Headaches for Von der Leyen as Czech ‘Euroscepticism’ looms over EU presidency handover

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The Czech Republic assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) on Friday. Prague takes over the role, which rotates among the EU member states every six months, from France. To coincide with the handover, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and other officials arrived in the Czech town of Litomyšl. The group held talks with the Czech government, including on the EU’s energy security, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and how the war torn nation will be rebuilt after the conflict.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala thanked Ms Von der Leyen, who said she looked forward to working more with the central European nation.

However, the EU Commission chief faces headaches over the Czech Republic’s stewardship of the Council, according to academic Petr Just.

The political scientist at the Metropolitan University Prague claimed that “Euroscepticism” looms over the new EU presidency.

Speaking to Politico last month, he said: “The Prime Minister himself is pro-European.

“But he comes from the party where still there is a lot of influential people who are very Eurosceptic.”

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The expert claimed that Mr Fiala “needs to balance — not between coalition partner parties — but inside his own party”.

He added: “I don’t think that the Czechs are anti-European.

“But they just don’t feel that the presidency is something like a crucial or some key issue.”

The Eurosceptic rumblings in Mr Fiala’s Civic Democratic Party (ODS) mark the Czech EU Council presidency out as different to that of France.

French President Emmanuel Macron is seen by Brussels as a natural ally due to his calls for deeper EU integration, and is largely viewed as spearheading the bloc along with Germany.

By contrast, the ODS has been sceptical over deepening EU integration and rejects the adoption of the euro outright.

Since the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, the country’s relationship with the bloc has been complex.

A study of the Czech public by the Behaviour research agency in 2020 made damning reading for Brussels.

It found that only 33 percent of people in the EU member state thought that membership of the bloc was a positive thing, while just 47 percent said they would vote to remain in the EU.

Žiga Faktor, from the think tank Europeum, claimed history played a part in the Czech reluctance to be governed by Brussels.

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He told La Libre: “There is the historical aspect: we were governed from abroad for a long time, first by Vienna, then by Moscow.

“Now some people see Brussels as another distant power, making decisions for us.”

Despite some Eurosceptic leanings, most of the parties in the Czech Republic’s governing coalition are pro-EU.

Martin Buchtik, who leads the STEM research institute, claimed the EU Council presidency may actually present opportunities for the country.

He told La Libre: “The figures show that when a country holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, it can increase the popularity of the Union among citizens.

“For the Czechia, it is not necessarily about stimulating a positive attitude, but about creating an attitude.

“Because the basic problem is that we do not understand the EU. If you don’t understand something, you don’t trust it.”

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