Comparing Euroscepticism in Poland and the Czech Republic

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

15 Pages, Grade: A


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Development of Euroscepticism
2.1 Poland
2.2 The Czech Republic

3. Reasons for Eurosceptic tendencies
3.1 The EU accession-process
3.2 Transition losers
3.3 Independence and influence in Europe
3.4 The ‘German Factor’

4. Conclusion


“Shortly after the revolutions of 1989, the idea of ‘Europe’ became an all-embracing concept, which united the political elites and the masses in their burning desire to join the European Union (EU). ‘Return to Europe’ was one of the main slogans in the early 1990s. At that time, it was difficult to find a political party or movement that would seriously consider alternatives to joining the EU in its existing form; the mass public was overwhelmingly positive too. Now, more than a decade after the transitions, and shortly before the possible accession to the EU of the ECE countries, the picture appears to be radically different. Debates between and within parties are getting more intense, and criticism of the EU is growing. Moreover, as various public opinion polls indicate, mass support for EU membership has been declining as well.”[1]

1. Introduction

The enlargement of the European Union is scheduled for May 2004, only a few weeks from today. While all the political treaties are signed, the accession parties are prepared as big media events and the decision of ten new members entering the Union is widely accepted, there are quite a few issues that have not been discussed thoroughly enough yet; and public opinion as well as party politics do show some traces of Euroscepticism here and there. Although the mainstream voice in the Western countries is warmly welcoming their neighbours to the East, fears of economic loss through their entrance are keeping publics in the ‘old’ member states critical concerning the future. The new members to the East on the other hand are regularly portrayed as welcoming the idea of joining the Union without even the slightest concerns – not only by the media but also by numerous scholars. After all, it’s them who will profit from the enlargement. They almost seem desperate. This essay will show however that Euroscepticism is not a purely Western phenomenon. Publics in the candidate countries do have fears and concerns that often overshadow their genuine approval of the European integration process as well as their Western neighbours. These public opinions are also mirrored in party-based Euroscepticism that in some countries even raised single-issue-anti-EU parties.

This essay will now focus on two countries that encompass two completely different types of Euroscepticism. First, there is Poland, which has always been seen as the country wanting to join the European Union the most desperately. The former hurry of Poland makes the existence of Euroscepticism in the country even more interesting. “[…] until recently, the idea of a ‘Polish Eurosceptic’ was something of an oxymoron.”[2] The second country taken in as an example of Central/Eastern-European Euroscepticism will be the Czech Republic where Euroscepticism is based on much more practical and political facts compared to Poland’s – even if understandable – rather emotional reasons.

In the following analysis, a distinction between hard and soft Euroscepticism will be made. This approach follows the differentiation Aleks Szczerbiak of the Sussex European Institute has introduced in 2001. The former, also called principled Euroscepticism, encompasses outright rejection of the EU integration project and is in opposition to the respective country’s joining or staying in the Union.[3]

“In reality such a position is too abstract to be applicable. In practice hard Euroscepticism can be identified by the principled objection to the current form of European integration in the EU. The principled objection comes from belief that the EU is counter to deeply held values or, more likely, is the embodiment of negative values. Examples of this would be the objection that the EU is too liberal/capitalist/socialist.”[4]

The latter, frequently termed contingent Euroscepticism as well, can be either concerning the policies or the national interest. Policy Eurosceptics are pro-EU but oppose deeper European integration and greater powers for Brussels. In practice, they object, for example, to particular provisions of the Maastricht treaty and the adoption of the Euro. National-interest Eurosceptics assert the primacy of national interests in EU debates. Both forms of soft-boiled scepticism are, however, compatible with support for the principle of integration. While hard Euroscepticism would not allow any European integration, soft Euroscepticism remains “compatible with the spirit of the EU project”[5] because it’s qualified rather than absolute and therefore resolvable through negotiations. Further distinction has to be made between party-based and public opinion Euroscepticism.

In chapter two, this essay will take a closer look on the development of Euroscepticism in Central and Eastern Europe, focussing on the countries mentioned. Figures will be given to prove its existence and after some general numbers, the manifestation of Euroscepticism in Poland (2.1) and the Czech Republic (2.2) will be examined closer by looking at election results and the seatings in parliament. Chapter three is divided into four sections exploring different possible reasons for Euroscepticism in the respective states. In the end, a conclusion will be drawn (4).

