Populism and Euroscepticism in the Czech Republic: Meeting Friends or Passing By?

By Kaniok, Petr; Havlík, Vlastimil | Romanian Journal of European Affairs, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Populism and Euroscepticism in the Czech Republic: Meeting Friends or Passing By?


Kaniok, Petr, Havlík, Vlastimil, Romanian Journal of European Affairs


Introduction

Euroscepticism and populism, however defined, are often taken as two sides of the same coin both in public discourse and in academic debates. Be it because of the normative perception of the two terms or for some other reasons, Eurosceptic political parties are very often seen (or rather accused of) being populist. And vice versa, populist political parties are almost automatically perceived as Eurosceptic. As expressed by Nick Sitter, the "central role of dissent in Eurosceptic politics indicates a strong potential link with the populist anti-elite protest" (Sitter 2002: 11, see also Taggart 2004). Nevertheless, this general hypothesis about the "friendship" between populism and Euroscepticism has been taken for granted and very little empirical research testing the hypothesis has been done so far. Our paper aims at filling this gap through a close examination of the Czech Republic`s case.

The party system in the Czech Republic is extremely suitable for a closer investigation of the relationship between populism and Euroscepticism for several reasons. Firstly, the Czech Republic is traditionally seen as being one of the most Eurosceptic EU member states (Boros, Vasali 2013). Secondly, there is a long tradition of relevant Eurosceptic political parties both on the right (the Civic Democratic Party, ODS) and on the left side of the spectrum (the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, KSCM). Moreover, a new Eurosceptic party - the Party of Free Citizens (SSO) - was able to join the European Parliament, in the wake of the 2014 elections. Thirdly, the last general election in 2013 witnessed the unprecedented rise of populist political parties, including the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO 2011) and Tomio Okamuràs Dawn of Direct Democracy (Úsvit). Consequently, because of the presence of several Eurosceptic and populist parties, the party system belonging to the Czech Republic provides us with an exceptional laboratory for researching the link between populism and Euroscepticism. In order to assess the relationship between the two phenomena, we formulate the following question: is the European rhetoric of Eurosceptic parties characterized by populism? And vice versa: are the populist parties Eurosceptic? And if yes, do they use populist appeals in their European discourse? Is populism more typical for hard Eurosceptic parties in comparison to soft Euroscepticism?

How do we proceed in our analysis? First, we conceptualize the two phenomena that are of interest and operationalize them into indicators that will be used in a directed content analysis of both Czech Eurosceptic and populist parties - such parties we identified on the basis of relevant literature. After that, we are briefly introducing parties that are relevant for our analysis. In regards to the analysis, we are working with press releases dealing with the European integration topic. We believe that press releases are a better source of data than, for example, electoral manifestos or programme documents as parties can respond through them immediately and comment on topical events. Their analysis therefore enables us to capture both phenomena in their variety and complexity. In more practical terms, we are looking at the content of press releases in order to find if indicators of Euroscepticism (hard or soft) or populism are present. As a next step, we are trying to find if there is a match between the presence of Euroscepticism and the presence of populism - that means, is there a positive mutual relation between them as expected in the literature?

1. Concepts: Populism and Euroscepticism

No analysis of populism can begin without pointing out the vagueness of the term and the difficulties in defining it (e.g. Mény and Surel, 2002; Taggart, 2000). There are a number of reasons for this. One of the reasons is a long-standing (and never ending) academic debate over whether the concept should be understood as a (thin-centred) ideology, a strategy, a communication style, or a discourse. …

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