Since joining the European Union 13 years ago, the Czech Republic has become the richest country in the formerly communist east, with a higher living standard than older members Portugal and Greece and the lowest unemployment in the 28 -member bloc. Families travel freely, students analyse abroad, and business thrive by exporting to other EU countries. And yet Czechs are less excited than any other European nation about being part of the club: Merely a third say that being an EU member is” a good thing “– lower than the crisis-stricken Greeks and the Brexiting Brits–and merely a quarter or so want to adopt the euro, according to recent Eurobarometer surveys.” The EU doesn't bring me anything ,” says Pavel Ricka, a 38 -year-old lawyer from Prague.” It's headed by politicians with very socialist guessing. They want to regulate everything .”

That euroskepticism will shape general elections in October and threatens to nudge the Czech Republic toward the kind of isolationism sweeping neighbours Poland and Hungary. Opinion polls dedicate a wide lead to Andrej Babis, a Slovak-born billionaire who crashed the Czech political scene in 2011 and has gained popularity by painting traditional parties as corrupt and incompetent. Like Donald Trump in the U.S ., Babis has argued that his business acumen qualifies him to run the country, and he portrays himself as a doer: During his three years as finance minister, he rammed through a bill forcing enterprises to connect cash register to the tax office via the internet, significantly improving tax compliance.

Babis remains popular despite the potential for conflicts of interest with a business empire that includes farms, chemical plants, two leading Czech newspapers, and a eatery in the French city of Mougins that boasts two Michelin superstars. A brewing corruption scandal–police say one of his farms illegally received EU subsidies, an accusation he denies–has done little to hurt his appeal to voters.

His party, ANO( Czech for “yes,” but also an acronym for Action of Dissatisfied Citizens ), has attracted voters from both right and left, draining supporting from traditional parties. Babis, 63, doesn't have quite the authoritarian streak of Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban or Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski, but he mirrors their euroskepticism. He's said the EU should set up Ellis Island-style immigrant detention centers in Tunisia and Turkey. He wants NATO to seal the bloc's perimeters to keep out immigrants. And he's voiced strong is supportive of maintaining the koruna as the Czech currency.” We don't want the euro here ,” Babis tells. The common currency” devotes Brussels another area for meddling .”

Babis taps into a long-standing wariness of foreigners among Czechs, sharpened by traumatic histories with the Austro-Hungarian empire, Nazi aggression, and Soviet dominance.” Czechs have always been suspicious of anything that seems to control them from the outside ,” tells Jiri Pehe, the director of New York University in Prague, who served as advisor to President Vaclav Havel in the 1990 s.” There's a gaping historical wound in the Czech subconsciou .”

With the exception of Havel, the dissident playwright who became the country's first post-communist chairman, Czech leaders have been at best lukewarm toward Brussels. Milos Zeman, the current president, has shown a greater affinity for Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping than for fellow EU leaders. In July 2016, Zeman floated the idea of a referendum on membership, and he's criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel as being soft on immigration. Havel's immediate successor, Vaclav Klaus–arguably the most influential Czech politician of the past three decades–has over the years shifted from grudging acceptance of EU rules to comparing the bloc to the Soviet Union.” We've prospered not because of EU membership but in spite of it ,” the 76 -year-old former head of state tells.” The EU has become a dominant centralized power with very little independence for its members .”

Even the ostensibly pro-European ruling Social Democrats have opposed EU policies on refugees and adoption of the euro as they seek to shore up supporting. Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, who's leading the party into the election, says the next government should focus on constricting the gap with richer neighbours such as Germany before a shift to the euro. And he tells the Czechs shouldn't be required to accept refugees from border nations such as Italy and Greece. Still, he tells,” the EU is our only chance. We won't find anything better .”

The latest survey by polling agency Median shows the Social Democrats getting only 14.5 percent of the vote, trailing ANO's 26.5 percentage and just ahead of the pro-Russian Communist Party, with 13 percentage. A decisive ANO victory could cement the Czechs' anti-EU views at a time when bigger countries such as Germany and France are discussing a multispeed Europe, with core members pursuing greater integration. Its economic success notwithstanding, the Czech Republic hazards observing itself on the bloc's periphery, tells Petr Just, a politic professor at Metropolitan University in Prague.” Lots of people think that since we're doing so well already we don't need the EU anymore ,” he says.” They point to instances like Norway or Switzerland. But that's an illusion .”