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Czechs need the Constitution

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The debate which has been raging over the Constitutional Treaty elsewhere in Europe does not seem to have reached the Czech Republic, writes MEP Jana Hybášková

A recent opinion poll by the Czech Centre for Research of Public Opinion (CVVM) has confirmed that, despite alleged Czech euroscepticism, more than 50 percent of the interviewed public would vote in favour of the adoption of the EU Constitution, compared with only around 25 percent that would vote against. However, a big question mark hangs over whether any referendum will be organised at all. This is because the pro-Constitution government now in office enjoys such low popular support that it is uncertain whether it will be still in place in mid-2006 to organise one. Moreover, the camp of Constitution opponents, led by the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) currently in opposition in the Czech parliament, campaigns openly against the Constitution. Given that ODS’s public support has recently reached around 40 percent, its motivation to hold a referendum on the Constitution has waned as the possibility of rejecting it in the Czech parliament after possible early elections has grown.

The anti-camp

Even if the referendum finally takes place, the debate about the Constitution risks being strongly influenced by the widespread indifference of the Czech media and institutions to this crucial issue. It is alarming that around 60 percent of the population claim that they have not been at all informed about the Constitution, and yet it is still almost impossible to get hold of a copy of the Constitutional Treaty in the Czech Republic. Even if it is mentioned in the Czech media, it is often the opponents who have their say and who limit themselves to making declarations about the Constitution’s alleged negatives for the Republic. A discussion about what the important issues are for citizens and what the Constitution means to them has not yet taken place. In order to counter-act this unacceptable state of affairs I have launched a website to make the Constitutional debate more balanced. Visitors can interact online and ask questions concerning the Constitution, and even sign a petition exposing the main advantages that it will bring to the Czech Republic.

Why yes?

The reasons to support the Constitutional Treaty are sound: It will replace existing EU Treaties which have been in place in various forms for the last fifty years, thereby clarifying and simplifying the rules governing the EU. It also provides wider citizens’ rights protection and a more effective application of the responsibilities conferred to the EU by the member states. By adopting the Constitution, the Czech Republic does not transfer to the EU level more authority than it has already done when signing the EU Accession Treaty. Rather, it reinforces the position of EU institutions to act and defend the competences it has vis-à-vis the rest of the world. It follows that the adoption of the Constitution is an important step in the Czech Republic’s history. It gives us the opportunity to take part in the definition and promotion of European values and norms, particularly as it will limit the powers of the bigger players.

The European Constitution is thus an opportunity for the Czech Republic, not a threat. Those who support it refuse to remain on the sidelines of Europe. They refuse to miss this historic occasion to cooperate in the creation of a space of freedom, law and justice in Europe by welcoming the chance to work together in the construction and application of European values. They are conscious of the numerous shortcomings contained in the Treaty, but they are also prepared to collaborate with others on eliminating them. They are not afraid that we will not succeed in Europe where the same rules apply equally to all. Fear has never been a positive guiding force in the history of the Czech Republic. The same applies today.