'Czexit' debate possible: Czech PM

PRAGUE • The Czech Prime Minister said he expects a debate on his country leaving the European Union (EU) if Britain chooses to quit the 28-member bloc in a June referendum.

Three-fifths of Czechs said they were unhappy with EU membership and 62 per cent said they would vote against it in a referendum, according to an October 2015 poll by the STEM agency.

"If Britain leaves the EU, we can expect debates about leaving the EU in a few years too," Mr Bohuslav Sobotka told the CTK news agency on Tuesday. On June 23, Britain will hold a referendum on whether to stay in the EU.

"The impact may be really huge," he said, adding that a "Czexit" could trigger an economic and security downturn and a return to the Russian sphere of influence.

The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004.

Former Czech president Vaclav Klaus, a staunch eurosceptic who served between 2003 and 2013, was long seen as the major force fuelling anti-EU sentiment in the country of 10.5 million people.

Euroscepticism there is currently linked to the refugee and migrant crisis, with surveys showing a majority of Czechs oppose accepting refugees and migrants, even though most asylum seekers head to other EU states.

Leftist Czech President Milos Zeman has voiced fiery anti-migrant rhetoric, even insisting that it was "practically impossible" to integrate the Muslim community into European society.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2016, with the headline ''Czexit' debate possible: Czech PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe