In Czechia, combustion engines and migration in the spotlight

In the next of a series of articles discussing an important weekend of elections for the emerging Europe region, Jana Juzová looks at Czechia, where populists were the clear winners.

The European Parliament moved to the right last weekend and results in Czechia were no exception. ANO, the main opposition party of former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, came out of the election as the winner with 26 per cent of votes and seven mandates in Brussels, followed by the centre-right SPOLU coalition comprised of the ruling Civic Democrats (ODS), Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and the TOP 09 party with 22 per cent and six MEPs.

A surprise came in the shape of the third and fourth place obtained by populist Přísaha a Motoristé (Oath and Motorists) coalition and the Stačilo! (Enough!) coalition led by the Communist party, both receiving around 10 per cent of the votes translated into two mandates in the parliament. They were followed by the Mayors’ party (STAN), which is part of the government coalition, also with two mandates.

Two more parties managed to pass the five per cent threshold and will be represented by one MEP—the liberal and progressive Pirate party and the (until now) dominant far-right party Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD).

The results clearly show that the winner of Czechia’s European election is the populist ANO party, which managed to defend its first place from 2019 but also secure one more mandate. The main surprise, however, was the success of the EU-critical Přísaha a Motoristé and Stačilo! and the drop in support for SPD.

Přísaha and Motoristé, led by a former Formula 1 driver and car enthusiast Filip Turek, centered their campaign primarily around rather narrow opposition to the European Green Deal and the phase-out of internal combustion engines.

The coalition is also strongly against adopting the euro as the national currency, against migration and any reform of the EU’s voting procedures which would lead to limiting the country’s veto power. Similarly, Stačilo! succeeded with its nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric but the coalition also claimed it wanted to remove from power the current government led by the Civic Democrats. The spike in support among voters can thus be viewed as their expression of dissatisfaction with the ruling parties.

Pirates all at sea

The “biggest loser” of the election was the Pirate party which lost two seats in the European Parliament despite the fact that its MEPs were among the most active ones in the Czech representation.

The loss of the Pirates, who are part of the Green political group in the parliament, reflects two trends—the growing popular demand for conservative and right-wing representation associated with dominant topics such as security, migration, or economic competitiveness; and the deepening crisis of the Czech progressive left.

The centre-left Social Democrats, the oldest Czech political party, has been struggling with decreasing support since 2010s, becoming practically non-existent after the party formed a coalition with ANO party in 2017. In last weekend’s elections, the now re-branded SOCDEM party received less than two per cent of the votes as social topics were appropriated by populist, far-right and extreme-left parties, offering radical and seemingly simple solutions to the citizens’ problems.

Furthermore, the populist and right-wing parties, together with disinformation channels, have closely associated the Pirate party with the most polarising topics in Czech society—such as the Green Deal, migration or gender and LGBT+ rights.

Looking towards 2025

While the results of the election are important as they will define the Czech contribution to EU decision-making, in the context of the Czech Republic they also served as the litmus test for political parties prior to the parliamentary elections coming up in autumn 2025.

The turnout in the election increased significantly compared to previous European election in 2019, from 28.72 per cent to 36.45 per cent. However, according to the available data, this change occurred mainly due to the increased interest in voting among Czech citizens from the countryside and with only a primary level of education.

As the election results show, the “new” voters tended to vote more for parties that are critical towards the EU or openly anti-EU and were mobilised by concrete polarising topics such as migration and the Green Deal.

However, as the example of Stačilo! shows, the results also indicate that many Czechs approached the election as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the current government and with the country’s membership in the Union which in their opinion poses a threat to Czechia’s national interests.

In the view of the upcoming parliamentary elections, the results thus delivered the message that the demand from the population favours conservative and right-wing parties, turning away from progressive liberal forces, and that the support for extremists is becoming more fragmented than it was before.

The question is whether the centre-right parties will manage to benefit from this fragmentation, successfully address and communicate the topics resonating in the Czech society and stand united in order to fight the populist and extremist threat.

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