Trade in chaos in Czechia; political distancing; COVID vs Euroscepticism
The revelations on April 17 revealed that Russia was behind the 2014 explosions at the Vrbetice munitions depot in Czechia continue to wreak havoc. The Seznam portal launched its own bombshell on Monday with a report that Deputy Prime Minister and Home Secretary Jan Hamacek previously planned to use an April 19 trip to Moscow to offer to bury the finds of Prague in exchange for a million doses of Sputnik V vaccine and a promise to hold a Russian-American summit between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden in the Czech capital.
The article describes secret meetings in Hamacek’s office and claims that several of the military, police and security officials present confirmed that Hamacek discussed the plan. The interior minister denied the report, saying the canceled trip to Moscow was planned as a decoy before the revelations.
Hamacek’s Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) – a junior partner of the ANO-led coalition – decided the best defense was a good offense and quickly distributed a “credibility barometer”, noting five allegations of inaccuracies the work of journalist Janek Kroupa over the past two decades. Many on social media said it was a technique reminiscent of those used by the former Communist regime.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis has said he believes Hamacek’s version of events. Of course, if it were true, the scandal would not reflect well his handling of government.
The opposition demanded Hamacek’s head, but a special meeting in parliament on Tuesday produced nothing more than smudges. Hamacek is now considering suing Seznam. It is suggested that a legal hearing would mean that officials who attended the meeting, but declined to comment in public on what was discussed, will now be required to speak. One thing everyone agrees on is that disagreement and disarray has devoured Czech politics ever since the revelations were a gift to Moscow.
Hamacek also demanded an apology from the opposition for suggesting he was acting with everything but the best interests of the Czech Republic at heart. “My own reputation and the fame of my party have been damaged, so I have no choice but to sue the authors of the article for slander and fear-mongering, and I await an apology from those of my colleagues who called me a traitor, ”he said. .
The Deputy Prime Minister must show that he is fighting a good fight. He recently retained the leadership of the CSSD by pledging to stem the party’s hemorrhagic support by targeting more conservative center-left voters. This cohort is loyal to Milos Zeman, the Russian-linked president who urged Czech authorities to start using the Sputnik V vaccine. He has also sought to cast doubt on the revelations surrounding Vrbetice.
It has been suggested that the announced offer of a compromise in Moscow sounds a lot like the kind of plan Zeman might imagine. Therefore, Hamacek could now be content to move away from the head of state a little.
But can he do it fast enough? The CSSD runs a serious risk of not crossing the 5% threshold to enter parliament in the next elections, and a vote could come sooner than expected, with new electoral laws that would allow the vote to take place and which should be adopted May 5.
The new legislation was ordered by the Constitutional Court and introduces a new method of converting votes into parliamentary seats which is somewhat less favorable to large parties. According to models, had the new system been used in the 2017 election, the ruling party, the ANO, would hold 69 seats instead of 78, with most other parties getting one or two more terms.
The adoption of the new laws increases the likelihood of early elections. The Communist Party (KSCM), which previously backed the minority government, said last month it would accept a vote of no confidence if called. However, the centrist opposition was wary of the fact that without the implementation of new electoral laws, power would pass to the president. With that risk now reduced, the opposition could make a move to force a vote before the elections scheduled for October.
Certainly, this could be the right time to strike for the opposition. Data released this week from a Eurobarometer survey taken in February suggests the Czechs now have the EU’s lowest level of trust in their government, at just 19 percent. On the other hand, no more than 15 percent trust parliament and only one in ten believe in the country’s political parties. The data reveals the depths to which Czech cynicism has descended. The EU average for trust in government is 36 percent; average trust in parliament is one percentage point lower.
Buffered by Prague’s poor performance in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Czech reading of confidence in the government has fallen by more than half compared to the last Eurobarometer reading taken in the summer of 2020. Satisfaction with respect to the country’s coronavirus measures fell during the same period. 71 percent to just 24 percent.
Still, it looks like the new coronavirus is also proving something of a vaccine against Euroscepticism. The survey shows that the Czech Republic’s confidence in the EU rose 9 percentage points to 48%, the highest value in eight years. As a result, the Czech Republic has lost its long-standing Eurosceptic crown to Greece, where only 37% of the population trusts Brussels. Italy, Austria, France and Cyprus are also less impressed than the Czechs.
A small majority of Czechs remain suspicious, but the pandemic seems to have convinced many that these small countries have many advantages to gain from a multilateral world. The Czech Republic’s confidence in the UN has increased by 12 percentage points to 57%, and respondents also expect the EU to provide access to vaccines and establish a common European strategy to deal with similar crises in the future.