Czech PM: No intention of holding EU, NATO membership referendum

Milos Zeman has no power to call a referendum, which would require a constitutional amendment.

FILE: Czech Republic flag. Picture: Supplied.

PRAGUE - Czech President Milos Zeman has called for the Czech Republic to hold a referendum on its membership of the European Union and NATO following Britain's shock vote to leave the EU, though he said he backed his country staying in both organisations.

Zeman has no power to call a referendum, which would require a constitutional amendment. But he is an influential leader in a country where many voters are sceptical about the EU, which the Czech Republic joined in 2004.

"I disagree with those who are for leaving the European Union," Czech Radio quoted Zeman as saying at a meeting with citizens in the eastern Czech town of Velke Mezirici on Thursday evening.

"But I will do everything for them to have a referendum and be able to express themselves. And the same goes for a NATO exit too," the centre-left president added.

The EU is struggling to contain the political and economic fallout of Britain's decision last week to leave the bloc. The British vote has rocked global financial markets, emboldened eurosceptic forces across Europe and raised concerns that other member states may consider leaving the EU.

In the Czech Republic, satisfaction with EU membership fell to 25 percent in an April survey by the CVVM institute, down from 32 percent the year before.

In neighbouring Slovakia, the far-right People's Party plans to launch a petition on Friday to hold referenda on that country's EU and NATO membership.

Hungary plans no referendum on its EU membership but the chief of staff to Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday he would vote to leave or would abstain if one were ever held.

The EU's handling of the migrant crisis over the past year has angered many voters in ex-communist eastern Europe, where some governments have refused to accept migrant quotas set by the European Commission.


Zeman has been a particularly vocal opponent of taking in migrants, most of whom are Muslim and have fled conflicts or poverty in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.

In the Czech parliament, the small opposition far-right Usvit (Dawn) party pushed for a referendum on leaving the EU in May, but failed to win support for the plan. The EU is also unpopular among the Communists, the third strongest party in parliament, and some in the conservative Civic Democratic Party.

But any EU referendum would require a constitutional amendment, needing to pass with 60 percent of the vote in both houses of parliament.

As Czech prime minister in 1998-2002 Zeman helped to prepare his country for EU membership, along with other ex-communist states.

As president he has stirred concerns in some Western capitals for holding pro-Russian views in the Ukraine conflict, although the Czech government, which runs foreign policy, has strictly upheld the EU policy of sanctions against Moscow.

Zeman won the Czech Republic's first-ever direct presidential election in 2013 and faces re-election in 2018.