It’s Czech Referendum Day!

The Czech EU referendum is very, very near. Sure, we know that already, but even if we didn’t, we’d know something was up from today’s front page of the leading Czech daily, Mlada Fronta Dnes. Check it out for yourself (you can download the PDF here): the whole above-the-fold area is dominated by a huge “ANO” – which, it won’t surprise you to learn, means “Yes” in Czech. Directly underneath is the caption “Historical referendum: the accession of the Czech Republic into the EU is to be decided.” For those newspaper-buyers who, nonetheless, are not so much into reading text, up above there’s a whole gallery of famous Europeans. Take your pick (now, who wouldn’t want to join their company?): Günter Grass, Luis Figo (the football player for Real Madrid, but he’s Portuguese), Antonio Banderas, Margarethe II (present occupation: Queen of Denmark), and Ornella Mutti – from Italy; anybody ever heard of her? Wow: Guess who the MFDnes editors chose in the inside article (click on “15 tvárí Unii”) to represent Britain: Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean/Johnny English! Below, you can see for youself how serious premier Vladimir Spidla is about accession: he’s shown huffing and puffing (and wearing black business socks with his shorts and sneakers!) and racing EU ambassador Ramiro Cibrian in a “Eurorun.”

But we here at EuroSavant have already, and repeatedly, protested (in concert with Václav Klaus) at the trivialization of the EU accession debate. Let’s stick to our principles, return to the text, and consider that editorial over on the left side of the page, Proc “ANO” – “Why ‘Yes’?” Why did we put that big “YES” on our front page today, MFDnes editor-in-chief Pavel Safr asks rhetorically, when ordinarily we don’t even presume to tell our readers how to vote in local or national elections? “Because we regard accession into the EU as a good and practical thing, which can substantially assist the development of our land. It therefore offers a great hope for the definitive detachment from the legacy of the Eastern [European] Communist Empire, to which we unfortunately belonged.” Sure, there are many “but’s” to membership in the European Union – Brussels’ “bureaucratic approach,” the alarming thought that someone might actually be serious in demanding one common foreign policy from all member-states – but ultimately the EU will place demands on us that we need to have placed on us. “Perhaps the demand that ‘drinkable water’ be in fact drinkable water is not so bad a condition for EU membership.” In all, accession will be an “advance in civilization” for the Czech Republic. And MFDnes’ front-page table of public opinion poll results (from the STEM research agency) has figures of 60% of Czechs intending to vote, of which 69% intend to vote “Yes.”

In a front-page interview in Právo entitled V Unii nebudeme zádné páté kolo – “In the Union We Won’t Be a Fifth Wheel” – Czech ambassador to the EU Pavel Telicka offers reassurances to Czech voters, along the standard EU party-line. The Czech Republic won’t be overshadowed within the EU; every member-state, no matter how small, has the chance to make an impact and have its arguments and concerns heard. Even in their present “observer” status, Czech representatives to EU institutions have not been outsiders, but have rather been able to advance various proposals. As for the supposed “lose of sovereignty” that EU membership supposedly entails – it’s not really a “loss,” it’s just a transfer of certain aspects of state sovereignty to the common EU organs, where all member-states can decide about them together. And it’s worth it, because the Czech Republic will thereby gain a chance to influence policy which inevitably sets the environment for all of Europe, for EU members and non-members alike. Clearly, in this light it’s better to be inside, able to influence things, rather than outside and having to live with things over which we have no control.

Whew – he at least has certainly been well-trained! Even for this “ANO” supporter that sunny nonsense is a bit too much to read. For an antidote, turn to Marek Louzek, writing in Hospodárské noviny. Louzek starts with the curious fact that the “Yes” and “No” factions have struggled on a playing-field strongly tilted in favor of the former. While the government has granted itself 2 million crowns to work with for the “Yes” campaign (about €65,000), those trying to get out the “No” message have had to rely on volunteer contributions. In Sweden they are civilized enough to divide government money devoted towards a referendum evenly among the parties, but that’s not possible here in the Czech Republic because, you see, there’s simply “no alternative” to EU accession.

Louzek also finds a curious problem with the exact question about the referendum which Czech voters will be posed. They are not being asked whether they agree to accession into the EU by the Czech Republic, but rather whether they agree to such accession “on the basis of the accession treaty.” What if they do think EU membership is a good idea, but not under the terms embodied in the accession treaty. Then, logically, they should vote “No.” This aspect could reduce the total “Yes” vote below what it was in other candidate states. Well, maybe – but I rather think, my dear Pan (= Mr.) Louzek, that you may be taking the “analyze the EU question carefully” imperative a bit too far.

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