Autumn general election holds more sway than European vote

 

Domestic battles dominate the Czech European vote, writes DANIEL MCLAUGHLIN

AS THE Czech Republic nears the end of its turbulent presidency of the EU, campaigning for next month’s European Parliament vote is dominated by disputes over the Lisbon Treaty, the fall of the national government and manoeuvring ahead of an autumn general election.

The opposition Social Democrats are expected to win the biggest share of the 22 Czech seats in the European chamber, but face fierce criticism from the Civic Democrats (ODS) for bringing down their cabinet in March and allegedly undermining the entire Czech presidency of the EU.

And while ODS leader and former prime minister Mirek Topolanek reluctantly endorsed the Lisbon Treaty and helped guide it through a divided upper house of parliament this month, many of his party colleagues are deeply hostile to the document and sceptical about many of the projects devised in Brussels and Strasbourg.

After the June 5th-6th elections, this strong Eurosceptic streak is widely expected to carry the ODS out of its current European People’s Party-European Democrats group in the European Parliament and into a new party, positioned further to the right, to be formed with Britain’s Conservatives and Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice Party, among others.

Many of the views held by the ODS’s powerful faction of Eurosceptics – led by party founder and Czech president Václav Klaus – are close to those of two new parties on the right of the Czech political scene: Libertas.cz and the Party of Free Citizens, led by one of Mr Klaus’s proteges.

Neither of those smaller parties is likely to secure seats in the European Parliament, however, as the Czech Republic’s two heaviest hitters – the ODS and Social Democrats – turn the June ballot into a tough sparring session ahead of the real prize fight – the early general election set for October.

“This is becoming a referendum on domestic politics, and European issues are missing from the agendas of the two main parties,” said Jiri Pehe, the director of New York University in Prague.

“The ODS is criticising the Social Democrats for bringing down the government during the EU presidency, but this is partly to deflect criticism of Eurosceptic views inside the party. And the general tone of the Social Democrat campaign is that it is the political right, including the ODS, that has brought the world economic crisis upon us,” he said.

Of the country’s smaller parties, only the Communists and the Greens are expected to secure seats in Europe, dealing a blow to Libertas founder Declan Ganley.

If the ODS fails to secure more than six seats in the European Parliament, or trails the Social Democrats by more than 10 per cent of votes, however, Mr Topolanek could face a party revolt.