The demand for a referendum on the Czech Republic’s withdrawal from the European Union is certainly not one of the key topics in the election campaign, but does hover over the conversation and has been discussed frequently in a number of debates. It is mainly brought up by the right-wing Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) led by Tomio Okamura. The demand is thus present in Czechia’s public space, albeit in a not very coherent or developed form.
Other political parties are also working with this theme. For example, the Communist Party (KSČM), whose chairman Vojtěch Filip has directly connected leaving the EU with withdrawing from NATO. The Tricolor movement and the Free Bloc are also calling for a referendum on EU membership.
On the other hand, many of the main political parties, such as the ANO movement, the Spolu (Together) coalition, the Pirates and the Mayors and Independents (STAN), unequivocally reject this idea. Even the sometimes very critical Civic Democratic Party (ODS), part of the Spolu coalition, only asks for reforms, not withdrawal. The Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) is also pro-European, while other, only slightly relevant parties do not deal with this topic at all.
Five years ago, when the Chamber of Deputies voted on an EU referendum shortly after Brexit went through, it was rejected unanimously. It would therefore seem that this is a completely marginal subject, which does not need attention. The Czech Republic is not an island power of the Great Britain type. It is geographically and ideologically firmly wedged into the European Union, with most of the Czech exports heading to the EU countries.
Nevertheless, there are voices pointing out that the current Czech situation shows many symptoms that appeared before the British referendum. The call for Brexit there was certainly stronger, with a greater tradition. Nevertheless, British political parties were also mostly against Brexit, and voters formed a critical yet clear pro-European majority.
Only the UK Independence Party was in favor of leaving the EU, a party which won the European elections, but in the British political environment was much weaker than the Czech SPD. In the end, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to the referendum as a purely political move designed to accommodate Euroskeptic members of his own party, as he wanted to get rid of the topic once and for all. He then led a campaign against Brexit with great personal commitment.
But it got out of hand, and the referendum turned out differently than expected. Great Britain, it might be said, eventually left the European Union somehow out of shock. And the question is whether something similar is completely out of the question in the Czech Republic.
Opposition coalitions intending to form a government and oust the current Prime Minister Andrej Babiš do not have to gain the necessary majority in the upcoming elections. The ANO movement of the current prime minister also might not get the necessary majority either. The formation of the government can then be decided by other parties, including the pro-referendum SPD or KSČM, which can skillfully take advantage of the mistakes and occasional weaknesses of pro-European arguments.
Moreover, although the ANO movement is outwardly pro-European and opposes the referendum, it is also as vigorously opposed to more migration and the adoption of a European currency in Czechia, as are anti-EU parties. In other words, anti-EU sentiment is not so far removed from many of the Czech parties as might at first be assumed.
Czech politicians may only be a step away from what they believe is a pragmatic idea that a referendum might perhaps be considered as a tactical move where a firm “no” from the Czech populace is a given outcome, as the British also assumed.
President Miloš Zeman also envisioned something similar a while ago, stating he would be in favor of a referendum in which he would vote for staying in the European Union just like David Cameron assumed. And it would be up to the voters, who, as in Great Britain, are critical yet mostly in favor of staying.
Thus, even though it seems that the topic of Czexit is only a secondary theme in Czech politics, after the elections, theoretically, it might not necessarily be out of the question.