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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vaclav Klaus: The man who won't budge on the EU Treaty

Here's my First Post piece on the man of the moment- Europe's 'Mr Awkward', Vaclav Klaus.

Given up trying to think of a genuinely principled politician in Europe who is beholden to no-one? Well, there is one, and he resides in a ninth century castle in Prague.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus is coming under enormous pressure from Brussels and other European capitals to sign the EU's Lisbon Treaty. The treaty needs to be ratified by all 27 EU member states to come into effect and after the Yes vote in Ireland earlier this month and the assent of Poland last week, only the Czech Republic's formal consent stands in the way.

Klaus is refusing to sign the treaty as it currently stands because he is concerned that its clauses would enable the families of Germans expelled from Czech territories after World War Two to make legal claims for the return of confiscated property.

His delay has infuriated Brussels and led to warnings that the Czech Republic may be denied EU privileges. "It is in the interests of nobody, least of all the interests of the Czech Republic, to delay matters further," says EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. "If there is no Lisbon treaty, there is no guarantee for the Czech Republic to have a commissioner."

But if Klaus's track record is anything to go by, we shouldn't bet on him caving in to such threats. The hallmark of his career to date has been a stubborn contrariness.

A committed Eurosceptic, he has slammed the EU's lack of democracy, claiming that "one single option is being promoted and those who dare think about a different option are labelled enemies of European integration".

Unlike other post-communist leaders in Central and Eastern Europe who have followed a staunchly pro-US foreign policy line, Klaus opposed the US-led bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, criticised the Iraq war, and has taken a more pro-Russian stance, siding with Moscow during its war with Georgia in 2008.

A fearless iconoclast, he has labelled his predecessor as president, the West's favourite Czech politician, the playwright and anti-communist dissident Vaclav Havel, as "the most elitist person I have ever seen in my life".

He has also been a strong and vocal critic of the idea of man-made global warming - claiming that "communism has been replaced by the threat of ambitious environmentalism".

Opponents describe Klaus as a narcissist who loves being the centre of attention. They also call him a hypocrite: the man who said that Europe should be based on a "genuine moral conduct of life" has been exposed as a serial adulterer who has had not one but three affairs with airline stewardesses.

But whatever we think of his private life, or the policy stances he has taken, one thing is undeniable: throughout his career, Klaus has marched to only one tune - his own.

According to some reports, German and French diplomats have been in talks with their Czech counterparts to explore two ways of circumventing Klaus's opposition to the Lisbon treaty. One would be to impeach Klaus, the other to take away his right of veto. The Sunday Times quoted a German diplomat as saying that Klaus will "need to face the consequences" for his obstructionism.

But such moves - and such provocative statements - are only likely to add to his domestic popularity and strengthen his case against the EU and its supporters.

Klaus still has a further four years of his term as president remaining and the fact is that if he continues to hold his ground, it's the Brussels bigwigs who will be forced to make the concessions.

If not, then the Lisbon treaty will fail, and the future of the European project will be put in jeopardy. The stakes could not be higher.


jock mctrousers said...

That's interesting. That's the first thing I've read about the Czech holdout. The tv hasn't said anything that I've noticed, and neither have any of the left papers or blogs. Curious that. However, it doesn't sound all that principled a hold out. Is that all there is to it. Are there powerful forces in Germany supporting claims to restitution of property to descendants of expelled Germans? Or compensation? Sounds like Czechoslovakia is being set up for yet another mugging. But I can't really see any objection in principle to restitution if there's a real demand for it. Same goes for the parts of Poland that used to be E. Prussia. I would support the right of return too if there was any demand for it, but I understand there isn't. No, I'm not a Hitler fan, and I can well understand the hatred of Germans after WWII, but still these ethnic cleansings were appalling injustices. Whatever, if that's the only reason for the holdout, I wouldn't hold out too much hope for it lasting. What are Klaus's economic policies like? Any different from the rest of the bankster stooges in E. Europe? Where does he stand on siting US missiles in his country ( though I understand that's off, at least for now)? He's right about Havel, though. It was depressing to see 'counter-cultural' heroes like Mick Jagger, Lou Reed etc embracing him like he was the Gianni Versace of liberation politics, but hey - I suppose they don't read much.

