Czech elections to fuel multi-speed division in Europe

  • Petr Boháček
  • 22.10.2017 17:11

The most-likely future Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis tried to reject Euroscepticism in his first post-election speech as he hinted his ambitions for Brussels. Despite difficult coalition forming the populist multibillionaire is expected to fight more political integration in Europe with other Eastern European countries – ultimately leading the EU to multi-speed division.

The most-likely future Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis tried to reject Euroscepticism in his first post-election speech as he hinted his ambitions for Brussels. Despite anticipated difficult coalition forming, the populist multibillionaire is expected to fight against more political integration in the EU with other Eastern European countries – ultimately leading the EU to the multi-speed division.  

As the overwhelming victory of the ANO party became clear Andrej Babis - its leader, founder and biggest donor – too the stage to reiterate the pro-European and pro-Western direction of the ANO party and rejected the much-repeated labelling of his party as Eurosceptic. His specific priorities for Brussels? Migration, terrorism, dual food quality.

Difficult negotiations
The political picture in the Czech Republic is anything but crystal clear. Almost all parties in some way rejected working with ANO due to the ongoing investigation of Babis for possible embezzlement of EU funds. Yet, Babis, the leader, founder and biggest donor to the party that received the most preferential votes, is unlikely to leave. But something must give. If it is the tough post-election promises of other parties then ANO could form a minority government destined for chaotic issue-specific cooperation with other parties. An early election would mean that Babis could play the anti-establishment card even better since his invitation to cooperate with all other parties was turned down. Either way, Babis is not leaving even he nominates someone else as the Prime Minister. The position of Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland can serve as an inspiration.

Babis listens and together with his mastermind marketing team responds to the simple public discontent, not its substance or reasons.

Populist Nationalism
In Austria, Sebastian Kurz could win largely because no one could figure out if he was a populist or conservative. In the Czech Republic, there are no questions. The ANO party, a centrist anti-establishment movement, this year finished the annihilation of traditional right-left parties. After taking votes from traditional right-wing Civic Democrats in 2013, they took votes from the oldest Czech party, the Social Democrats this year.

Unlike with traditional value-based parties, momentary trending emotional moods in the society decide policy for populists. Babis listens and together with his mastermind marketing team responds to the simple public discontent, not its substance or reasons. They answer to the mood not issues in the society. And people trust the billionaire. The 29% of voters that supported Babis’s party dismissed his formal chargers for EU funds fraud.

In spite of pro-European declarations, the populist party plays to the tune of the country’s latent Euroscepticism and anti-immigrant moods. Babis loudly rejects the euro and frequently criticises Brussels and Western pro-European leaders. His Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky clearly articulates Russia as a security threat and EU unity behind sanctions against Moscow as strategically important, but Babis questions the sanctions as ineffective. EU unity on foreign policy is not a sound argument for his idea of the Union as a group of sovereign member-states.

The anti-migrant crusade of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Poland’s Beata Szydło has been waiting for a charismatic, business-like and internationally fluent spokesperson Babis is.

EU of Nations
Prague followed Budapest and Warsaw in its mass tilt to the right. Centre-right ANO managed to pull voters from Social Democrats and Communists. The two only leftist parties secured only 7% of the vote for the new nine-party parliament. His European alliances are clear. The anti-migrant crusade of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Poland’s Beata Szydło has been waiting for a charismatic, business-like and internationally fluent spokesperson Babis is. Their mythical geopolitical battle with Brussels for their more power will have a new mascot.

Just like Orbán and Kaczyński, Babis is not against the EU as a whole but against more political integration. The trio will play nationalism and state-sovereignty against Brussels and consequently strengthen the formation of multi-speed Europe. They want the EU to be a club of sovereign member-states with power in the hands of national capitals (their hands). Such idea is contradictory to the ongoing momentum for EU and eurozone reforms.

Babis called for more cooperation with Croatia and Slovenia or Austria’s Sebastian Kurz on migration. But Slovenia, Slovakia and Austria, members of the monetary union, will hardly jump to join their full agenda. While ad hoc alliances can form on specific issues, the Eurozone will remain the core of the EU. The ones on the outside will have hard times catching up.

About author: Petr Boháček

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