in a war of words with the EU over imports of cheap pork from the EU to the Czech Republic. The government lost the battle, but the Czech Republic's image of a country promoting liberal trade practices was tarnished.

The CSSD has been a source of xenophobic attitudes in dealing with the so-called Sudeten German question. It has been staunchly opposed to opening a discussion about the three million Germans who were expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II. Prime Minister Milos Zeman and his German counterpart, Gerhard Schroeder, agreed during Zeman's recent visit to Germany that the difficult common past should not burden the two countries' future relations, but the Sudeten German issue is not likely to disappear. Eventually, it may complicate Czech Republic's efforts to join the European Union.

The CSSD has also been quite clumsy in dealing with state-church relations. The government's decision to appoint a communist to a commission that is to examine state-church relations provoked bitter reactions from the Catholic Church. The Czech Republic remains the last post-communist country in East Central Europe that has been unable to move ahead with the restitution of Church property confiscated under the communist regime.

The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) is also ambivalent about the Czech Republic's EU membership. Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus has repeatedly warned that the Czech Republic must not dissolve in the EU like a sugar cube in a cup of coffee. Klaus says he is opposed to paying taxes in Brussels. The ODS recently harshly criticized President Havel for identifying with the idea of the federalization of the EU. The party insists that the EU must consists of sovereign national states.

Such a view is, of course, legitimate. However, when the ODS's views on the EU's future are combined with a number of increasingly critical comments by ODS leaders about the EU, it is not clear whether the party is still in favor of the Czech Republic's EU accession. When Deputy Prime MInister Pavel Rychetsky recently suggested that he will propose dropping the word "sovereign" which is used to describe the Czech Republic in the preamble of the Czech Constitution, the ODS reacted with harsh comments.

Rychetsky's initiative is an attempt to accelerate the incorporation of EU regulations and laws into the Czech legal system. He argues that the word "sovereign" is an obstacle to making EU laws superior to those of the Czech Republic. If the word "sovereign" were dropped from the Constitution, a large number of EU regulations could be incorporated in the Czech legal system without having to be approved by the Czech parliament.

Rychetsky's initiative may be a misguided attempt to speed up the process of the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. The ODS's reaction was, however, illustrative of the the party's increasingly nationalistic attitudes. In a reaction to Rychetsky's initiative, Klaus announced that the ODS will demand a referendum on the Czech Republic's EU membership.

That is, of course, a legitimate demand. In light of various statements by ODS politicians, it is not, however, clear whether the ODS intends to engage in persuading people to vote for membership. In fact, it is more likely that during a public discussion that would precede such a referendum, ODS leaders would continue to warn that the Czech Republic may dissolve in the EU as a sugar cube in a cup of coffee. At the same time, while the ODS expresses doubts about the merits of EU membership, its leaders do not offer any alternative to EU membership.

In reality, there is no alternative to EU membership. The Czech Republic simply cannot afford to stay outside the EU, in particular if all other post-communist countries of Central Europe will become members. Being excluded even just from the first wave of EU enlargement could have devastating psychological and political effects on the country's citizens. Most ODS politicians probably know this. At the same time (just like some other parties), the ODS finds it difficult to avoid the temptation of using cheap populist, nationalistic slogans. While much energy is spent on such political games, the Czech Republic is increasingly being viewed by EU officials as a country that shows little enthusiasm for meeting various EU membership criteria.

Reuters - 24. 3. 1999