Euroskepticism's New Face? the Party of Free Citizens: The New Czech Party of Free Citizens (SSO) Has Established Themselves as a Primarily Anti-Lisbon Party Which Aspires to Become a Formidable Political Force. the Reality Presents a Far Bleaker Future
Witters, Linda, The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs
Standing at the helm of the European Union, the Czech Republic has faced its fair share of hurdles, from the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine to a snowballing economic crisis to a sudden collapse of its government. And then there's President Vaclav Klaus, who never hesitates to air his grievances against the political and economic bloc. The most prominent and vocal Euroskeptic on the continent, the fiery 68-year old has been a constant critic of the EU, and the Czech presidency has failed to derail his stream of inflammatory rhetoric. While Klaus has long been the voice of Czech Euroskepticism, his former party, the center-right Civic Democrats (ODS), has inched towards a more pro-European stance. The evolution of the ODS platform has led Petr Mach, Klaus' protege, to establish the Party of Free Citizens (SSO) in hopes of matching Euroskeptic rhetoric with real political power.
The ODS's Identity Problem
The "corruption of ideas" within the ODS prompted Mach to band together with those as dissatisfied as he and announce the creation of the SSO on the 12th of January 2009. "Originally, the ODS was against the Lisbon Treaty and promised a referendum," says Mach in an interview in Prague. The treaty, which would reform EU institutions and further European integration, is accused by its opponents of awarding the EU too much power while chipping away at national sovereignty. But "when the ODS entered the government, they simply changed their mind, probably to continue in the government and to have friends abroad in France and Germany," continued Mach. "They simply betrayed their basic principles or maybe forgot them."
Mach was not alone in his frustration with the ODS's failure to uphold its original Euroskeptic platform. A former ODS member of parliament and current SSO member, Jiri Payne, adds that the ODS has been unchallenged for too long. "The ODS has declared its intention to become the catch-all party to address centrist voters," says Payne in an e-mail interview. "The absence of dialogue and free discussion and the inability to influence party politics with any binding decision led us to found a new party."
The ODS has an "identity problem," believes Jiri Pehe, a political analyst and former advisor to President Vaclav Havel. "It is a party split basically between the followers of Klaus who support him no matter what he stands for and the followers of a liberal-conservative program," which is represented by the former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. Klaus resigned as honorary chairman of ODS last December, parting ways with the party he founded in 1991.
The SSO, on the other hand, has received some media attention for its anti-Lisbon stance as the Czech Republic, along with Ireland, remain the only two EU nations who have yet to approve the treaty. While Topolanek supports ratification, Klaus has referred to himself as a "EU dissident" and remains a steadfast opponent of further European integration.
"Klaus is throwing little bombs by saying horrible things," says Monika MacDonagh-Pajerova, the chairperson of the pro-European organization YES for Europe in Prague. "We need the Lisbon Treaty because suddenly, we have 27 [EU member-states]. The EU is huge and we need new rules of governing it."
In a poll conducted by STEM in January, 64 percent of Czechs stood with Topolanek in supporting Lisbon, a 19 percent increase from last October. STEM analysts believe that the numbers are swollen due to a fear that should the treaty fail to pass, the Czech Republic could lose prestige. Most believe, however, that its eventual ratification is likely and that Czechs are more pro-Europe than it would seem. "The majority are happy with EU membership," says Pehe. "The Euroskeptic image has been created by some top, very vocal politicians, especially Klaus."
The process began to move forward in recent weeks and the treaty was approved by the upper house of Parliament on the 6th of May, leaving only one more step. …