Finance minister calls for referendum on euro adoption

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK

ANO leader Andrej Babiš has created a political flurry with his suggestion that Czechs should be given a chance to vote on whether to dump the crown for the single currency euro. The question could, he says, be twinned with parliamentary elections. But the suggestion has been given a mixed reception and faces many hurdled.

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK
If the aim was to spark interest in Czech adoption of the euro, then Sunday’s high powered get together at the instigation of President Miloš Zeman has, for the moment, done just that. The head of state, a firm supporter of a fast switch to the single currency by the Czech Republic, called prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka, finance minister and ANO leader Andrej Babiš, central bank governor Miroslav Singer and bank board member Jiří Rusnok, round the same table.

But whatever conclusions were reached during the four hour talks, the most explosive news came when finance minister Babiš left the president’s country retreat and announced that he believed Czech should be offered a referendum on euro adoption. The poll could be timed to coincide with parliamentary elections due in 2017, he said, adding that the referendum result would not be binding on the government. Most of the immediate reactions to the idea from coalition colleagues were dismissive. But Babiš’ ANO party is still riding high in the polls and tipped to be a winner in any election held soon.

Petr Just, photo: archive of Charles University
Petr Just is a lecturer in politics at the Metropolitan University in Prague. He said Babiš’ comments were a bolt from the blue but that the proposal will struggle to become reality:

“It is quite a surprising statement because so far only the ODS, the Civic Democratic Party, the opposition party which in the long term perspective is against the euro, was asking to hold a referendum. But contrary to Mr. Babiš’ proposal, they wanted to have a binding referendum and they expect people will oppose euro adoption and that the Czech Republic will maintain the Czech crown currency.

“From the governing coalition this is the first time that [it has been suggested] there should be something like a referendum although we heard previously from some of the parties that are in the coalition that there could be a referendum, but not non-binding but binding, but it should be more about the term when the euro should be accepted. So it’s not about ‘yes or no’ but about ‘when.’ The position of the Social Democrats is that the country should adopt the euro currency, among other reasons because we promised this during the negotiations over entry into the European Union.

“This non-binding proposal of Mr. Babiš comes as some kind of surprise because it now the issue what will be the meaning of this non-binding referendum and how the government should work with the result of this non-binding referendum.”

Do you see it as likely this referendum could take place or be attached to any parliamentary elections?

Illustrative photo: Lukáš Milota
“First of all, we have to bear in mind that the Czech Republic does not have the institute of referendum in its constitution and the constitutional system and it’s not important whether we call it binding or non-binding referendum. So if there is a referendum in the Czech Republic held any time in the future, it should be made possible by changing the constitution to make it possible for a referendum to be one of the tools in the decision making process or at least make a single use law, as we had in the case of the EU accession referendum, which would allow a referendum to be held on a certain issue. So when we accept the constitutional and legal issues we have today, there is no basis for holding a referendum.”