Klaus Newspaper Interview

Czech President Václav Klaus doesn’t want to reveal his voting preferences in the Czech EU accession referendum, to start on Friday – although he certainly promises to vote. (Indeed, he’ll be voting soon after polls open on Friday, as will premier Spidla and ex-president Havel and their wives.) Revealing his presidential preference is not his presidential function, he says; his pres. function is “rather to give arguments, to shake up citizens so that they think about these things.”

But you know this already, since you’ve read yesterday’s EuroSavant entry. Still, on Wednesday Klaus granted an in-depth interview to Lidové noviny, his favorite newspaper. (He used to write a regular column for it.) This interview deserves in-depth examination, since it lays out many of the Czech President’s shall-we-say unconventional and even abrasive views on the referendum and on Czech EU membership in general. Maybe we’ll finally get some “asking of the tough questions,” the absence of which I decried in my long entry about the Polish referendum of last weekend!

(Before we go to “More…”: Sick of Poland? Sick of Czech? Sorry about that. Remember, EuroSavant is also versatile enough to do France, Germany, the Benelux, who-knows-what-else. We’ll get back to other parts of Europe soon, but I did want to take a good look at these once-in-a-lifetime accession referenda. Anyway, if you don’t like this weblog’s direction – e-mail me! I might be so taken aback as to actually listen to what you say!)

Once again – but of course! – President Klaus is asked directly how he will vote in the referendum. And once again he refuses to say: “In no case should you even want me to say how I will vote. That would violate the principle of the referendum, which is secret [ballot] and not public.” When reminded that Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski apparently did not think enough of the “secret ballot principle” to forbear from endorsing a “Yes” vote, Klaus dismisses the Polish political system as “rather different” – for one thing, in his view the Polish president has the de facto power to choose the foreign minister. “It’s my feeling that my task is to make sure that serious discussion is given to EU accession, that it doesn’t all boil down in the end to false arguments, which a not-inconsiderable part of the political representation is prone to.” Indeed, Klaus accuses this “Czech political representation” of “trivializing” the prospect of entry into the EU – “and that gets me tremendously angry,” he adds.

Discussion in the interview soon turns to whether EU membership would mean “and end to the history of the Czech state” – or at least to one stage in that history. Klaus agrees that it’s the end of one stage – and that, in his mind, that stage is ending too early: “It’s ending too early in the sense that we completely lost our identity in the Communist era, and there should have been some stage of reasonable length to ‘get used to’ our independence, a stage where we could truly find ourselves and prepare ourselves for the next stage.” But the ongoing rush of EU expansion of course will not be slowed down by a small country – a zemicek – like the Czech Republic.

In an interview of some weeks ago with the German weekly Die Zeit Klaus had spoken of the EU’s “threat to democracy,” so naturally those sentiments were raised again in the LN interview. Klaus expands on them: Firstly, he has serious doubts whether democracy can truly be preserved at an above-state-level multinational entity like the EU. In any case, secondly, the EU is already showing disturbing signs of more and more centralism, signs which to Klaus are only reinforced by the ongoing proceedings of the Constitutional Convention. Thirdly, Europe has already gotten too involved in the regulation of economic activity, going beyond that to regulating even human behavior.

In this connection the subject of the Euro arises, and Klaus is asked if what he means is that he thinks that the Euro is a bad idea for the Czech Republic. Similarly to his view on EU accession, Klaus denounces the “dogma of the single currency,” as if that is the obvious best solution for all EU member-states. Instead, hard questions need to be asked: Are the European economies perhaps too heterogeneous for one currency and its associated one-size-fits-all interest-rate policy? Shouldn’t perhaps the Czech Republic wait before adopting the Euro until she has adapted fully to the European economy – however long that might take?

Well, that should do it for my Václav Klaus fixation for a while. (EuroSavant actually saw him speak once – the year was 1993, the place was the main auditorium of the Economics University in Prague, Klaus was Czech premier at the time, unemployment was low, wages were also low but growing, and the packed hall of economics students greeted him like a rock star. A former economics researcher/professor himself, he was also in his own natural element, and it didn’t take long before he was drawing supply-and-demand curves on the blackboard behind his lectern. Wait – EuroSavant also saw him more recently, at a campaign rally at the foot of Wenceslas Square, in Prague, shortly before the June, 2002, Czech general elections, in which his ODS ultimately did rather more poorly than expected.) As my coverage of the Czech referendum winds down I’ll try to cover other aspects – like, what about Vladimir Spidla? He’s been the premier ever since those elections last year! (But maybe for not very much longer.)

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