16th Sep 2019


Domestic politics threaten Czech EU presidency

On the 1st of January 2009, the Czech Republic succeeded France as presidency of the European Union. Even before the Czech presidency took off, it was close to being famous. Unfortunately, its fame was not the result of hope and confidence, but of doubt and distrust.

Domestic developments as well as the eurosceptic attitude of some Czech politicians made Europe question Prague's leadership qualities. While the Czech president and several members of the ODS, the senior governing party, made the headlines with comments criticising the EU, the Czech government faced severe difficulties even surviving. In addition, scandals that broke out in the months preceding the presidency only added to Europe's doubts about the capabilities of its future leading member state.

An outspoken president

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The scandals that led to doubts over the Czech presidency hardly need repeating. They have been spread out at great length in the national and European media all over the continent.

A constant in the scandals seems to be the involvement of the Czech president. While Vaclav Klaus has for years been one of the most ardent critics of the European integration project, his euroscepticism – partly due to the increased attention focused on the Czech Republic – has grown even louder in the past few months. While he was surprisingly mild on the EU in his annual New Year speech, he was strikingly absent on 7 January at the official ceremony inaugurating the Czech EU presidency.

Since the mandate of the Czech president is largely honorary, the biggest damage President Klaus can cause is further undermining the image and credibility of his country inside the European Union. The country was already under close scrutiny from Brussels due to the great difficulties that Prague is encountering ratifying the Treaty of Lisbon in the country, after promising to get the job done in December 2007.

Regrettably, the Czech president attracts international media more easily than those Czech political events that really matter in the European context. Vaclav Klaus has become the eurosceptic poster child for a country that is in reality more moderate and balanced than its representative when it comes to issues of European integration.

Unfortunately Mr Klaus' rhetorical attacks on the European project sell easily.

Fragile domestic politics

Besides the public actions of the president, doubt about the ability of Prague to preside over the European Union also arose due to Czech domestic politics.

Since the Topolanek government was formed in January 2007, political problems have been the order of the day. The government has been plagued by bickering between the coalition partners, the absence of a parliamentary majority and serious party infighting.

There have been four votes of non-confidence, all of which the government narrowly survived. Dissatisfaction on the part of the Czech population led to a crushing defeat for the coalition partners in the regional and senate elections last autumn. These election results only increased the instability that already prevailed on the Czech political scene.

Reasons to be cheerful

Some events, however, give the impression that Prague is aware of the importance of its EU presidency. It appears that at least some of the political actors involved have decided to close ranks and to focus on the EU task ahead.

At a party conference in December, the ODS decided not to vote down Mirek Topolanek as party leader or as prime minister. He won the elections over his opponent and Prague major Pavel Bém, who holds a still more radical opinion on the European Union and opposes the Treaty of Lisbon.

Even the opposition seems willing to bury the hatchet and not to make the life of the government more difficult than it already will be over the next half year.

However, the political scene remains very fragile. The Czech government might survive the next six months, but little is needed to throw it off course.

This became abundantly clear when plans for a government reshuffle last week led to severe clashes between the PM and his coalition partners.

The messy government reshuffle makes clear that Czech domestic politics will remain full of surprises. It is no secret that Prague has assumed its EU presidency in challenging domestic circumstances. While the different political actors seem to grasp the importance of the EU task ahead, it remains to be seen whether they will agree that a temporary ceasefire might do more good than ruining their presidency through domestic bickering and discord.

Seen in this light, the EU presidency will not only be a test of the new member state's European commitment, but also of the maturity of Czech politics.

The author is a Ph.D. student at the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), associated with the Centre for EU studies of Ghent University, Belgium.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity

Luxembourg will be the first European country to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of cannabis (the Netherlands has a policy of de facto regulation of sale and consumption only), with all the implications this holds.

Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

The new migration commissioner's job title, "Protecting our European way of life", rings not of pan-European solidarity or federalism - but is incorporated from the playbook of the extreme right.


The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

News in Brief

  1. Nearly 100 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy
  2. Juncker to meet Johnson on Monday
  3. First Hungary 'Article 7' hearing set for Monday
  4. Vestager picks Danish EU ambassador as cabinet head
  5. Commissioner hearings will start 30 September
  6. Italy says EU countries agree to take in rescued migrants
  7. Germany to organise Libya conference on arms embargo
  8. European Parliament to support another Brexit delay

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  2. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  3. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  4. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  5. Central European leaders demand EU Balkan accession
  6. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity
  7. The Catalan National Day has been a success. Why?
  8. Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us