March 15, 2006


SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH CZECH PRESIDENT VÁCLAV KLAUS: "The Past Is the Past": Czech President Václav Klaus, 64, discusses his criticism of the European Union, the problems of exporting democracy and his country's postwar relationship with neighboring Germany. (der Spiegel, 3/13/06)

SPIEGEL: Your fundamental criticism stands in stark contrast to the great attraction the EU has had in the last 16 years for many people, especially in Eastern Europe. Hasn't the European Union played a decisive role in promoting democracy in Eastern Europe?

Klaus: No, the EU didn't advance our democracy by a single millimeter.

SPIEGEL: What about Slovakia, where authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimír Meciar was voted out of office in 1998?

Klaus: But the Slovaks did that on their own. As far as I'm concerned, it would be unacceptable to push forward such a process from the outside. We created our democracy ourselves. And besides, EU membership isn't a question of attraction. There simply is no alternative. For the countries in question, EU membership represented important political recognition. In fact, the rule of thumb in Europe is that the good ones are EU members, while the bad ones are not.

SPIEGEL: But didn't the EU encourage processes that wouldn't have gotten underway as quickly otherwise? Think about the development of a new legal system, for example. Current membership candidates Bulgaria and Romania are now going out of their way to satisfy EU standards by reforming their judicial systems.

Klaus: The Bulgarians and Romanians are already interested in a normal, free and democratic society. They don't need anyone to tell them that that's what they want. We developed our democracy for ourselves -- not to make someone in Brussels happy.

SPIEGEL: You are opposed to minimum social standards in Europe and a common tax policy. Do you find a common foreign policy equally objectionable?

Klaus: I think a common foreign policy is completely unnecessary. The various European countries have widely differing priorities, goals and prejudices. It would be wrong to force them all to follow the same course. Just look at the outcome of the popular referendums in France and the Netherlands. Voters in the two countries rejected the constitution for very different reasons. And that's ok. We can't allow someone to show up and force us all to buy the same shirt size, even though one person has a size 39 collar and another a size 41.

SPIEGEL: You certainly have many objections to the EU. How far should integration go, in your opinion?

Klaus: The development of European integration can be divided into two phases. The first era ended with the Maastricht Treaty. It was a liberalization phase, with the main goal of European integration at the time being the removal of various barriers and borders in Europe. I was completely in favor of that. But the second phase is a homogenization or standardization phase, one that involves regulation from the top and growing control over our lives. In my view, this no longer has anything to do with freedom and democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 15, 2006 10:01 AM

I love that the enlightened German interviewer was working real hard to make the ignorant Czech president understand the way the world really works.

Posted by: Timothy at March 15, 2006 1:22 PM

People named Vaclav seem to be wise.

Posted by: GER at March 15, 2006 1:23 PM

The EU should adopt a minimal constitution, which would clearly define the powers that the Union has. Also, the EU should join the European Convention on Human Rights to guarantee the application of fundamental rights within EU organs.

Posted by: Mrk at March 15, 2006 6:31 PM

It should just acknowledge that it's a free trade zone and nothing more.

Posted by: oj at March 15, 2006 6:37 PM

oj: True, but I'm talking about things that are possible.

Posted by: Mrk at March 17, 2006 3:49 PM

If conserervatives keep winning all the national elections it's going to happen soon.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2006 3:56 PM