October 31, 2011
Euro referendum debate in Czech Republic gains ground
The ruling euro-sceptic ODS party in the Czech Republic wants to push for a referendum on the country's future eurozone accession, claiming that the rules have changed since 2003 when Czechs said yes to the EU and the euro.
The recent agreement on another bail-out for Greece and on boosting the eurozone's bailout fund is fuelling Czech calls for a referendum, said Czech MEP Jan Zahradil, leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists.
"We should allow non-eurozone members – such as my country the Czech Republic – to decide again whether they wish to enter. We signed up to a monetary union, not a transfer union or a bond union in our accession treaty. This is the major reason why the Czech Prime minister wishes to call the referendum on this matter," Zahradil said in a statement.
The Czech Republic, along with all other eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, is obliged to adopt the euro once budget deficit and other economic conditions are met.
Slovenia, Estonia and neighbouring Slovakia are already members of the 17-strong club. Latvia is also striving to join, while Poland, though still seeing it as goal, says eurozone accession is no longer a priority.
But none has so far demanded a referendum, since nine of newest member states, including the Czech Republic, already had a plebiscite on joining the EU.
Last weekend, at an ODS party congress, Prime Minister Petr Necas demanded a referendum on whether the country should join the eurozone.
"The conditions under which the Czech citizens decided in a referendum in 2003 on the country's accession to the EU and on its commitment to adopt the single currency, euro, have changed. That is why the ODS will demand that a possible accession to the single currency and the entry into the European stabilisation mechanism be decided on by Czech citizens," the ODS resolution says.
Prime Minister Necas also floated the idea in case Germany gets it way on another treaty change bringing about more economic integration and tougher sanctions for deficit sinners.
"In the event that there is a change to fundamental rights that would result in powers being transferred from national organs to European organs, this government is bound to ratify this step with a referendum,” Necas told reporters in Brussels on Sunday evening.
Bohuslav Sobotka, leader of the Social-Democratic opposition, accused the ODS of diverting attention from domestic issues "with attacks on the eurozone." More than 3,000 had taken to the streets of Prague on Saturday to protest against "anti-social" austerity measures.
"There’s a danger that, thanks to Necas, we will end up on the edge of integration and we will lose all influence in Europe,” Sobotka said.
The referendum call is also criticised by Brussels experts. "It's completely wrong, it's purely populist to call for a referendum when losing popularity," Piotr Kaczynski from the Centre for European Policy Studies said.
With the mood against the EU and the euro on the rise among Czechs, Kaczynski says that such a referendum would certainly result in a No. "Czechs observe Slovakia closely, where they may see the benefits of euro membership, but the costs are much bigger," he said, in reference to the government collapse earlier this month over the eurozone's bail-out fund.
"It's a clear illustration of a new disease manifested in the UK and the Czech Republic: that of introvertism and isolationism. If these countries believe they can do on their own, I wish them good luck," Kaczynski said.
Source: EUobserver, EUD staff