Senate passes bill on EU referendum

Czech Senate

On Thursday the Czech Senate approved a constitutional amendment that sets the stage for a voter referendum on European Union membership, to be held early next year. The so called EU referendum bill was approved unanimously, after senators swept off the table a controversial bill on institutionalizing referenda as such, approved by the Lower House in February.

Independent senator Eduard Outrata explains that time played an important part in the decision-making :

"We may or may not at some point in the future, after we've discussed the whole thing properly, pass a bill on referenda but we can't wait for that whole process to go through. There is complete agreement -the bill was passed unanimously in the Senate- that there should be a referendum on membership in the EU and even more specifically that the referendum should be on the exact text of the agreement with the EU. So that is very clear and everybody is agreed on that. But once you go any further, in any direction, you get disagreement. There probably is a majority at this point in time , a vague majority, for having a permanent act on referenda but everybody thinks it should be different and trying to reach agreement at this point would be disastrous -we wouldn't get anywhere, we wouldn't have anything . And we can't risk not having a possibility to hold a referendum on EU membership."

Are you yourself in favour of later debating a bill on referenda as such?

"I'm very reluctant to agree to any particular type of referendum because referenda that really decide something are very dangerous in our system. I could accept a referendum -a similar one as with the EU- on something that was negotiated and finally decided on by Parliament where Parliament would feel that for some reason before it is actually implemented it should be sanctioned by the people. Those are things like changes in sovereignty and so on. That is why one would want to enter the EU on the basis of a referendum."

What you are saying suggests that you feel the public does not have enough information and knowledge to make complicated decisions -but in this case do you feel that people have enough information about the conditions under which the country will join the EU ?

"Not at present. They should get as much information as possible. It might be a problem for everybody to have all the information of course ...that is the major problem with referenda . I'm generally very uneasy about them . There are instances in the past in all countries that have them where referenda worked more against expressing the will of the people than the other way round. So I would prefer to be very careful about referenda and I don't think it would be a bad idea to pass a separate constitutional act on a referendum each time there's a will to have such a thing."