Geopolitics

The E.U. Has Become More Popular Among Czechs, Narrowing Andrej Babiš’ Path to a Comeback

The former premier’s euroskeptic stance and legal problems look likely to keep him out of the presidential office

Presidential candidate and former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš addresses reporters Monday in Pruhonice, Czech Republic. (MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images)

Czechs will choose their next president in two days of voting this week, with former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, a devoted euroskeptic, leading a three-way field of top contenders — but improving views of the European Union and ongoing legal troubles have blunted his appeal, casting doubts on his ability to prevail in a runoff.

political intelligence
Czech Views of European Union Trended More Favorable in 2022

Net favorability* of the European Union, Ukraine and Russia among Czech adults

*Net favorability is the share with a favorable view minus the share with an unfavorable view.
Surveys conducted each month in 2022 among a representative sample of at least 197 Czech adults, with unweighted margins of error +/- 4 to 7 percentage points.
  • Views of the European Union improved rapidly among Czechs after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, and ended the year 21 percentage points higher in terms of net favorability — the share with a favorable view minus the share with an unfavorable view — though the multilateral bloc is still a fairly divisive topic.
  • Net favorability toward Ukraine actually fell in the first five months of the war, but recovered in the autumn and winter as energy markets stabilized and many refugees there left for destinations further west or returned home to Ukraine. That said, Ukraine is still quite unpopular, with 55% of Czechs holding an unfavorable view of it in December. 
  • Russia’s reputation, meanwhile, deteriorated further, with an unfavorable rating that increased from 63% in January to 78% in December, a clear reflection of the fear and disgust Czechs feel toward their former Warsaw Pact overlords in the wake of the invasion and ensuing human rights abuses. 

Babiš likely to win first round, but ruling pro-Western coalition favored to prevail

Babiš’ term as prime minister drew many comparisons to then-U.S. President Donald Trump as the billionaire media and industry magnate railed against European migration policies and portrayed himself as a man of the people, despite growing up in relative privilege in Paris and Geneva. And much like Trump, his time out of office has been dominated by multiple legal imbroglios — problems that he could kick down the road by winning the presidency and accompanying legal immunity. 

Despite his controversial premiership, he remains one of the nation’s most popular politicians, and looks likely to take the lead in the first round of presidential elections with about 28% of the vote. Czech outlet Seznam Zprávy’s polling found a 40% plurality prefers a president with a neutral geopolitical stance, compared with 34% who want a president with the pro-Western stance of Petr Fiala, the current prime minister who handles day-to-day governance in the Czech system. 

Sonnet Frisbie, Morning Consult’s managing director for geopolitical risk analysis in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the subject of Ukrainian refugees — 476,000 of whom remain in the country according to the UNHCR, the third-highest figure in Europe — has also loomed large in Czech politics in 2022. 

“There has been a lot of anxiety over the burden on social services after the initial wave of refugees arrived, but that may play less of a role in political discourse as many refugees move into Germany and other E.U. countries,” she said. 

And as the war in Ukraine has shifted voter perceptions more in favor of Brussels, the same positions that once boosted  Babiš’ political career now seem to be compounding the damage to his reputation caused by his legal problems. Ahead of the first round of elections on Friday and Saturday, polling averages show that either of the two candidates supported by the incumbent government will beat Babiš in the second round by around 20 percentage points.