2. Development of Euroscepticism

Zsofia Szilagyi, at that time a PhD candidate at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, has taken a closer look at the developments of Euroscepticism in Central and Eastern Europe and sees a distinctive change over time, already when the prospect of accession was announced for the first time:

“Throughout the 1990s, one attitude united the differing opinions of the vast majority of Central and Eastern Europeans: that entry into the EU should be a prime national goal. But while governments in the region have welcomed the announcement that eight post-communist countries might join by 2004, there has been a striking erosion of public support in many countries.”[6]

Analysing the most recent Eurobarometer polls makes a clear point of the fact that Euroscepticism is not a Western phenomenon anymore at all. As figure one shows, the most euro-positive (Luxemburg) as well as the most sceptical country (Great Britain) are old members while the second most embracing (Romania) and the second most critical (Estonia) are new members of the European Union. “The proportion of those who consider membership in the EU as a good thing and the proportion that judges it a bad thing is practically the same in the present member states and in the new enlarged EU.”[7]

Figure 1: Euroscepticism and Euro-optimism

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Eurobarometer 59, Comparative Highlight Report, 2003

2.1 Poland

While the Czechs have been much more sceptical all the time, traditionally, Poland has had one of the highest levels of EU membership support, but “the number of Poles that would vote yes in a referendum on EU membership has steadily declined since the application was formally submitted in 1994.”[8] While 77% of the questioned people in June 1994 supported the idea, only 59% did so in November 1999. In the same period of time, the number of opponents has risen from 6% to 26%.[9] The prospect of EU membership has provoked anxieties throughout all levels of the Polish population, even among the supposedly Euro-enthusiast majority.[10] Taking a closer look at Polish politics, one can see the emergence of two clearly Eurosceptic parties in parliament – the League of Polish Families and Self-Defence. The existence of these parties has brought about a change in public opinion through enhancing a public debate in general. "The fact that those opposition parties feel the need to be critical of the government's position at all times has undermined the pro-European consensus," said Jacek Kucharczyk, the deputy director of the Warsaw-based Institute of Public Affairs.[11] The numbers of opinion polls and the change in public debate is not outright worrying though. Taggart/Szczerbiak are commenting on the last election for Poland’s lower chamber and see no votes for hard Euroscepticism and 12,9% for the soft version.[12] This means, most Poles are still in favour of joining the European Union. Only, “[…] Poles are becoming increasingly sceptical about whether or not (and by how much) they will actually benefit from EU membership compared with current Member States.”[13] In the first half of the 1990s, “there was political consensus in Poland on the desirability of quick accession to both the EU and NATO, encompassing the post-communist left, the centrists, and the right.”[14] But while Poland’s entry into the NATO in March 1999 was only opposed by one small Catholic organisation, namely the Nasze Kolo (Our Circle), EU-accession seems to face more resistance lately. In the parliamentary elections in September 1997, several parties or factions of those took soft Eurosceptic stances. Among them the Catholic-nationalist Christian National Union party that even became one of the main government coalition partners. The role of the catholic church is a factor and reason for Euroscepticism unique to Poland in this comparison. Fundamentalist Catholicism in Poland damns the European Union to be “allegedly materialist, secular, and "cosmopolitan". Once Poland becomes a member, this argument runs, the national and religious identity of the Polish people will be destroyed.”[15] This attitude is enhanced by the famous Radio Maryja, a nation-wide network that reaches as many as 4 million regular listeners and enjoys a virtual monopoly over Catholic broadcasting in Poland. The daily newspapers Nasz Dziennik (Our Daily) and Nasza Polska (Our Poland) joined the radio-station in election campaigns and secured parliamentary seats for the League of Polish Families. In addition to the religious groupings opposing the European Union, there were the Polish Peasant Party with 7,3% of the votes and the Movement for Poland’s Reconstruction, winning 5,6% of the votes.[16] In the presidential elections in October 2000, EU-opponents did not gather more than ten percent of the votes altogether. Parliamentary elections in September 2001 gave more room for Euroscepticism though. The League of Polish Families, a grassroots Catholic coalition that put its main emphasis during the election campaign against EU-accession, won 8 percent of the vote and therefore got 38 seats in parliament. The second anti-EU party in Poland, the radical farmers’ organisation Self-Defence, even managed to receive ten percent of the vote, 53 seats.[17] The picture in Polish parliament has changed significantly; today,

“only two parties with seats in the current parliament can be viewed as unequivocally pro-EU: the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which is the senior party in Poland's governing coalition, and the opposition Civic Platform (PO). Between them, those two parties control 265 of the 460 parliamentary seats.”[18]

Parliament therefore mirrors public opinion very well, which, as Eurobarometer shows, is facing declining support for the EU-membership.


[1] Kopecký/Mudde, 2002, 298

[2] Szczerbiak, 2001, 106

[3] Taggart/Szczerbiak, 2001, 10

[4] Taggart/Szczerbiak, 2001, 10

[5] Lees, 2002, 250

[6] Szilagyi,

[7] European Commission, 20031, 3

[8] Szczerbiak, 2001, 107

[9] Szczerbiak, 2001, 107

[10] Szczerbiak, 2001, 107

[11] Szilagyi,

[12] Taggart/Szczerbiak, 2004, 20

[13] Szczerbiak, 2001, 107

[14] Jasiewicz,

[15] Jasiewicz,

[16] Taggart, Szczerbiak, 2001, 18

[17] Jasiewicz,

[18] Jasiewicz,

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Comparing Euroscepticism in Poland and the Czech Republic
Charles University in Prague  (Sociology Faculty)
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Comparing, Euroscepticism, Poland, Czech, Republic
Quote paper
Birte Müller-Heidelberg (Author), 2004, Comparing Euroscepticism in Poland and the Czech Republic, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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