V4 vs. the EU: The Golden Years Are Over

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A new survey focused on relations of V4 countries towards the EU is finally out. Politically stable and prospering Czechs are traditionally the most Eurosceptic ones, whereas Poland and Hungary  lately a very popular target of criticism from the EU – remain adamant supporters of the EU membership. What is the cause stocked behind this paradoxical situation?

The Czechs won the competition for the most Eurosceptic nation in the whole EU, again. According to the latest  survey by the Public Opinion Research Centre (CVVM), only 18% of Czech respondents are strong supporters of the membership in the EU, while both in Hungary and Slovakia the number is almost two times higher (30%). With 56% of the populace in favor of membership, the Poles confirmed their reputation as one of the most pro-European country in the EU.

The outcomes for hard opposition against the EU are in the same spirit. 17% of Czechs strongly opposing to the EU membership seems like a high number, especially if we compare it to 7% in Slovakia, 4% in Poland, and 3% in Hungary. These outcomes are even more surprising given the problematic situation in Poland and Hungary. Polish governing party, Law and Justice (PiS), and Hungarian leader with autocratic tendencies, Victor Orbán, are facing strong criticism from the EU for suppression of liberal democracy and human rights in their countries.

Loss of Hope

The low level of support for the EU is, nevertheless, nothing new. It should not be viewed as some kind of an immediate response to current issues. Quite the contrary – the Czechs are very constant in their disapproval of the EU, which is also closely connected to their rejection of Euro. The economic crisis of 2009–2010 irreversibly broke the Czech trust in the common currency. Only 21% of Czechs would implement the common currency.

According to a Czech sociologist and one of the authors of the CVVM survey, Jan Červenka, it is a sign of loss of faith. “For most of the Czechs the West does not epitomize a hope for a better life,” said Červenka in the Czech media.

Bright Future Awaits

The hope for a more prosperous future plays actually rather an important role in relations of each V4 country towards the EU. It might be perceived as an important reason why the Czech approach is – compared to the others – so different.

The EU epitomizes to the Poles and Hungarians a strong bond to the West, which they connect with a hope for a brighter future. Their socioeconomic situation is worse than in the Czech Republic and thus they believe that the EU can help them to improve their standard of living.

Having already had a higher standard of living, the socioeconomic change in the Czech Republic after joining the EU was not as significant as in the other V4 countries. The Czechs lost the illusions they had about the EU membership. “The mood now is ‘OK, we are the members, so what? An average Czech still makes one third of what Germans do and our position in the EU has not changed – we are still perceived just as an assembling room for Germans,’” claims Červenka. This, combined with the remaining post-Munich sentiments among Czechs, creates the feeling that the citizens of the Czech Republic are not treated as an equal partner in the EU institutions by other members.

Complicated Past

Despite the decades which already passed after the implementation of Munich declaration in 1936, the Czechs still tend to be rather careful in their relations with Germans. And so, although on the one hand Czechs are very fond of Germans, on the other hand they are  afraid of the possibility of being subordinated to Germany once again. Even the CVVM survey confirms that independency is very important value for Czechs, who out of the V4 countries are the least willing to give up parts of the national sovereignty in order to make the EU more efficient.

This is precisely what Czechs and Slovaks have in common. Both nations, carrying with the historic burden, are more protective of their sovereignty than Poles or Hungarians. Although the causes for such a state of affairs are rather complex, the “small nation complex” connected to distrust in abilities of their political elites and a disbelief that the Czech Republic can actually make a difference in the EU structures, are definitely among them.

Adela Kleckova
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom