Despite economic fears and scepticism, Czechs are happy with the EU presidency. But hopes can turn sour fast

Nikola Hořejš, Helena Truchlá

  • The Czech EU presidency is currently popular, surprisingly more so than the Czech government.
  • Only 20 % of the Czech public feel their government is doing enough to shield them from poverty. Despite economic fears, which are currently stronger than during the economic crisis in 2009, the popularity of the EU has not dropped – yet.
  • Polls show strong support for energy independence, renewables and tackling the climate crisis, despite the Czech government’s ongoing hesitancy to pick up the pace of decarbonisation measures. On the other hand, EU enlargement, parts of the FitFor55 package, and the new migration pact are met with scepticism and the government will have a hard time selling them at home. 
  • Czechs are among the most Eurosceptic citizens in the EU, and their mood changes fast with the macroeconomic situation. Unfulfilled high hopes in efforts to tame soaring energy prices can quickly turn into a disappointment.

Very Loud 4 Percent

The recent protests in Prague made headlines in the media internationally and brought back the trauma of government collapse during the previous Czech presidency in March 2009.

But the situation is more complex. On the one hand, Czechs are not turning into Putin’s fans. The anti-Western, pro-Russian sentiments and demands vocalised by the protesters represent only a fraction of the population, 4 % to be exact. A narrow majority of the Czechs support the government’s policies on Ukraine and oppose Russia. The game is about the rest, which is not pro-Russian, but either undecided or avoiding the issue. And thus, susceptible to misinformation and disinformation. 

Money, Money, Money

On the other hand, fears of economic hardship are now the strongest in the population since the banking and mortgage meltdown of 2007 and 2008. As a result, the government has been losing trust relatively fast.

From a macro perspective, the economic situation of Czech households is not that dire: about 15 % of all households have real trouble paying their bills now, while most families still have long-term contracts with stable energy prices. But even the middle class feels the stress, and it is the future they are extremely worried about. 

Before the Czech government introduced gas and oil price caps on the national level, only 20 % of Czechs had felt their government was doing enough to prevent domestic poverty. Even among the voters of one of the five coalition parties that form the current Czech government, only half had confidence in its approach. We cannot expect the downward trend to reverse while the temperatures keep going down and energy contracts of both private households and businesses are running out.

Despite all that gloom, the Czech presidency remains popular, and so does, by Czech standards, the EU. Historically, the EU has been a weak brand in the country, especially compared to NATO, which enjoys permanent solid support.

However, Czech scepticism has traditionally been caused by a general disenchantment with politics and public affairs combined with distrust of elites – not anger at specific EU policies. There are two exceptions to this rule: migration in the past and climate agenda (with increasing intensity) nowadays.

Where is the Deal in Green Deal?

Another critical factor that shapes the popularity of the Czech EU presidency is its stark focus on energy crisis management. Attempts to mitigate the social impact of high energy prices have virtually universal support across society, even among opponents of European integration. „This is clearly based on how the domestic price levels are changing. Czechs hope that Europe will have our back in this situation,“ says Helena Truchlá, an analyst of the STEM Institute.

Even at a time when inflation in the Czech Republic is reaching high double-digit values, there is an emphasis on a faster transition to renewable energy sources. Renewables are now an obvious alternative to fossil fuels in the eyes of the public, not only because of the climate crisis but also because they improve the country’s energy independence. Czech have traditionally been fond of self-sufficiency, and now 82 per cent of Czechs demand energy self-sufficiency on a European level, which is much higher than last summer,“ explains Helena Truchlá.

However, the perspective on climate policies is caught up in a paradox. Czechs are keen on preserving and conserving the environment and not as sceptical about climate change as one would think. However, they are in significant doubt about the mitigation policies and fear the impacts on the beloved national industrial economy. In the meantime, populist politicians have been turning Green Deal into a new scarecrow. The pro-EU government is not doing much to explain the efforts and alleviate the worries. 
The main takeaway of our data on the Green Deal and transformation policies is, in short, that the Czech public will be happy to protect nature, the landscape and the climate. At the same time, however, people are very concerned about such a transformation’s economic and social impacts. Unless the changes are sufficiently acceptable to different groups of people in our country, they will be difficult to enforce, if at all,“ says Martin Buchtík, sociologist and director of STEM.