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From the March 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 3)

Commentary

Vaclav Klaus’ European Questions


Vaclav Belohradsky, Lidove Noviny (independent), Prague, Czech Republic, Jan. 4, 2002

Vaclav Klaus
Vaclav Klaus poses a question at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Jan. 26, 2001 (Photo: AFP).
In Brussels, Vaclav Klaus [former Czech prime minister and current member of Parliament] questioned the creeping processes whose political meaning has not been much discussed. Rather than looking for answers to his questions, however, the Czech public is instead in the bad habit of denouncing the questioner. That is a pity; good questions are rare.

In Brussels, Vaclav Klaus asked whether we should continue Maastricht’s technocratic trajectory of European unification: “I think that...we have to start reversing some of the trends and tendencies of the past decade....It seems to me that we have to respect parliamentary democracies in all of our countries and the sovereignty of member countries....It is essential, in my opinion, that the next intergovernmental conference put an end to the creeping...unification of the continent and formulate, by means of quasi-constitutional documents or in some other way, the final goal of the European integration process.”

To be a Euro-realist means more than seeing the EU as a 'history-making idea.' It also means the ability to understand it as an institution controlled by a system of overpaid bureaucrats and managers who serve specific interests and strategies—a network of pressure groups, riven by conflicts that would be counterproductive to conceal.
From this assertion follows a rejection of any further expansion of majority voting in the European Union (EU): “If there is more majority voting, the EU clearly enjoys less legitimacy,” according to Klaus.

Isn’t the expansion of majority voting in the EU the first step toward a Euro-tyranny? Many political philosophers in Europe ask similar questions; some commentators even speak about a revitalization of national interests since Sept. 11. Should European unification translate into a federation? Many European political parties do not support such a development. For example, during a recent procession, the Northern League, an Italian coalition party, carried a banner with the slogan “No to Neo-Nazi Europe”; two ministers of the current Italian government marched behind it.

Who wants a European federation? Who wants to take over national parliaments? Do we want to have the same position in the EU as Bavaria does in Germany? This is a real political possibility: Taxpayers could reap savings from the maintenance of the expensive embassies of the Czech Republic throughout the world. But, really, we have to have a public discussion of the “final goal of European integration,” without calling everyone who asks about it a Euro-skeptic. Recently, Jacques Rupnik, an important French political scientist and Euro-optimist, has also complained to me about the atmosphere in the Czech Republic.

Is a “European superstate” being slowly formed? In his book Democracy in Europe, Larry Siedentop, a political philosopher, seeks to answer the question of how to create a European state that “is not a superstate,” that is not a kind of “post-Napoleonic France.” He considers three conditions crucial.

First, a written European constitution must be prepared together with an apparatus capable of upholding and implementing it. Second, it is necessary to create transparent political representation that will not be too preoccupied with governing itself, capable of representing the heterogeneous and ever-changing authorities and interests of Europeans. The third condition is an all-European activist solidarity, an interest by the individual parts of the EU in one another.

Rather than talking about a superstate, Siedentop suggests using the term “hyperstate,” an entity that comes into being when some parts are hypertrophied at the expense of other ones, causing deformation of the whole. From his perspective, the current EU is a grotesque formation possessing a hypertrophied bureaucracy and a European Commission, the latter with an unclear status. These conditions make possible the development of a European super or hyperstate.

To be a Euro-realist means more than seeing the EU as a “history-making idea.” It also means the ability to understand it as an institution controlled by a system of overpaid bureaucrats and managers who serve specific interests and strategies—a network of pressure groups, riven by conflicts that would be counterproductive to conceal. I think that the communication strategy of the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the EU is excessively propagandistic, concealing essential issues whose open discussion is the basis of a democratic society.

For example, the European Commission is divided into “directions generales,” quasi-ministries of a kind that deal with various fields, including support for commercial transactions and interests. Many business organizations from the EU have purchased enterprises in the Czech Republic and transformed them into branch offices. Rapid adaptation to European environmental standards, for one, would increase expenses for those companies.

Do they really support a quick adaption of Czech standards to EU standards, or, rather, are they lobbying for various transition periods that are advantageous to them?

