Elections to the European Parliament are just over three weeks away, but as far as campaigning goes there is little to show for it in the Czech Republic. Low-cost campaigns and a notable lack of debate on European issues precede what look to be the lowest-profile elections in 2014. I asked Jakub Janda from the Prague-based European Values think tank why this is so.
“Well, primarily you have to take into account that the turnout in European elections is always pretty low. In 2004 and 2009 it was around 28 percent in the Czech Republic and 43 percent on the European level –the EU average. The parties know this and that is why they are not putting that much money into campaigning and one can tell that the campaign is pretty low-cost as compared to national elections.”
But if you look at the issues that the campaign centers around –the Dawn party has a strong anti-immigrants campaign, the Civic Democrats an anti-euro campaign – do parties perhaps feel that playing on people’s fears is the only thing that will make them go to the polls?
“Yes, you have said it pretty much correctly. Those two parties believe that if they illustrate or construct some kind of danger for the people they can claim that they are defending them against the euro or against migrants and minorities. That is the thinking behind it. We’ll see how successful that will be, because we know that adopting the euro is not a favorable idea in the Czech Republic right now 60 to70 percent of people are currently against it. But it also depends on who is bringing the message, because the Civic Democrats are pretty low on public trust right now.”
So what are the main issues being brought to the fore in this election campaign?
“Well, if you look at the biggest parties, then the Social Democrats are talking about new jobs which is good, but pretty tough to achieve from the European Parliament which doesn’t have so many competences in social policy. And if you look at other parties such as ANO they do not really have strong issues. Instead they offer faces. They put faces on billboards and they are thus continuing in their campaign for the national elections when they said the other parties were part of the establishment which hadn’t worked out for the Czech Republic and presented their candidates as the new, fresh faces. That is the idea behind their campaign.”
According to a recent poll 56 percent of Czechs consider elections to the European Parliament unimportant and are not planning to vote. Why is that?
“The core of the problem is that our national politicians –people in the government and parliament – are not talking about European issues. The debate is not really there. This is a long-term problem in Czech politics, our politicians do not want to talk about European issues that much, they do not have expert teams to advise them on these matters and if they do talk about European issues –most of the time it is negative. So that is the main problem, because when politicians do not talk about these issues the public does not think they are important.”
Do you think that people maybe feel their vote will not make a difference?
“Yes, I think that is one of the factors involved, because people feel that the European Parliament is pretty far off, which is geo-politically well-said, but the issue is that more than 60 or 70 percent of the laws that are in effect in the Czech Republic are passed on the European level. So the European Parliament is a really important body for the Czech Republic, but the politicians who are in the spotlight do not bring this message home. They could be talking about why the European Parliament is important, what they want to do within the European Parliament and this is not really happening.”