Neil Clark said...

Hi Jock:
re economic policies, Klaus is an enthusiastic free marketeer and very pro-capitalist. But he does seem to prefer national capitalism to the transnational varierty- when he was PM he pioneered 'voucher privatisation' preferring to sell shares to the Czechs rather than sell off whole companies straight to foreign multinationals.
I'm not a fan of his free market views, as you'd expect, but he's certainly got it right about Havel. As you say, it was very depressing to see him being embraced as if he was the Gianni Versace of liberation politics.

Anonymous said...

Jock there is something you don't know about domestic German population in occupied countries. Namely they were first to join SS and their atrocities against former countriemans are enormous.
They were worse than native Germans and no single one of them ever joined resistance movement in Nazi occupied countris.
I'm from former YU and I know that wery well.
Now they dare to ask for confiscated property, but how about returning us couple of million killed first? How about paying for cities burned to the ground?
And they started this crime after all, right?

olching said...


Interesting point you raise there. In fact there are constant cases at the European Court of Human Rights.

It's of course an incredibly thorny issue, because if such a case were ever to be granted, it would open the doors to reparations in to millions, which would of course have a huge economic impact on Czech Rep, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia etc...

I cannot ever see that happening. What is more likely (and this is probably Klaus' concern) is that EU free market rules mean that Germans are free to buy property in those areas (though I believe there are still some limits in place in an internal agreement between Poland-Germany and Czech-Germany).

It's not a 'danger' of these areas being repopulised by Germans, but being used as summer residences by the former occupants descendants.

I agree with you that this is an incredibly complex issue, which is not a simple matter of 'they started it' (a farmer in Moravia 'started it' as much as farmer in Bavaria or indeed a Czech or Polish farmer).

I find the idea of collective guilt horrendous in whatever circumstances and it shouldn't apply here.

But of course it is impossible to undo the Benes decrees, because of the impact it would have on the current population of Czech Rep, which in itself would again be a form of collective punishment.

jock mctrousers said...

Anonymous of course has a point, but, as Olching saved me the trouble of saying,it's not as clear cut as that but getting into the question of restitutions opens up a whole can of worms - we can all imagine claims being laid to a big part of Poland from some sources for instance. Best to accept that, right or wrong, the damage is done and leave it at that. However, the standard account of Hitler's reclaiming of the Sudetenland and E.Prussia reeks of hypocrisy to me, and has been handily used to demonise the Serbs by analogy. I don't know anything about the enthusiasm of expatriate Germans in Europe for the S.S., but at least in the case of Sudetenland and E.Prussia these were not really expatriates but as much a part of the German world as Kent and Northumbria are English, and I think some allowances can be made if they were enthusiastic (initially anyway) for a regime that promised to liberate them from foreign rule. But please don't interpret that as me excusing the nazis' horrific crimes.

olching said...


It's a difficult topic. Of course these areas weren't 'German' or 'Polish' or 'Lithuanian', but mixed (the Sudetenland is probably the most homogeneous in that respect, but a lot of hybrid identities etc...).

The enthusiasm varied from German group to German group. A simplistic formula would be to say that the further away from Germany, the less enthusiastic (like Germans in Russia and present-day Ukraine), but that doesn't quite work either.

In any case, we are faced with a horrible dilemma: Even accepting (which I do) that fascism did permeate these German minorities heavily (and they were hugely implicated), does that somehow excuse the crimes brought upon them at the end of the war? Of course not, but then we are coming full circle: We cannot undo those injustices, because that again would advocate collective punishment (of present-day Czechs etc...); an absurd suggestion of course.