Is the idea of free enterprise responsible for tax frauds, corpses at the bottom of a dam, extortion of employees, and intimidation of unwelcome competition? Is the idea of the free competition of parties in the political marketplace responsible for campaign finance improprieties?
Instead of shouting at Vaclav Klaus, our “Eurotic” journalists should track the behavior of these companies and the exemptions they may be seeking. For instance, are they going to resist a rapid increase in salaries in our country by means of political pressure? If, for example, EU companies in the Czech Republic do not want the salaries of their employees to adjust quickly to EU levels, then why should they want to conform to other parameters that also mean losses for them? For their part, EU labor unions have an opposite interest in wanting to reduce differences in the cost of labor quickly.

Is it a political goal of the EU to be an independent global player in the world next to China, the United States, and Russia? After Sept. 11, does it make any sense at all to speak about “European” defense? Isn’t the EU, with its Eurocentric rhetoric, hopelessly archaic in the current phase of globalization?

At the summit in Laeken, a convention was established to prepare a European constitution under the leadership of [former French President Valéry] Giscard d’Estaing. What sort of European constitution should it be? How, for instance, can institutions be as representative as possible while maintaining efficiency? Should Euro-regions or national states be the basis for the federation?

The EU could not have chosen a more symbolic place for the drafting of the European constitution than the Castle of Laeken, where Belgium’s King Leopold II directed the bloody exploitation of the Congo and the slaughter of almost half its population. I wonder whether our European leaders opened their talks in the excessively decorated rooms of the royal castle by observing a minute of silence in the name of the victims of this holocaust.

At the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, Third World countries demanded compensation for colonialism but instead got nothing but a noncommittal apology. Colonial plundering is not a “distant past”; it is a crime to which statutory limitations do not apply. All the evil of our times, including terrorism, is nothing but its consequence. The constitution of the EU must also be a categorical step toward overcoming the legacy of colonialism, and, therefore, its foundation has to be the universalization of the concept of citizenship and the globalization of human rights; otherwise it will be nothing but a scrap of paper.

And yet, won’t any new universalization and globalization be a new type of colonialism? This is the European dilemma.

Vaclav Klaus also said the following in Brussels: “The real origin of terrorism and violence in the present-day world...lies in the anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, anti-market positions and ideologies that I see around me.” As Ladislav Stoll, academician and Marxist luminary, similarly exclaimed during a memorable meeting of cultural workers: “It starts with Cubism and ends with weapons opening fire on workers.”

Is the idea of free enterprise responsible for tax frauds, corpses at the bottom of a dam, extortion of employees, and intimidation of unwelcome competition? Is the idea of the free competition of parties in the political marketplace responsible for campaign finance improprieties? Of course they are: We share freedom with those who exploit it, since there is no light without shadow. “What was the impact of Marx’s teaching?” asks Vaclav Havel. “Has it shed light on the hidden mechanisms of history, or has it been the primary cause of the world’s gulags?” Both: It has shed light on the mechanisms of history, but it has denied individuals their right to change freely the course of history.

Are inquisitions, witch hunts, mass killings of Latin America’s native population, and the attack on the twin towers merely the “tip of the iceberg” (the submerged part of which is monotheist religion)? Undoubtedly. But Kolkata’s Mother Teresa or priests who fight for social justice in Latin America are part of the very same iceberg.

Every cigarette pack carries a statement from the health minister warning that smoking causes cancer. What type of warning should we have our poor friend Pavel Dostal, the minister of culture, print on various publications financed by the [Czech] Ministry of Culture? That education can sometimes cause depression? That at other times it can prompt demonstrations against meetings of bankers in Prague—or that it can result in May Day rallies in Paris, Prague Springs, attacks on Winter Palaces and maybe even the Ministry of Culture itself? Basically, Vaclav Klaus is suggesting a mass re-education of European nations. But anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, and anti-liberalism cannot be eliminated so long as people read the Gospel along with their Adam Smith; and, more importantly, so long as they are discriminated against, humiliated, breathe contaminated air, and live in the threatening shadows of nuclear power plants, such as Temelin.

After Sept. 11, an obligatory, civilized patriotism is required: in other words, an active defense of “the values upon which our civilization is based.” If somehow I were to try to express the fundamental European value, then I would repeat a remark that has been ascribed to the German philosopher Hegel: “Better a mended sock than a torn one—not so with self-consciousness.” The universal European heritage is the ability to build a human society on the disturbing realization of the differences and limits of one’s own way of life—on the torn, not mended, consciousness of people.

Belohradsky is a philosopher and frequent commentator on Czech politics.


 
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