* The First Year of Membership of the Czech Republic in the European Union through the Public Eye

On 1 May 2004, the Czech Republic became a fully-fledged member of the European Union. At the same time, another 9 states made the same step and the European Union enlarged to the current 25 member states. At present, the European integration process is considered for further continuation – Bulgaria and Romania already signed the accession treaty. Citizens decided in a referendum on the accession of our country.

The referendum was held in June 2003 and the population of the Czech Republic expressed their agreement or disagreement with the following question: “Do you agree with the Czech Republic becoming a member state of the European Union pursuant to the treaty on the accession of the Czech Republic to the European Union?” An absolute majority of the Czech electorate answered the question in the above referendum (55%) and in their opinions the agreement with the membership prevailed markedly over the disagreement. At that time, 77.33% of the Czech electorate voiced their “Yes” to the European Union.

Centrum pro výzkum veřejného mínění SOÚ AV ČR (Centre for Public Opinion Research of the Sociological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic) treated issues surrounding the European Union in more detail in its regular investigation implemented in May 2005. The investigation was to answer, among other things, the question whether the Euro-optimistic standpoint that the voters expressed in the referendum still prevails in Czech society; in what way we view the unified Europe project and what changes occurred during the year of our membership.

Let us first examine how the Czechs were and are satisfied with membership in the European Union. We may demonstrate this using data acquired either shortly before incorporation into European structures (in March 2004) and then approximately after one year of membership (in May 2005).

As is apparent, the Czechs are a relatively satisfied European nation. If we only include respondents in our analysis that managed to answer the question (i.e. those who leaned towards one or other side), the satisfaction with membership of our country in the European Union is expressed by three quarters of Czech residents above 15 years of age. The fact that the share of satisfied respondents is similar in size to the share of the electorate who voted in favour of the accession of the Czech Republic into the European Union in June 2003 is somewhat appealing. The issue therefore suggests itself whether indeed these are the same people who gave a positive answer in the referendum. Let us now compare answers to the question about whether the respondent did or did not participate in the referendum and, as the case may be, how he/she voted in it, and what attitude towards the European Union he/she holds at present. Have voters changed their attitudes or, as the above results suggest, has the division of positive and negative attitudes in Czech society remained more or less preserved?

Respondents who voted in favour of the accession of the Czech Republic into the European Union in the referendum are, to a much greater degree, satisfied with our membership in this organisation. Dissatisfaction with the membership was expressed only by 5% of residents who supported the accession into the European Union at that time. To the contrary, voters voting against the accession in the referendum are much more frequently dissatisfied than satisfied. Dissatisfaction with membership in the European Union rules among 84% of those who voted against the accession in the referendum. A noteworthy group are voters who did not participate in the referendum for whatever reason. Even these are satisfied with membership in the European Union for the most part (satisfaction was expressed by almost 60% of them). High degree of satisfaction is also characteristic of respondents who did not have right to vote when the referendum happened. Out of these, 95% currently expresses satisfaction with the membership.

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