21st Jan 2021

Gloomy prospects for Czech referendum on EU Constitution

The Czech cabinet has adopted a law paving the way for a referendum on the EU Constitution, while the eurosceptic opposition has tabled its own version of the bill.

The row could lead to ratification in the parliament, which may also prove difficult.

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  • Hard to pave the way for a decision on the EU Constitution in the Czech republic (Photo: European Commission)

The Czech Parliament must make changes to its own Constitution before it can hold a referendum on the European text.

The centre-left dominated government adopted a law on Wednesday (9 March) which would make referendums a common instrument of decision-making, while the main opposition centre-right Civic democrats (ODS) proposed a bill applying only to the vote on the EU Constitution.

Hard to find a compromise

None of the two blueprints suggest a turnout threshold for the referendum to be valid.

However, the timetable for the vote is controversial: the government wants it to be held along with the parliamentary or regional elections in 2006, while the ODS wants a separate date.

Both parties need a significant majority to pass the bill in the two houses of the Czech Parliament, but they both are likely to find it difficult as they cannot get enough votes in support of their proposals.

Furthermore, the cabinet is currently extremely fragile due to a coalition crisis following allegations about the funding of a luxurious flat of Prime Minister Stanislav Gross and his wife's dubious business activities.

Still, ministers view the possibility of dispensing with a referendum and ratifying the new Treaty in parliament as a "safeguard" and increasingly popular option.

But just like with the constitutional amendments paving the way for a referendum, a substantial majority is needed to pass the EU Constitution, which will be difficult given the eurosceptic views of the ODS and the Communists - the second biggest opposition party.

However, commentators suggest that a parliamentary vote could yet turn the Constitution's opponents to being more positive, as they would be viewed as personally responsible for the potentially serious consequences for their country in case of a failed ratification.

One way or another, the Czech government has already put aside about 5.5 million euro for an information campaign on the new EU charter.

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