An opinion poll conducted by the STEM agency in February of this year shows that trust in EU institutions has dropped to an all-time low. The gradual slide from the initial 60 percent support rating to the present 34 percent is being attributed to a number of factors – including euro-sceptic governments, the euro debt crisis and negative reports in the media.
When the country joined the EU in May of 2004 trust in EU institutions hovered at around 60 percent and most Czechs had high expectations of how EU membership would change their lives for the better. For years the support rating stayed high –hovering between 50 and 60 percent, but gradually trust in EU institutions started to wane. The last high came with the country’s EU presidency in 2009 when the Czech role in the EU received a lot of attention, boosting national pride. However the revived trust was short-lived and the euro-debt crisis saw the EU support rate tumble to an all-time low of 34 percent. Of that, only four percent of respondents gave an emphatic “yes” to the question whether they trust EU institutions and 30 percent said “more or less”. Jan Hartl, the head of the STEM agency which conducted the poll, says Czech politicians carry a lot of the blame.
“One of the reasons (for the declining trust rating) is that the issues of the European Union have been neglected by the majority of Czech politicians and political parties. The prevailing mainstream in the Czech Republic was stressing national values, self-protecting attitudes and there was no real, so to say, passionate supporter of the EU on the domestic political scene.”
The country’s new centre-left government has now affected a U-turn in the country’s foreign policy with regard to the EU – vowing to bring the Czech Republic back to the EU mainstream and take a constructive attitude to EU integration. This will naturally also mean working to change the negative attitude of the public to EU institutions. Jan Hartl says this will not only require bringing the public more information about the EU, but also spreading the word about EU successes rather than just focussing on the failures.
“One must also blame the media. Whenever there is talk of the EU it is always with a negative connotation -something did not work well, there were shortcomings of this and that sort. This negative context makes people look at the EU as something ineffective, something that is very difficult to understand and even something which is perceived more or less as suspicious.”
With the EU flag now flying at Prague Castle and the government vowing to pursue a more positive line on EU matters, Jan Hartl says the public’s lost trust in the European Union can be rebuilt. But he adds that Brussels itself should re-think its communications strategy.
“Part of the problem lies within the EU itself - in its ability (or lack of) to communicate its goals to the public –not just to the Czech public but to people in all EU member states. It is a well-known fact that the agenda of the EU is not very well comprehensible to the European public in general.”