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Czech election taps into popular discontent with EU refugee policy

October 21, 2017 - CZECH REPUBLIC

The Czech Republic elects its 200-seat chamber of deputies after months of anti-immigration and anti-European Union campaigning by the main two parties.

Two parties in the governing coalition, the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) led by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, and ANO, led by Andrej Babis, are entering the election as rivals. Former finance minister and billionaire Babis is widely seen as the next prime minister, leading a government likely to take a harder line on immigration and EU relations.

In 2016 Czech President Milos Zeman called for the Czech Republic to hold a referendum on European Union and NATO membership following Britain's shock vote to leave the EU, according to Reuters. The present government rebuffed the suggestion, but the call might receive a second look by the new government.

The migration issue appears to have blinded Czechs to the economic benefits that EU membership has delivered. The country has experienced rapid economic growth since it joined the bloc in 2004. It also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the Union -- 3.2 per cent in March.

Only 23 per cent of Czechs think that the country should help refugees, according to a Mar 2017 survey reported by the European Observer. The publication also reports the latest Eurobarometer survey, which shows that only 33 percent of Czechs think that the country's membership of the EU is a good thing.

Citing security concerns, according to Reuters, the government announced it will halt taking in migrants under the EU relocation scheme. Under a plan agreed in 2015, the European Commission wants EU member states to each admit a quota from a total of 160,000 asylum seekers stuck in the two Mediterranean countries of Italy and Greece. Several EU members have protested the decision and some have refused to take in any people under the scheme.

Czech government rejects president's call for referendum on EU, NATO (Reuters Jul 2016)

Czech Leader, in Power Struggle With Rival, Offers Resignation (NYT May 2017)

Anti-EU rhetoric props up Czech election race (EU Observer Jun 2017)

Date written/update: 2017-06-16