Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Vaclav Klaus, EU and Illusions of the Past, Present and the Future

Adelina Marini, April 4, 2012

I never expected that one day I will wake up being in one club with Czech President Vaclav Klaus, of whom I knew that he was not only a eurosceptic but was a handbrake for the unique project "European Union"; that he tested the patience of the entire union, remaining the last head of state to sign the Lisbon Treaty, the writing of which took the EU a decade of energy; the man who often refuses most of the European initiatives. The latest such refusal was joining the fiscal compact (a new treaty for fiscal discipline, signed by 25 member states of the EU, without Britain and the Czech Republic).

Two months ago, however, I realised that I ask myself many questions about where the Union is headed to, what it brings us, what it has been for us so far, etc. These questions crystallised into a text, provoked by the situation in the eurozone and the EU at large, the search of a rescue, solution, vision for the future. We hardly expected that after 10 years of writing of a constitution, reduced to another treaty (Lisbon), we will be forced that soon again to imagine our common future together.

So, while I was deliberating, observing the processes in the EU closely, I got a proposal that I was unable to reject. A colleague of mine, who is also a publisher (Kalin Manolov, MaK publishing house), called me and offered me to present at an unofficial premiere Vaclav Klaus's book "European Integration Without Illusions". An incredible chance, I said to myself, because finally I will be able to see with my own eyes and feel with my conscience what kind of a person the Czech president is, whom I knew only from the media and had no personal impressions from him. I agreed immediately, got an excerpt from the book and started reading, putting aside all the other books, waiting for their turn on my night table. I approached the book as a challenge of the type "let me see now what is this that Mr Klaus does not like about the EU".

I will tell you nothing about the book itself, because you have to read it for yourselves and feel it. I will share with you only that part of the thoughts this book evoked in my mind. First of all it is very important for you to realise before opening the book who you are - whether you are from a new member state, from an old one, from a liberal, from a conservative, a successful, dependent or less dependent, one of the influential in the EU or one of those which follow. It is also important that you are aware before starting to read what your attitude toward the EU is. When you are clear about all these things, then you will see that in fact Mr Klaus raises very important issues, which we either do not think about or think about a little. As he himself said when presenting the book in Sofia on March 27, "many Europeans have not been paying sufficient attention to the developments on our continent or have not looked at them analytically".

The book has no pretences to offer a solution, neither has the ambition to change your vision about the world. The main purpose, clearly stated by the author, is to provoke a debate about where are we headed to, because I also share his feeling that at the moment we are in state of inertia which is too dangerous.

By the way, when I told you that it is good that you are aware what kind of a reader you are, I missed to tell you that I had a very good chance because Vaclav Klaus came to Sofia to present two of his books and the sequence in which he did it made me think in a bit broader context. First was presented his book "Where Tomorrow Starts?" of the East-West publishing house - a book, dedicated to communism and the lessons from it. Regretfully, I have still not read it but from the presentation the Czech president made I thought again about how important it is societies to analyse their historical heritage from time to time. In the EU, especially in its older part, people live in a kind of ideal, and as I myself wrote in February, the European integration so far was a bit romantic, dedicated to correcting the mistakes from World War Two. The difference is, though, that half of the continent lived another post war story - the communist one, which left a durable footprint in the conscience, mentality and vision. If this is not understood well enough, it will be a hurdle in our joint European co-existence.

This is one of the greatest disappointments which President Klaus shared with us - that there is a lack of sufficiently deep analyses of communism. It is perceived quite shallowly even in the countries that lived through it, which is to a large extent a reason for their current inconclusive getting rid of it. This is also the reason why in the EU some behavioural phenomena are difficult to understand, like Hungarian PM Viktor Orban or Bulgaria's PM Boyko Borissov, who is not that popular at the EU level but is of the same type. What was interesting was that when presenting his books, the Czech president quite often tried to involve Bulgaria in his feelings and to include it in the common story of the former socialist camp in the presence of three Bulgarian presidents - the key figure of Bulgaria's transition Zhelyu Zhelev, the president who had two terms and was elected from the Socialist party, which succeeded the communist party-state Georgi Parvanov, and the newest president Rosen Plevneliev, who started his term in the beginning of this year, a representative of the ruling party.

"I ask myself where we are now, whether we have already arrived at the destination where we wanted to be - capitalism, parliamentary democracy, market economy. My answer was and is mixed - nominally we are there but the reality I don't mean just the Czech or Bulgarian reality but the European reality as well, is not a full fledged parliamentary democracy and or a genuine market economy". Painful questions, which I am not sure that we in Bulgaria are asking. Even more painful they become when solutions are being thought at the European level, because every time when an important common European decision is taken, we face the realities. Take for example the common budget - we constantly talk about cohesion, catching-up, about competitiveness. But the simple providing of money will not deliver the needed cohesion. What is needed is much more efforts to understand why something can happen with some, and prove to be impossible with others. Often the answers lie in the past.

Kalin Manolov, the publisher, started the presentation of Klaus's book "European Integration Without Borders" with the words: "Brussels is seen better from Prague than from Sofia". Words that got stuck in my mind as a spike, firstly because I see a lot of truth in them and, second, because I realised how does Prague look like and how does Sofia. While the Czech president was speaking in terms of "both the Czech Republic and Bulgaria", I realised that the Czechs are where they are because they wanted to, because they thought about it, because they discussed it. Bulgaria is where it is because the only achievement for it is joining the EU. From then on, every big achievement of governments in a row is related to EU funds absorption - for what, why, what are the results, it is not clear - it is important that we have cashed down our membership. We have managed to put the label "Member of the EU" and now nothing is asked of us, aside from swilling.

In the same time President Klaus says: "We should stop the centralisation, harmonisation, standardisation of the European continent and after half a century of such measures start again decentralising, deregulating, desubsidising our society and our economy. And my final point, point number six, we have to return to democracy, which can exist only at the level of nation states not at the level of the whole continent". It is a fact that Vaclav Klaus has theses that I don't agree with - I consider them a bit far-fetched and are probably due to his long past in a communist environment.

But like I said at the unofficial premiere of the book in the library of the Institute for Market Economy (IME), if the Czech president was my president I would have stood behind every word of his, because he would have taken me and my country to a better present. Alas, my presidents and rulers so far never managed to make me feel good. I feel good only when I realise myself as an EU citizen. The reason for this is that we often do not take part in the dialogue, if there is any dialogue at all. And there should be. This is why I vigorously advise you to read these two books.