The Klaus Anti-EU Constitution Pamphlet

As with most other weblogs, EuroSavant has had in the past certain topics to which it regularly returns. I’d like to keep that up, even though at least one of these, the “Poles In Iraq” series (last entry here, which deals appropriately enough with the prospect of withdrawal of Polish troops) has pretty much expired. But there remains the still-riveting tale of the EU Constitutional Treaty, now about to embark on the phase during which it is supposed to be ratified by all 25 EU member-states.

The key work to understanding what this “constitution” is all about, and so to make up my own mind whether I’m for it or not, is I think Peter Norman’s The Accidental Constitution: The Story of the European Convention, from EuroComment, which I previewed here. (Then I had long-running problems getting ahold of it, but those are finally solved.) I hope to report to you about this book shortly. In the meantime, though, the only EU head of state who has made it clear that he is against ratification – Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic, of course – recently turned up the volume on his anti-constitution agitation, as the French leading daily Le Monde reports (The Czech President, the Ultraliberal Václav Klaus, Campaigns for a “No”).

The article’s by-line reads “Martin Plichta,” and that surname is by far Czech rather than French, so it’s clearly the paper’s on-the-scene native doing the reporting. And Le Monde’s reportage is of particular note – I mean, sure, the Czech papers reported President Klaus’ recent antics, too – not only because it is France’s leading daily, but in particular because the French establishment is starting to get very nervous about whether their electorate will in fact vote Oui for the constitution like they are supposed at the referendum that is scheduled for late next month. Ironically, one thing supposedly souring the French attitude towards the EU generally, and its proposed constitution in particular, is second-thoughts which are starting to arise about whether it was a good idea to admit those ten additional members last May after all – “ironic” because, of course, if the Czech Republic were not now an EU member-state, Václav Klaus (although he still would be Czech President) would likely not be moved to comment on a proposed EU constitution that had little to do with his country!


Anyway, what is the man getting up to now? More properly, it what he’s getting behind, namely a new pamphlet, entitled “Let’s Give Our Yes or No to the European Constitution,” coming out in a print-run of 40,000 for sale throughout the Czech Republic, with an accompanying billboard-advertisement push. The President held a presentation of the pamphlet last Wednesday (6 April) at the famous riverside Café Slavia in Prague. It’s a tract “that everyone should read,” papa-President admonished those journalists and spectators attending, while at the same time emphasizing – for the slow-learners present, I guess – that, after all, “the title contains both ‘Yes’ and ‘No.'”

Right, but check out the way they print that title – go ahead, click to go to the Le Monde article, you’ll see ol’ Václav right up there in the photograph to the right, standing beside a board with a bunch of Czech on it. That’s the pamphlet’s title. But don’t worry about the Czech, my point is a simple one: you see there that some of the words are not in red but in blue: “své,” “ne”, and (roughly) “ústave.” String those blue words together, in that order, and you’ve got “Our ‘No’ to the constitution.” Clever, eh?, if somewhat ham-handed; Vance Packard would surely have managed such a thing with a bit more style and subterfuge.

But I forget myself: Style and subterfuge are not really Václav Klaus’ style, at least when he is confronting journalists. Not when he can come up with descriptions of those in favor of the constitution, like he offered last Wednesday, such as suffering from “intellectual defect” and holding “erroneous opinions, a poor interpretation of the past, [and] an inability to comprehend the key fundamentals of liberty, democracy, or prosperity [for that matter].” And for all the even-handedness of the title (again, both “Yes” and “No” are there – in fact, “Yes” gets first-billing!), you can be sure that this pamphlet has very little good to say about the proposed Constitutional Treaty, as author Plichta is swift to note. There’s even a chapter entitled “Is there any thing at all good about the Constitution?”, which concludes that there may be a few positive points, but that they can be achieved without going so far as ratifying the document and, as it claims, thus transforming the EU from an organization of nation-states to a unitary state. (By the way, Klaus did not write this pamphlet, only an introduction to it. The body of the document is a Czech translation of a study of the proposed Constitutional Treaty done by the apparently eurosceptic “Center of EU Information and Research on the EU” That’s a translation of that institute’s name from the French; it’s supposed to be based in Ireland, but I couldn’t find anything after a brief web-search.)


By the way, if you’re still wondering why I went to Le Monde’s coverage of this Czech phenomenon, here’s my trump-card: that French coverage of Klaus was judged significant enough to prompt coverage-of-the-coverage from the Czech Republic’s leading business paper, Hospodárské noviny (Le Monde: Klaus Leads Campaign for a “No” to the Euro-Constitution). What I like in HN’s piece (no author given) is that it note’s the French paper’s assertion that “his pamphlet does not shrink from using phrases and expressions which the communist organs [of government] used against dissident intellectuals before the ‘Velvet Revolution.'” Presumably the HN editorial staff should know even more about those “phrases and expressions” than that of Le Monde; and the former repeat this assertion in their coverage with no objection to it.

Both pieces note that the actual current Czech government of premier Stanislav Gross has yet to react to President Klaus’ new pamphlet or associated statements; indeed, both note that the Czech government hasn’t even decided how to deal with the question of ratification, i.e. whether they’ll take it to Czech voters in a referendum or just vote it up or down in Parliament. Presumably the latter procedural question will be decided fairly soon – why in Heaven’s name hasn’t it been decided yet? – but don’t hold your breath for actual government reaction on the substance of whether accepting the proposed constitution is a good idea or not. The reason is simple: the Gross government is currently struggling for its life. (Has to do with the growing political power of the Communists, plus a past apartment-purchase by the thirty-five-year-old Gross which he couldn’t have possibly swung on his government salary alone. In short: a long story. If you’re really interested, perhaps I’ll cast my own light on it in a future post, although I would rather recommend here the Final Word – it’s a resource in English.) And, in that struggle, President Klaus occupies a key role; for instance, he’s already gummed up the governmental works by refusing to accept the attempted resignations of several cabinet ministers who have tried to abandon ship.


Safe to say, then, that Václav Klaus will have the field to himself in the Czech Republic when it comes to noises coming out of the government about whether people should vote “Yes” or “No” on the proposed constitution. Or the Czech members of parliament, as the case may be; remember that it may never come to a referendum. And, unlike what is likely to be the case in any of the other 24 member-states, those noises are sure to be explicitly negative in tone.

But should the question come to a referendum in the first place? “Sure,” might be your first reaction, “this is a very important question which the people as a whole should decide.” Ah, but are referenda truly the way to gauge national sentiment on an issue? We’ve ruminated before on this topic, back when it involved the referenda for joining the EU in the first place. (Strangely, Václav Klaus also figured prominently in those discussions.) Or how about this: If referenda are the way the people are supposed to give their definitive verdict, then what business is it of the member-state governments to put their “information”/propaganda machinery into motion to try to force-feed to their respective populaces which way they should vote? The notices are already appearing in the Dutch press about how the Netherlands government is about to come out with all sorts of “information” about, essentially, why people should vote “Yes” in the Dutch EU constitution referendum, to occur on June 1. Yes, and 23 other governments will do the same thing, while the Czech Republic will surely be the black sheep here – but why not back off, leave well enough alone, and allow the issue to be fought out between private citizens and private organizations/institutes trying to convince other voters of their point-of-view?

At any rate, I’ll see if I can stay on top of the issue and offer you coverage as well as the occasional fruit of my own thinking. And I’ll see if I can get started reading Accidental Constitution.

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