Czech Republic (Ceská republika)
A PDF of this resource can be accessed here.
During the Cold War, Czechoslovakia was under communist rule and was an ally of the USSR through the Warsaw Pact. Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the people of Czechoslovakia overthrew their communist government in what was dubbed the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 1989. Although Czechoslovakia remained a single country after the revolution, the tensions between the majority Czech and minority Slovak populations made this situation unsustainable. On 1 January 1993, the two countries separated in a peaceful ‘Velvet divorce’.
As an independent state, the Czech Republic set about adapting to the democratic liberal economic system. Under the presidency of revolutionary democratic leader Václav Havel, the Czech Republic initially made the most rapid development, leading to NATO membership in 1999. It was also the first former Eastern Bloc state to be given the status of a developed economy. However, following serious economic problems and a government reluctant to reform under President Vladimír Merčiar during the 1990s, its progress slowed.
The Czech Republic is a parliamentary republic. The Head of State is the President, currently Miloš Zeman of the centre-left Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD). He served as Prime Minister from 1998 and 2002. Zeman is the third President of the country, but the first who is directly elected. The President has some limited political powers, and is elected for five-year terms. The Czech Parliament has two chambers, the Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecká sněmovna) which has 200 members, and the Senate, which has 81 members. The members of the Chamber of Deputies are elected by a system of proportional representation every four years. Most political power rests with the Prime Minister and his cabinet. In March 2009, the Czech government collapsed after Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek lost a vote of no confidence. This had considerable implications for the EU because the Czech Republic was halfway through its six-month EU Council Presidency. The country was led by an interim government with Jan Fischer as Prime Minister until July 2010, when the current government took office, led by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD). Since January 2014, he leads a centre-left coalition government with the centre parties ANO 2011 and the Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party.
Czechoslovakia: Key Facts
• Capital: Prague
• Population: 11 million (2014)
• % of total EU population: 2.1%
• Official languages: Czech
• Year of EU accession: 2004
• Currency: Czech koruna (CZK)
• Schengen Area member: Yes, since 2007
• Seats in European Parliament: 21
Relations with the EU
Membership of the European Union was a key goal of the Czech government. To this end, it underwent major reforms in the 1990s to make its economy more competitive, including reform of the labour market and privatisation of state industries.
However, the Czech government has not been afraid to have a critical voice within the EU. Former Czech President Václav Klaus, for example, was an outspoken critic of the EU Constitution and halted the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty after the Irish rejected it at a referendum in 2008. Klaus was the last Head of State to sign the Treaty into law in 2009 after securing an opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights for the Czech Republic. President Klaus also refused to fly the EU flag over Prague castle during the Czech Republic’s six-month Presidency of the EU Council between January and June 2009. The Czech Republic was the second of the ten member states that joined the EU in 2004 to hold the presidency. The priorities of the Czech presidency were ‘the three Es’, economy, energy and external relations.
In 2007, the Czech Republic became part of the Schengen Convention allowing visa-free movement across national borders. However, the Czech Republic has not been particularly keen to join the Euro, and is not expected to adopt the single currency anytime soon.
In March 2012, the Czech Republic was one of only two EU member states, along with the UK, to refuse to sign the EU’s fiscal compact treaty which enforces budget discipline, citing ‘constitutional reasons’ to explain their refusal.
Facts and Figures
• The Czech Republic has a highly industrialised economy. Its major exports include automotives and electrical goods.
• Hills and mountains cover approximately 95% of the Czech Republic’s land area.
“Without free, self-respecting, and autonomous citizens there can be no free and independent nations. Without internal peace, that is, peace among citizens and between the citizens and the state, there can be no guarantee of external peace” –Václav Havel, former President of Czechoslovakia, 1993-2003.
Coalition: a formal agreement between political parties to share power in government.
Privatisation: the transfer of companies from state ownership to private control.
Proportional representation: electoral system where the overall number of votes determines the distribution of seats.
PPS: GDP per head is expressed in Purchasing Power Standards (PPS) to eliminate the differences in price levels between countries allowing meaningful volume comparisons of GDP between countries.