Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Narratives of European Politics in the Czech Republic: A Big Gap between Politicians and Experts

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Narratives of European Politics in the Czech Republic: A Big Gap between Politicians and Experts

Article excerpt

Introduction

Among the so-called Eastern Enlargement countries, EU affairs raise only minimal public interest. Testimony to this has been the exceedingly low turnout of these countries in the EP elections ever since 2004. The citizens of Eastern Enlargement countries do not follow European issues and do not take an active interest in the area. This may be slightly surprising given how important the EU is in regard to democratic transition and the consolidation of these countries. One potential explanation for this may lie in a lack of interest and expertise by politicians in these Member States who either cannot or do not wish to clarify the significance and benefits of integration to their constituents, nor will they come up with rational, coherent programs that respect EU membership as a significant factor which influences domestic politics. The Czech Republic is one centre of such a lukewarm, superficial debate on European integration.

On the one hand, one can observe a strong Eurosceptic voice in the debate among political parties, while on the other hand, the public opinion survey reveals the ignorance and disinterest of the voters. There are many studies which demonstrate both of these phenomena. What is missing is a study aimed at unravelling the role of the missing link of experts on European integration, their views and visions as well as an evaluation of their impact on political parties. The presented article aims at bridging this gap, partially with a case study of the Czech Republic.

The reason why we selected the Czech case is based on the fact that the Czech Republic has long had a strong and constant Eurosceptic party scene, a phenomenon which is contrary to most of the Central Eastern European countries, where politicians treated the EU membership more as an opportunity than as a threat (Guerra 2013). The nature of debate among Czech politicians is rather superficial (Drulak, 2012, Slosarak, 2011, p.29) (3) and focuses on simplifying narratives rather than on building sounder arguments. The politicians use a distorted simulacrum to manipulate public opinion (Kratochvfl, 2013) and the basic narratives have remained typically unchanged since the mid-1990s. The significance of these narratives is also testified to by the politicians' (symbolic) demarcation between the pro-integration and anti-integration poles. This self-created demarcation is frequently used in the discussion of European politics in the country. Think, for example, of the reaction to the symbolic steps taken by President Zeman, who seemingly turned the previous anti-integration image fostered by former president Vaclav Klaus around 180[degrees] by hanging out the EU flag above Prague Castle, and especially, by the swift signing of the amendment of article 136 of the TFEU to authorize the ESM under EU primary law. This greatly contrasted with Klaus' approach both to the change of TFEU, as well as to ratify the Lisbon Treaty in 2008-2009.

Another reason associated with the strong Eurosceptic current within the Czech politics is the following: the issues related to European integration are creating a sort of "cleavage" both among Czech politicians and within the broader field of the expert elites of the Czech "European" politics (Havlfk 2011; Hlousek and Pseja 2011), as well as between Czech politicians and the experts. The clearest example of such a divide was the course of Czech Presidency to the Council of the EU in the first half of 2009 (see Kaniok and Smekal 2009 for details). What we have been missing however is a microperspective, an in-detail analysis of how Czech expert elites perceive the EU, and this is the main concern of present study.

The reason for a case study is justified by the fact that the empirical research of the positions and role of the experts is still underdeveloped, so scholars need to increase the knowledge of the evidence from which to draw new assumptions, concepts and hypotheses. …

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