Populist Andrej Babiš has been painted as a Czech Donald Trump who is ready to join forces with Poland and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán in taking down the EU.
Mr Babiš is set to storm to victory in the Czech election today and tomorrow amid speculation that he could bring the bloc to the brink of collapse.
But although Babiš has railed against EU migration policy and the eurozone, there are signs he may not be as Eurosceptic as Brussels fears.
Seán Hanley, a senior lecturer in comparative Central East European politics at UCL, said that Mr Babis is almost certain to become the next Czech Prime Minister.
“Media commentary has painted Babiš as a ‘Czech Trump’, a nationalistic, anti-EU populist itching to team up extremist parties to tip yet another Central European country on a path toward illiberal democracy,” he said.
Mr Hanley said that he has turned against the euro, “harrumphed” against EU migration policies and used fear of refugees to play to public opinion.
“But look more carefully and we find that Babiš is no hard Eurosceptic, Mr Hanley said.
“Despite the blunt confrontational language, his Euroscepticism is, in substance, little different from that of most Czech mainstream parties and designed partly to placate public opinion.
“As the head of a big conglomerate in a small country, he unsurprisingly favours EU market, scientific and infrastructural integration, rules out introducing the euro only for the time being, and chaffs against overly-bureaucratic regulation potentially constraining national sovereignty and competitiveness.
“Although not without a sinister authoritarian streak, Babiš’s power-hungry technocratic populist vision is, in short, more a mix of Harvard Business School and nomenklatura capitalism, than the counter-cultural, anti-Western conservative nationalism on show in Hungary or Poland.”
Mr Babiš is a plain spoken anti-establishment figure but his technocratic impulses are clear in the way that he has vowed to run the Czech Republic “like a family firm”.
Mr Hanley said: “Despite wishful British Eurosceptic thinking, however, Babiš lacks both the ideology and, in all probability, the political reach to be a Czech Orbán or a Czech Trump.”
The EU fears that the Czech Republic could become as confrontational as Poland and Hungary – two other members of the Visegrád Group alliance in central Europe.
But Emily Mansfield, Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said that Mr Babiš’ Eurosceptic rhetoric in the run up to the election was “posturing”.
She said: “Babiš is a very pragmatic person and he is aware it is an effective way to appeal to the public.
“However, he himself has significant business interests in the EU, particularly in Germany. He’s not going to jeopardise the link at all.”
The charismatic politician set up his own movement called ANO and served as the Czech foreign minister until he was forced out in May amid a spat with the Prime Minister.
The ANO is currently in a dysfunctional three-way coalition with their main rival the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Christian Democrats.