21st Jun 2021

EU criticism has become fashionable, Czech leader says

  • "I am definitively not alone among Europeans" (Photo: EUobserver)

For a very long time the Czech president Vaclav Klaus was the only European head of state openly criticising the draft EU constitution.

But the French and Dutch rejection of the charter over summer has changed the mood among Europe’s top politicians and diplomats.

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"I may be alone among the heads of states and heads of governments in Europe. But I am definitively not alone among Europeans," says Mr Klaus.

"Some sort of reflection has started in Europe. When I compare the atmosphere this year with that of last year, there is now a much more relaxed discussion. There is a shift in thinking," the Czech conservative president, Vaclav Klaus, confided in an interview with the EUobserver.

"In the past, I was almost alone in criticising the EU, but now I discovered that it’s fashionable, criticising one aspect of EU politics after the other."

Conservative torch

The 64-year old has had a busy schedule combining over the last few days a speech at the Global Forum conference in Gothenburg, followed later by reception with the Swedish Royals before he headed to London to congratulate former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher on her 80th birthday.

Lady Thatcher and Vaclav Klaus are politically very close allies. He, more than anyone else in continental Europe, has been keeping alight her conservative ideals of freedom, liberalism, democracy and euroscepticism.

Five months have passed since one of their mutual bugbears, the EU integration ship, ran aground following the rejection of constitution by French and Dutch voters.

Since then the EU has deemed itself to be having a 'period of reflection' which Mr Klaus believes is not enough.

"The pause for reflection is a pause for inertia. We should do something," he demands adding "Time will not wait and the opportunity we have now will not repeat itself any time soon".

"The EU needs a change. To be satisfied with recognition of the status quo and with an eventual slowing down in further unification, is not sufficient," he says.

The Czech politician calls for a revision of the whole EU project even if it goes against some powerful vested interests.

Arguing that "the State of Europe" should be forgotten, he says that a "higher European-wide democracy is an illusion."

Mr Klaus also rejects the notion of variable geometry – the idea that different countries can integrate at different speeds and to a different extent.

"We should try to create something like an Organization of European States (OES), whose members will be individual European states rather than the citizens of these states directly, as suggested by the European constitution," Mr Klaus suggests.

He argues that such a construction would be different to the Council of Europe – the group of states keeping an eye on democracy in Europe.

"[This] is a different institution, created to help fighting non-democracy," says Mr Klaus.

"We should not Europeanise issues but fight for the preservation of basic civil, political and economic liberties …. The alternative is a non-state, post-democracy and administered society."

Creeping unification

Vaclav Klaus is certain the EU constitution will eventually be put back on the political agenda, perhaps by a new generation of political leaders on the European scene – but for the moment the EU will progress by a creeping centralisation.

"Definitely, the europhiles will try to come back with the constitution. But what I fear now, in the short term, is not the fight about the constitution. The real problem is that europhiles probably decided now that it is unnecessary to fight for the constitution. They can achieve their aims and goals without [it]".

"They’ll simply continue with the creeping unification as it used to be since [former commission president] Mr Delors and every day increase the centralisation, harmonisation, standardisation. They can do it by small, incremental changes of existing treaties, hundreds of ways.... This is the danger at the moment."

"The EU is at a crossroads….. there is a huge gap between real and political Europe. The democratic deficit created by the shift in decision-making from state to supranational level is one of my long-term worries. This shift weakens the traditional democratic mechanisms which are inseparable from the existence of the nation state".

Asked how he would counter this, Mr Klaus says it would be difficult.

"It is more difficult than just to say no in a referendum about the constitution. So therefore I consider it a more dangerous moment just now. We must bring other politicians to the top positions."

"My deeply rooted euro-optimism tells me that the form of European integration is changeable and for the better".

For the moment, however, Mr Klaus is content to continue as he is doing.

"I think what I'm doing is brinkmanship, by making speeches, attending conferences and giving interviews," he says, before heading to one of his engagements.

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