When I start thinking of the Czech general public’s view of the European Union, my thoughts are almost all negative.
Public trust in the EU – and politics overall – has been damaged by the misuse of EU funds and by red tape. It has been harmed by senior politicians who appear not to listen to citizens’ views, or to admit that some problems may need to be solved at European level. It has been eroded by abuse of European themes in domestic political campaigns – notably the refugee and migration crisis, which in reality doesn’t affect our country at all. Watch any Czech media, and it’s almost impossible to hear anything positive about the EU. As a PhD candidate researching European integration, I strongly believe in the European idea – yet I am unable to hide from this ubiquitous Euroscepticism.
Although the current Czech coalition government initially presented itself as willing to improve cooperation at EU level, this promise doesn’t seem to have been fulfilled after three years in power. Domestic debates concerning the EU are focused almost entirely on winning European funding, or on regulations that, in the end, are rarely the result of imposition from Brussels. There have been several attempts to communicate a Czech European policy to the public, but these initiatives usually don’t come from the government – instead, they are the work of think-tanks or civic organisations. Moreover, the ideas and policies generated by these groups struggle to find support in the government or in parliament.
So are the Czechs really Eurosceptic, or do we just ignore what happens beyond our borders? For people who’ve spent time abroad, it’s often difficult to connect again with friends who stayed. You can’t stop wondering how people can narrow-mindedly believe whatever fallacy the media serves them, without any thought of verifying claims or understanding their wider consequences. People have a lot of other issues in their lives to solve, true; their reliance on the media for political opinion is, from their perspective, entirely justifiable. Such division between a generally uninformed public and people with a wider knowledge or experience is, of course, not specific to the Czech Republic – but we do have a particularly small number of people who go abroad to work or study.
In my opinion, it should be the responsibility of our most educated elites, especially politicians, to ensure that the public debate on Czech foreign and European policy is at a satisfactory level and
there is some common understanding. When there is no such effort to provide this standard, no-one can reasonably blame the media for not reporting European issues seriously or comprehensively.
IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – Roman Boed