NEWS

A Europe of sovereign and independent nation states

President Vaclav Klaus incarnates the new face of the Czech Republic on the world stage, having recently succeeded the hero of the Velvet Revolution, Vaclav Havel, in the post. The European press often refers to him as a Euroskeptic, in contrast to the country’s Social Democrat Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. The liberal professor of economics, with a long academic and political experience under his belt, has his own philosophy about European integration, which he explained in two characteristic examples. «Many European leaders believe that the connection between the benefit from the degree of European integration is linear, if not aggressive,» he said, drawing a curve on a piece of paper. «That is, the stronger the integration, the better. I, on the other hand, believe that the connection is in the shape of a bell,» he added, drawing another curve, explaining that «if you have too little or too much integration, the results are negative. There is an optimum point where the benefits are greatest. That is the point we have to find.» In this interview with Kathimerini during his visit to Athens last week to meet with his Greek counterpart Costis Stephanopoulos, Klaus referred to the European challenge that the Czech Republic is currently engaged in, its people recently having overwhelming (77.3 percent) approved their country’s accession to the EU. What are your hopes for your visit to Athens and what is your view of bilateral relations with Greece? We are very interested in developing relations in the political, economic, cultural and tourism sectors. In the last couple of years, contacts have intensified. Every year 200,000 Czech tourists come to Greece and 70,000 Greeks visit us. There are no problems in relations between the two countries, and this is something which I was able to reconfirm with my Greek counterpart, Mr Stephanopoulos. The Czech people, as with others in Central and Eastern Europe who are candidates for EU membership, gave their overwhelming approval to joining the EU. What do you hope to gain from membership? Our people basically wanted to say yes to the Czech Republic’s return to the community of «normal» European countries, from which we had been isolated during the communist period. That is why the referendums to which you refer were such a simple matter. I believe they had less to do with joining an institutional structure called the European Union; I fear that my compatriots have not fully realized what it involves and are not aware of the many special aspects of it. Unfortunately, the idea of accession was advertised in our country something like joining a kind of philanthropic fund that would help us in many ways. Gradually, people are realizing that this is not so and that the EU is a political institution where every country represents its own interests. There is the sense that you and your country’s prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, have opposing views regarding the euro. In your opinion, is there a chance of your country joining the eurozone? There is no question of contradicting views. As president, as a former prime minister and former economy minister as well as a professor of economics at Prague University, I believe that we should not be in a hurry. The Czech economy needs time to adjust. I am not talking about the Maastricht criteria, but the general efficiency of the Czech economy. Therefore, the euro is not an issue of today, tomorrow or the day after. I believe that those who are discussing the euro today are running away from what are necessary, serious contemporary issues. But do you believe that the euro should be a strategic goal for your country, even if not immediately? Naturally, membership in the Economic and Monetary Union cannot be an end in itself, but only a means to achieve other things such as economic and monetary stability and growth. Now that your country is back in the «West» with the enlargement of the EU, the West itself appears to be deeply divided over the Iraq crisis. You were asked to choose which of the two blocs in the West you would be with. Didn’t that lead to some disillusionment in your country? For myself it was a very disappointing development. We struggled during the communist period to defend our own national interests and we finally have the chance to do that. I am not ready to promote either American or French, German or Greek national interests. I would really like to be able to defend Czech national interests and from this point of view I do not accept dilemmas of this kind between the the US and Europe. Do you agree with (US Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld’s distinction between «old» and «new» Europe? No, I don’t. I myself would have a problem in defining where we belonged. The division is not a real one; it is not productive or helpful. Some say that former communist countries want to enter Europe to do business and into NATO to engage in politics. Is there any truth in that? All countries try to defend their interests. If I am not mistaken, when Greece decided to join the EU, it had many motives, one of which was to strengthen itself against its eastern neighbor. For me, it would be sufficient if the EU provided an environment for a union of economic integration and if NATO would deal with defense issues. Perhaps, however, that is not realistic. Do you think there is anything realistic in the Franco-German initiative for European defense? My country’s position is that as a member of NATO, we don’t want to double military expenditures, structures or military alliances. We believe that one alliance is sufficient. Your country had very difficult experiences with Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. What is the state of relations with these two powerful European countries today? It is important to say that our relations are improving all the time. However, the experience of history and memories are still there. They will not disappear overnight; they will be with us for some time. On the other hand, I am not among those people who do not read Dostoyevsky because he wrote in Russian. What is your view of the EU’s draft constitution presented in Halkidiki? If I was in Valery Giscard D’Estaing’s position I would have presented a totally different plan. The draft constitution was strongly dominated by the federal view at the expense of intergovernmental cooperation between independent states. Voices raised in support of the second view were under-represented in the Convention. Is there gong to there be a referendum in the Czech Republic on the issue? I hope so.