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Týden: PM’s hint at Czexit may backfire on Prague, oust it from EU

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Prague, Feb 29 (CTK) – Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka has caused an all-EU debate on Czexit by his warning against the gloomy effects of Britain’s EU departure on Czechs, in consequence of which the rest of the EU may part with the Czechs prematurely, Tomas Menschik writes in weekly Tyden out on Monday.

Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) was a shining star on the EU scene earlier this month. He represented the Visegrad Four (V4) group (which also includes Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), in the negotiations about the conditions of Britain’s remaining in the EU at the latest summit in Brussels, Menschik writes.

Sobotka became one of the six main protagonists of the agreement reached at the summit, Menschik writes.

Everybody was satisfied. The British, for example, rejoiced at Sobotka’s role as the V4’s negotiator not being entrusted to his more resolute Hungarian or Slovak counterparts, Viktor Orban and Robert Fico, respectively, Menschik writes.

Encouraged by the successful deal and moderate concessions of Britain, Sobotka took up another great role by mentioning the threat of Czexit, or the Czech Republic’s departure from the EU, Menschik writes.

Sobotka said if Britain left the EU, a debate about Prague’s departure could be expected on the Czech scene in a couple of years. If so, the Czech Republic would return to Russia’s sphere of influence, Sobotka said, cited by Menschik.

Before, Czech EU departure was only loudly mentioned at anti-Islamist rallies in the country, and more quietly by the extra-parliamentary Party of Free Citizens. Former President Vaclav Klaus, too, toys with the idea now and then, Menschik writes.

Sobotka’s statement pushed the debate considerably forwards, promoting it to an important political topic. The possibility of Czexit started to be debated by the whole political scene and also by European politicians, Menschik writes.

In the world media, Sobotka’s words were extracted from the context of his apprehensions of further developments, and presented as information about the start of a Czech debate on Czexit, or about Prague’s threat to leave the EU, Menschik writes.

Embarrassed by this, Sobotka asserted on Wednesday he considers Czexit meaningless, harmful and dangerous, Menschik writes.

All relevant Czech politicians refused to speculate about Czexit, Menschik writes, adding that members of Sobotka’s CSSD stressed this the loudest of all.

The Czech regional and Senate elections are scheduled for the autumn, and the CSSD’s election programme would be far thinner without its emphasising of European integration. The “opening of the Czexit debate” by Sobotka was thus quite unexpected, Menschik writes.

Sobotka, who otherwise shuns strong words, probably succumbed to the starry moment when all Europe was watching him in connection with the EU-British talks, and he tried to score another point. Unfortunately, he scored his own goal, Menschik writes.

Sobotka’s Czexit statements are living their own life now. They have been taken up by Nigel Farage, the staunchest promoter of Brexit, who directly spoke about a Czech referendum on EU membership in the European Parliament, Menschik writes.

In Europe, no one seems to be surprised at the Czexit idea. Everybody say and write about the Czech resistance to the EU migration policy as the real cause of Prague’s diversion from Brussels, Menschik writes.

The previous public opinion polls, according to which three-fifths of Czechs would vote against the country’s remaining in the EU, have acquired a new weight now, Menschik says.

A survey released by Lord Ashcroft, the British Conservative Party’s specialist in public opinion, even shows the Czechs as the biggest Eurosceptics and as the only EU nation where people’s negative assessments of EU membership prevail over positive, Menschik writes.

In this respect, Sobotka need not blame himself, since a debate on the Czech Republic’s remaining in the EU would flare up sooner or later even without his contribution, Menschik continues.

However, Sobotka should fear that the rest of Europe may start saying farewell to Prague prematurely, Menschik writes.

In addition, the unwillingness to meet Prague’s demands by the EU partners may intensify, which would enhance separatist tendencies. If so, a bargaining [over Czech EU membership conditions] would follow, similar to that the British PM David Cameron underwent in the past months, Menschik says.

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