Eurobarometer: one year after accession majority of Czechs positive about EU

Photo: European Commission

It has been just over a year since the Czech Republic joined the EU and the report card, in a sense is in. This week the European Commission released the results of the latest Eurobarometer poll - the first since ten new countries joined. It shows that Czechs - often seen as somewhat sceptical about the EU - are feeling increasingly satisfied with membership.

Photo: European Commission
A little more than one year on - despite unresolved questions over the EU constitution and the future of Turkish accession - Czechs are feeling pretty good about being in the European Union. According to the Eurobarometer poll just released a majority 56 percent of Czechs now see the country as benefiting directly from membership, an increase from about 40 percent who were sceptical prior to accession last May. Why the increase in positive numbers?

Sociologist Jan Hartl, the head of the STEM agency in Prague, explains possible reasons for the shift.

"Generally speaking we can say that the Czech attitude towards the European Union is prevailing favourable and that one year in the European Union, at least for Czechs, was viewed as a success. An important factor was that there were no negative development, no increase in prices, no "negative" surprise of any kind. That's one explanation."

But another, according to Jan Hartl, may be even more important:

"Another explanation is that the situation in the European Union's relative 'stability' deeply contrasts with turmoil on the Czech domestic political scene. Last autumn brought about a very strong increase in the negative evaluation of the Czech economic situation and further on there was a political crisis in the spring of this year. That means that while Czechs remain sceptical, pessimistic and dissatisfied over the domestic situation, the European Union is positively perceived even more as one of the possible solutions to domestic problems."

The numbers so far back that up, one daily on Monday reporting that trust in Europe's institutions - the EU Parliament for example, continued to far outrank the Czech Parliament, now enjoying public confidence of just 23 percent. There is irony in that too: new numbers have also shown that the vast majority of Czechs - a reported 80 percent according to a new STEM poll - have little idea how the EU's institutions really work. By that measure, the Czechs' trust seems somewhat blind.

"People stress the importance of freedom, they highly praise the idea of integration, and the idea of promoting democracy. But, it's mainly very general and abstract."

The Czech economy is currently healthy within the EU, with expanding exports and salaries on the increase. Should it start to waver it will be interesting to see how quickly the public mood might change.

On a lighter note: one person still not convinced joining the union was ever a good idea is the president's own spokesman Petr Hajek. It has been reported that the spokesman to Vaclav Klaus actually erected a sign on his property showing an EU flag - crossed-out - a warning that the EU ends there.

Mr Hajek told the media it was only meant in jest, but he did admit the sign reflected his personal feelings, obviously close to the president's. Both are well-known eurosceptics. Last year one report had Mr Hajek shuddering at the thought of flying the EU's flag next to the Czech one at Prague Castle - he called the idea 'chilling'. Clearly, a different barometer for some: when it comes to the EU not everyone is of the same mind."