Attempts to explain the very role of the European Parliament to the general public
The key topics of the individual political parties corresponded to their specific political orientations and ranged from the functioning of the internal market (including, in particular, the lower quality and higher price of food that is imported to the Czech Republic in contrast to the food standards in the Western states of the EU) to issues of unemployment and claims of the possible adverse effects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Among the visible topics of several political parties, most notably the Civic Democrats (ODS), was also the issue of the Czech (non-)adoption of the Euro. These parties were heavily criticized in the media and by experts for stressing this topic as there is no direct competence of the European Parliament (EP) in this matter.
Several Czech think-tanks had tried to turn the public attention to a deeper reflection on economic topics for the new EP, as, for instance, in the case of the debate of the representatives of the key political parties organized by the Association for International Affairs (AMO) and the Prague Twenty. The debate covered topics such as the proposed directives on gender equality in supervisory boards and the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base. A series of debates was also organized by the European Values think-tank.
The EU-wide ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ played almost no role in the Czech campaign. The Czech public television broadcasted one of the frontrunners’ debates, but support for the individual EU-wide frontrunners was declared only sporadically by the parties and hardly attracted the attention of the general public. In contrast to this, the discussion between the parties in the Czech national government about the nomination of the prospective Czech Commissioner attracted significantly more media attention.
The diminished relevance of euroscepticism in the Czech Republic
The overall relevance of euroscepticism in the electoral campaign was lower than in the previous elections to the European Parliament. The right-wing political party Civic Democratic Party (ODS), which won the last elections to the European Parliament, remained the main standard bearer of euroscepticism. However, it was diminished into a second-rate political party due to corruption scandals of its former national government and its subsequent dismal results in last year’s Czech parliamentary elections. Thus the main clash in the current European Parliament electoral campaign was between the liberal party ANO 2011 (a relatively new subject on the political scene, whose policy on the EU was largely under construction during this electoral campaign), the social democratic party (ČSSD) and the conservative TOP 09, with all of them showing a mostly pro-European orientation.
Despite proudly proclaiming its allegiance to euroscepticism, the electoral campaign of the ODS showed moderate eurosceptic positions and argued that Czech membership of the EU is necessary. Extreme eurosceptic positions were held only by minor political parties. Out of these, the Party of Free Citizens (Svobodní) was the only relevant player, with the potential to get across the 5 percent threshold for winning a mandate.
On the radical left, the Communist party (KSČM) voiced its requests for a more democratic and socially oriented EU together with some anti-establishment eurosceptic language.
An indifferent majority
The most significant outcome of the 2014 European Parliament elections in the Czech Republic is the shift from the eurosceptic political parties to parties with stronger pro-European visions. From the 21 Czech seats in the European Parliament only 6 went to eurosceptic parties. The right-wing and moderately eurosceptic ODS won only 2 mandates and thus it has 7 mandates less than in the previous elections. The remaining four seats went to the EU-hostile Svobodní (1 seat) and the mildly eurosceptic KSČM (3 seats). This confirms the fact that the ODS was supported not for, but despite its eurosceptic ideas (surveys had shown its electorate was always more pro-European than the party itself). With the general loss of support for the party, the former electorate of the ODS moved to other conservative or liberal pro-European parties, implying that euroscepticism did not attract votes.
The remaining 15 mandates went to political parties which are mostly pro-European. The winners of last year’s elections to the national parliament, the liberal ANO 2011 and the social democratic ČSSD, won 4 mandates each. The third and smallest party of the incumbent coalition government, the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), won the remaining 3 mandates, mostly thanks to its strong position in southern Moravia and its hard-core electorate there, which was decisive in this low-turnout election. The opposition TOP 09 party also received 4 mandates; thereby considerably overshadowing its former coalition partner ODS on the right side of the political spectrum.
The Czech Republic’s voter turnout of 18.2 percent is the second worst in the EU (after Slovakia with 13 percent). It can be contrasted with the turnout at the last parliamentary elections (59.5 percent) and the last European Parliament elections (28.2 percent). A possible explanation for this, besides the Czech public’s general lack of interest in the complicated issues of the EU, is that national elections took place only several months ago and people were thus not using the European Parliament elections to vote against the incumbent government, as was the case in the past. Moreover, Czech voters are becoming indifferent to elections due to their rising frequency: national parliament elections and the newly introduced direct election of the Czech president were held last year, whereas elections for the upper chamber of the Czech parliament and for municipalities are scheduled to take place later in 2014.