In the immediate aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, there were fears in the corridors of Brussels that it would trigger a so-called ‘domino effect’. Many predicted that other Eurosceptic nations would follow Britain’s lead, unravelling the European project which took 65 years to build. More than one year after the Brexit vote, spirits in Brussels are relatively high. The popular European federalist, Guy Verhofstadt, is even hailing a ‘reverse domino-effect’.
However, over the weekend, a little-noticed political earthquake struck the Czech Republic as Andrej Babiš, a Trump-style populist billionaire, led his ‘Action for Dissatisfied Citizens’ party to victory in the country’s legislative election. The 63-year-old tycoon, who built his campaign on opposition to mass migration and Eurozone membership, secured 78 of the 101 seats required for a majority in the lower house. The Czech President, Milos Zeman, has vowed to install Babiš as prime minister but the new leader must now find coalition partners in order to ensure stable government.
One option could be the Eurosceptic liberal-conservatives, who came second with 25 seats. However, the party’s leader has emphatically ruled out talks, preferring instead to remain in opposition. The centre-left Social Democrats, who won just 15 seats, and the Christian Democrats have expressed an interest in entering negotiations but both insist that Babiš must not personally take a seat in government.
Torturous negotiations are now underway in Prague and, as they progress, alarms bells will surely be ringing in Brussels. Andrej Babiš’ victory is being viewed as the biggest populist triumph since Brexit. Despite advocating continued Czech membership of the EU, Babiš looks set to pose a significant challenge to the Brussels establishment. Indeed, he appears to be reflecting the mood of the country. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, the Czech Republic has the second lowest level of public trust in the EU after Greece. In the hours following the election result, Babiš was already proposing that his country build alliances beyond the Visegrád Group. In particular, he highlighted the need to challenge the European Council’s approach to migration.
This new, uncertain political reality has resulted in the Czech Republic becoming installed as the 7/2 favourite to be the next country to leave the EU. Could we now be witnessing the first signs of the Brexit ‘domino effect’?