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Klaus: What’s the problem? That I’m right?

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In his New Year’s address, the Czech president talked about the risks associated with the Lisbon Treaty, governing at a time of financial crisis and his international media image. He said the government admits that it’s in an exceptionally difficult situation, and that it should know when to ask the opposition for help. “Ten years ago, we were also able to come to an agreement,” said Klaus (referring to the grand coalition that governed the country from 1998 to 2002 – Translator’s note)

How do you see the year ahead? We are presiding over the EU at a time of global financial crisis.

You just mentioned two things right now that each carry a completely different weight and significance. The year 2009 will be very problematic for economies around the world, including our own. It will directly and indirectly affect many people. On the other hand, the EU presidency will have an impact on the ruling elite and maybe the agencies working with them. But regular people will feel much of an impact.

Let’s discuss it piece by piece, then. Firstly, Europe. We will run the EU for the next six months. Do you know what Europe is most afraid of?

First of all, I don’t know how to think in terms of categories like Europe. I admire anyone who can think for Europe, who thinks he is the owner of Europe or who can speak for Europe. Fortunately, no one like that exists. We can also talk about what the EU is afraid of. And that is a different topic.

According to reports in European press, they are most afraid of you.

Then that’s a good thing.

Let me read you a few headlines: “A fiery Czech is poised to be the face of Europe” (New York Times), “Oh God, Klaus is coming” (Die Presse), “The provocateur from Prague” (The Times), “Will Klaus slow down Europe?” (Der Spiegel), “Peevish Klaus” (Le Monde).

First of all, this labelling is ridiculous. People accuse me of many things but being choleric, as I’ve read somewhere, is not one of them. Accusing me of being grumpy and peevish strikes me as very funny. It’s not in my nature. All of this can be attributed to one thing. I have one constant opinion on the organisation of Europe. Nothing more, nothing less. It has absolutely nothing to do with being choleric or peevish. I must be adamant about that.

In December you were involved in an altercation with the EU parliamentary delegation, and you were indirectly ciriticised by French President Sarkozy. Why does this happen only to you and not to other European heads of state?

I wouldn’t say that there was an altercation between myself and those MEPs. It was a standard planned visit of a normal length. Before the start of our EU presidency, I approached it like any other visit. I wasn’t the cause of the rift. If I had wanted to create a rift, I would had to have interrupted the meeting and evicted these gentlemen from the Prague Castle. I did no such thing. I think I behaved quite correctly. And Sarkozy’s critique, I think, isn’t anything unusual.

These worries about you are largely related to the Lisbon Treaty. You have repeatedly noted that the Lisbon Treaty for us will mean the giving up of further rights, more than we can imagine at the moment. And that this can threaten the sovereignty of the Czech Republic. How?

I vehemently protest against any fatal limits to the Czech Republic’s sovereignty and against having issues that don’t need to be decided elsewhere be decided in Brussels. It’s not my opinion that this is about transferring the rights of individual member states to Brussels. This isn’t Klaus’s opinion; it’s self-evident truth, described in the Lisbon Treaty, where there is a list of these rights that are to be transferred. I absolutely must protest against that. And it’s not peevishness, choleric temper or grumpiness to use the three already-mentioned terms. It is my unshakeable opinion that the Lisbon Treaty clearly states this. I think this is wrong because we need decisions to be made in places where they are relevant.

We are moving from a democracy to a dictatorship

Mr. President, give us a specific example of something you believe the EU should not have the right to decide about in place of the Czech Republic, as written in the Lisbon Treaty.

There are countless specific examples. I would rather if you would ask me to give you the opposite example. What issues absolutely must be decided in the EU. I think there are very few such issues. I could count them on the fingers of my one hand. Another issue is the method by which these decisions should be made. These are two different things. Look, I will give you a completely stupid example. The recent decision of the EU council of agriculture ministers that it would be wise to give school children fruit every day. We had similar initiatives under communism, and we know that this is absurd.

Nevertheless, since the Lisbon Treaty hadn’t come into effect, making such a decision required unanimous support of the ministers. As we know, Minister Gandalovič was the only one who vehemently protested against such an absurdity. If he wanted to, he could have vetoed the decision. But Minister Gandalovič later said: “I felt completely alone in this, so although I knew I could have vetoed the decision, in the end I decided not to fight and went along with it.” This is a classic, banal example. Someone could say it’s unimportant, but it says a lot, and everyone should be able to understand it.

When the Lisbon Treaty takes effect, these types of decisions will be made at the level of heads of state or heads of government at the ministry level – agriculture or whatever ministry is in question – and here a decision will require a qualified majority – 55% or 65%. In such a situation Minister Gandalovič would be overruled along with 45% other EU countries? Is this example easy to understand?

Those who support and accept the EU would tell you that this is a tool to make the EU to be more efficient.

The most efficient decision making process exists in the dictatorship of one man, who doesn’t bother wasting his time with the grumpy, peevish, choleric complaints of those who disagree with his decisions. There is another method that is long and complicated and it’s called democracy. The Lisbon Treaty is a way to move closer to the former system and further away from the latter.

The fact remains that as of last Thursday the Czech Republic presides over the EU. The whole world is trying to somehow solve the economic crisis. European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Günter Verheugen said it will be up to the Czechs to help devise a plan how to address the crisis. What do you think the Czech Republic can or should do?

I don’t think that Verheugen was being serious. He just meant that the Czech Republic will be responsible for calling certain meetings, but its role in deciding on these issues will not be so great. On the other hand, I would like to praise our current government, which I have on many occasions criticised, for how it is handing the financial and economic crisis. I think our government belongs among the more rational EU governments in this respect because it’s not calling for ridiculous interventions in the market as some presidents and premiers have done.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.

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