European Parliamentary elections a new experience for Czech voters

This week the first ever European Parliamentary elections will take place in the Czech Republic. Czech people will choose their Euro deputies from a wide list of candidates presented by 31 political parties. It is the first time Czechs are voting for an international body, so for many it is not clear yet what their attitude towards these elections will be.

Jiri Jes is an analyst for Czech Radio.

"People are not used to vote for the European Parliament and they don't know what they can expect from the new body. Therefore we must expect that they will act as if they were going to normal Czech parliamentary elections."

According to Jiri Jes, Czech people are not used to thinking in European terms, so we can expect that they will think more of national, rather than European interests and because of this, it is very probable that they will choose the parties they know and are familiar with.

How are ordinary Czech people going to decide how to vote? I asked some people in the streets:

Young woman: "I think that I will choose the most popular person who will be the ideal representative in the elections."

Young man: "I will probably take a look from which party are the members and so on, and I will also hope that they will help our republic."

Young woman: "Probably based on my own preference for internal issues, and looking from their ballot papers also the parties that I know and I am familiar with and trust."

The election campaign has been widely criticized for not containing much information and failing to give a clear idea of what the European Parliament actually is, and what the Czech Euro deputies can do there. People think that they haven't enough information to make a decision for the right candidates.

Young woman: "I think one has to search really hard on the Internet for example. I have seen posters throughout Prague, but I think there could be definitely a lot more information easily accessible."

Young man: "I think that if you want to get information it is possible to get it, but on TV or in the newspapers I don't think there is enough information."

Jiri Jes agrees that the main issues have not been explained, but:

"I think that the main mistake is that people are a little bit confused by the stressing of national interests by the media, as well as by candidates, because they all think that people think in a national way. My opinion is that people would be interested in hearing an explanation of what deputies do in the European Parliament, but the candidates are a little bit afraid that the people will not want to vote for them, if they don't speak of defending Czech national interests.

Petr Mares,  US-DEU campaign,  photo: CTK
"They will have to confront the situation when they find themselves confronted with decisions on European issues and then they will have to explain to their voters how they achieve consensus, European consensus, which is very important. People are not yet used to this because of their history".

Bela Plechanovova, a professor for European Issues at Charles University, argues that the European Parliament is an important European institution and will be even stronger, if the reforms proposed in the draft constitution come into being.

"The European Parliament's main function is to be a co-legislature. So this is an institution, which together with the Council approves the legislation of the European Union, or at least most of it. In that sense it is almost as important as the parliament within the nation state. But on the other hand the way of the work of European Parliament is not the same. It differs in many respects."

The Czech Republic will have only 24 Euro deputies out of 732, so they will not have much real influence on decision-making in the European Parliament. But Bela Plechanovova points to some further factors:

"Czech MEP's will serve their first period starting this June. So they will be quite inexperienced. We can't expect that they will be able to influence the functioning of the political groups within the European Parliament. So in the first years they will have to learn how to behave in the new environment and how to influence political decision-making within the European Parliament.

Richard Falbr,  CSSD campaign,  photo: CTK
"On the other hand it is the case that none of the national delegations, if we can call them that, is big enough to be decisive in the decision-making process. So it works like that, that the political groups have to negotiate to come to a consensus for a particular proposal. So the differences within the European Parliament are mainly not on national lines, but more on political lines, but even that is not very strong."

She also adds that:

"The MEP's are not sitting in the European Parliament to defend their national interests, because that is the role of the European Council - to fight for national interests - not of the European Parliament. This also goes with the fact that the members of the European Parliament are from the whole spectrum of the political scene and for the MEP to defend the position being from a single country is not probable. "

Czech political parties haven't reached a broader consensus concerning Czech national interests, even though it was highly stressed by the Euro candidates during the campaign. This is closely linked to the parties' attitudes towards European Union as such. Jiri Jes again:

"If we suppose that the majority of the Czech deputies will consist of Civic Democrats and Communists, it will be very difficult, because these parties are in strong opposition to European integration. They admit only very free relations perhaps common trade, but remain firm on preserving the national and state sovereignty of the Czech Republic.

"The other group of Czech deputies, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats will be probably in favor of a European federation aiming for the EU to become a state with its own president and other authorities. It will take some time to unify these attitudes of both parts of the Czech representation."

After the elections, the 24 Czech Euro deputies will have to become part of the main political groupings at the European Parliament. But it will not be easy for all the parties to find their place. Jiri Jes says more in this regard:

"That will be relatively very easy for the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats here, because they have a big group in the European Parliament, but according to the last preferences, these 2 parties, can hardly win 1/3 of the Czech seats. The other 2 big parties, which represent nearly half of potential Czech deputies, the Civic Democratic Party and the Communists, will have some trouble in joining any of the European political groupings.

"The Civic Democrats reckon with the European Christian group, but they seem to be very far from them being no Christians and being a little Europhobic. Also the Communists have some disputes with the comrades from other countries, especially in relation to the word Stalinism and to the Communist crimes of the past."

The European Parliamentary elections are not the only elections in the Czech Republic this year. This autumn local elections and elections for the upper house, or Senate, will take place as well. Analysts agree that the results of the European parliamentary elections will have a big impact on the Czech political scene.

"I think that the European parliamentary elections will influence all of these elections. One of the leaders of a small Czech political party the Freedom Union has threatened that if his party will not get any seats in the European Parliament, he will resign from his post. If this happens and he does resign, then he will also resign as a deputy prime minister in the Czech government. And that it would cause a government crisis. So I think even these elections can influence the political life in this country."