“Migration was not top issue in end”: Czechia counts down to Euro-elections

Czech voters will cast their ballots in European Parliament elections at the end of this week. A last minute poll suggests the SPOLU (Together) alliance are on the heels of opposition leaders ANO, while the Communists, no longer in the lower house, could take as many seats as the Pirates. I discussed the elections with political scientist Petr Just.

Have there been any issues dominating campaigning for the European elections?

Petr Just | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“Before the campaign started most of the political actors thought that it would be migration.

“Although migration remained one of the top issues, in the end the major issue was the Green Deal, as one of the very discussed and also, from some perspectives, controversial policies of the European Union, currently being passed by the European Parliament.

“And the politicians couldn’t wish for a better topic, because it’s so complex, it’s so technically detailed, it’s so complicated, that anyone, whether you are a supporter of the Green Deal or whether you are an opponent of it, you always find a way to use it in the campaign.”

Low turnout is expected once again [in 2019 it was 29 percent]. The public, let’s be honest, aren’t very interested. How interested are the political parties in the European elections as such, and how much do they take them as part of general campaigning, say for next year’s general elections?

“I think political parties take every election seriously.

“Of course when we talk about the parliamentary elections to the lower chamber next fall, they are the number one elections.

“But with this being kept aside, all other elections including European Parliament elections are, of course, important for political parties. And as you mentioned, maybe more important for parties than for people.”

Photo: Alexis Haulot,  © European Union 2024 - EP

So they are important to all of the parties taking part, including ANO, including Together?

“They are. And we see that a very intensive campaign is also coming from parties that normally do not much campaign at Czech national level.

“Thirty party lists have been submitted. I don’t have the exact numbers right now regarding the last national elections, but I don’t believe that there were 30 party lists running in the elections.”

There was a [STEM/MARK] poll on Sunday suggesting that the Communists, who are no longer in the Czech lower house, are projected to take two seats at the European Parliament, the same number as the Pirates [who regularly come third in general election polls]. How is it possible that the Communists, who seem kind of marginal now, could do as well as the Pirates?

“The Communists are not running alone this time. They running in an alliance with other parties that are mostly protest parties."

They’re calling themselves Stačilo!, Enough, but still they are the biggest group in Stačilo!.

Kateřina Konečná et la formation Stačilo! | Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,  iROZHLAS.cz

“They are. The other thing we have to have in mind is that they have loyal voters. Although their voting base is slowly decreasing, because they are mostly dependent on older voters, they are very loyal.

“Also they are critics, they are challengers. When you are challenging, when you are criticising, it’s always a much more convenient position for you than if you are defending.

“By contrast, the Pirate Party are on the defending side. Plus we have to have in mind that many voters are deciding between the ruling political parties, between Together, the Mayors and Independents and the Pirates.

“So we can see that if one ruling grouping is strengthening, then another might be losing.”

The poll on Sunday also suggested that the gap between ANO, who are still first, and Together, in second, is much smaller than in polls for general elections. They’re almost neck-and-neck. Why is the gap so much smaller when it comes to European elections?

“ANO voters are not much motivated to come to the polls. It’s a result of [leader] Andrej Babiš’s criticism of the European Union.

“And criticism of the European Union from parties that are very much challenging the EU, the European Commission and the European Parliament is one of the factors behind the low turnout.

“Also more recently we’ve seen a very intensive campaign by Together. The dynamics of the campaign have become much more intensive in recent days, and of course it will intensify even more in the days to come.

“In this period we will not have any data proving whether it’s working or not, because today [Monday] is the last day when polls can be published.

“But we’ll see the data in the results of the elections, when we learn them over the weekend.”

The European Parliament elections take place in Czechia on Friday June 7 and Saturday June 8.

Author: Ian Willoughby
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