(Clarifies that Pirates would weaken their alignment with Visegrad rather than step back from the group, in paragraph 2)
By Jan Lopatka
PRAGUE (Reuters) -The Czech Republic should foster closer ties with the more liberal members of the European Union and take steps toward adopting the euro, opposition Pirates Party chairman Ivan Bartos said on Friday, ahead of next month’s parliamentary election.
Bartos, 41, a dreadlocked software engineer, wants the country to some extent weaken its links with its Visegrad Four (V4) group partners Hungary and Poland due to their democratic failings and look for alternative alliances.
“The Czech Republic should aim toward the liberal western Europe,” Bartos told Reuters in an interview.
He said he valued the benefits of cooperation in culture, education and transport of being in the V4, which also includes Slovakia.
However, “in the European context you do not want to be in a group of countries where the interests of (Hungarian prime minister Viktor) Orban win, with authoritarian tendencies, where human rights are clipped, where people are bullied for different sexual orientation, both in Hungary and Poland,” he said.
The Pirates Party has been in parliament since 2017, focussing on transparency, direct democracy, e-government or legalisation of cannabis. It describes itself as liberal-progressive.
It has frequently clashed with Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who it accuses of putting personal business interests ahead of the country.
The Pirates’ European views set them apart from Babis who campaigns on defending sovereignty from Brussels and has friendly relations with Orban.
It is running in a coalition with the centrist STAN party as one of two opposition groups hoping to unseat Babis in the Oct. 8-9 election.
The Pirates/STAN coalition shot to the top of opinion polls in the spring when the government came under fire for its handling of the pandemic.
It has since dropped to third place, behind Babis’s populist ANO party and the opposition centre-right coalition SPOLU (Together), but Bartos said he believed the party has turned the corner and would be the stronger partner in a new administration.
He said a Pirate-led government should revive plans to adopt the euro, shelved after the 2008 financial crisis, by joining the European Exchange Mechanism (ERM-2), a waiting room where a country must stay for at least two years while keeping its currency stable and its budgetary deficit and public debt under control.
“The commitment is to get (budget deficit) under 3%, meet the Maastricht criteria (for euro adoption) and get into the ERM-2,” he said.
Such a move would be tough sell for the eurosceptic Civic Democrats who lead the Together coalition.
Bartos said his party would review a tender process for a new bloc at CEZ’s (CEZP.PR) Dukovany nuclear power plant, which the government plans to open after the election.
“This includes a price cap and involvement of Czech industry as well as research,” he said, adding that China and Russia would remain excluded on security grounds.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Mike Harrison)