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13th Jul 2020

Czech president compares EU parliament to one-party state

Increasing the European Parliament's powers won't solve EU's democratic deficit, since the bloc's legislature does not represent any nation and allows for no political alternatives opposed to EU integration, Czech President Vaclav Klaus told MEPs on Thursday (19 February).

Renowned for his critical stance towards Brussels and the Lisbon treaty, Czech President Vaclav Klaus has questioned the authority of the European Parliament visiting the EU capital, prompting a dozen Socialist MEPs to leave the room.

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  • The Czech president is not opposed to his country's membership of the EU (Photo: European Parliament)

"Are you really convinced that every time you take a vote, you are deciding something that must be decided here in this hall and not closer to the citizens, that are inside the individual European states?" Mr Klaus asked.

He warned that the European Parliament currently lacked any "political alternative" opposed to European integration, something that resembled the one-party system of the Soviet Union.

Moreover, since there was no genuine "European demos," the democratic deficit of the EU could not be solved by strengthening the role of the European Parliament – a measure foreseen in the Lisbon treaty. "This would, on the contrary, make the problem worse and lead to an even greater alienation of the citizens of European countries from the EU institutions," he said.

The solution, he explained later in a press conference, was "to return many competences from the European Parliament to national parliaments and from Brussels to national governments."

The Czech president stressed that he was not opposed to his country's membership of the EU, since he saw no alternative to it and didn't want to be "the bad guy," with all the "good guys inside the EU."

However, he argued that the "methods and forms of European integration do, on the contrary, have quite a number of possible and legitimate variants."

"There is no end of history," he said. "Neither the present status quo, nor the assumption that the permanent deepening of the integration is a blessing is – or should be – a dogma for any European democrat. The enforcement of these notions ...is unacceptable."

In his view, the European Union should go back to the principles it was based on – human freedom and economic prosperity through the market economy and deregulation.

The current economic and financial crisis, was incorrectly depicted as being caused by free market and lack of regulation. "In reality, it is just the contrary – caused by political manipulation of the market," he said.

People in eastern Europe, including Czechs, who lived half of the 20th century without freedom and in a "dysfunctional, centrally planned economy" were particularly sensitive to the "tendencies leading in other directions than towards freedom and prosperity," he argued.

Asked about the remarks of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has called on French car makers to stay in France instead of setting up shop in the Czech Republic, Mr Klaus said he would oppose "any ideas from anyone suggesting the building of new barriers."

Mr Klaus also opposed any accelerated accession of his country to the eurozone, being convinced that the Czech republic would have been "worse off" if it were in the monetary union.

Chess play with Lisbon

Asked whether he would sign the Lisbon treaty if the Czech parliament completed ratification of the document, the president compared himself to a chess player who never announces his next move.

When questioned if the new Libertas party was one of the political alternatives he was calling for, Mr Klaus answered that "Libertas is against the Lisbon treaty. This is an important message that I fully support."

He reiterated the idea that the Irish voters should not be bullied into accepting the treaty, stressing that the idea of EU integration was initially based on freedom and on equal rights for every country – big or small.

"I hope we're not moving towards an Orwellian world where some are more equal than others," he concluded.

Parliament's establishement outraged

The president of the European Parliament, German MEP Hans-Gert Pottering, a strong supporter of the Lisbon treaty and EU integration, was visibly upset by Mr Klaus' remarks.

Standing next to the Czech president after he delivered his speech, Mr Poettering said: "It was your wish to speak in this house," adding: "You would not have been able to deliver this speech in a parliament of the past."

"Your visit today is an expression of the diversity of opinions in the EU," Mr Poettering added.

He did concede one point to the Czech president, saying that decisions should be indeed taken closer to the citizen, but that it was also the responsibility of national government to devolve powers to regional and local authorities.

The co-president of the Greens, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, also a strong promoter of EU integration, went so far as to propose Mr Klaus for a "special carnival award in recognition of his efforts as provocateur of the year."

"His speech to this house was a perfect source of festive amusement."

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Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen recorded a video in support of Croatia's ruling party, which the EU executive said was in her "personal capacity" - and admits it was a "mistake" that this was not made clear.

Parliament vaping booths 'too confidential' to discuss

The European Parliament is refusing to disclose documents on an internal debate on whether to set up e-cigarette smoking booths at its premises in Strasbourg and Brussels, posing questions on how it handles transparency on relatively minor issues.

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