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Vaclav Klaus
December 2009


German and French diplomats in Brussels this autumn reportedly urged colleagues from the Czech Republic to impeach their President, Vaclav Klaus, for refusing to sign the Lisbon Treaty. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy had already threatened to throw the Czechs out of the EU because Klaus was the last obstacle to unification.

All in a day's work for President Klaus, the most reviled and detested European leader since General Franco. Klaus is not just a leading Eurosceptic, he's also the world's top global warming sceptic.

How did the head of state of a small Central European country become an outcast and object of derision in polite circles in capitals across Europe? After all, Klaus is not exactly a dashing, larger-than-life character like his political rival and predecessor as Czech President, Vaclav Havel. In fact, he's a professional economist.

His iconoclasm began with his professional career in communist Czechoslovakia. Trained as a Marxist economist, Klaus was exposed to free markets and free-market economists during short academic stints in Italy and the US in the 1960s. He saw that communist economies were failing and capitalist ones were succeeding. And he found the reasons why in the economic analyses of the Chicago and Austrian Schools. 

Klaus was the last man standing against the Treaty, but he finally gave in and signed it on 3 November after obtaining an opt-out for the Czech Republic from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights. It was inevitable that he would lose that fight, but it is worth asking whether Europeans will have reasons to regret it for decades to come.

Klaus opposed the Treaty because of the threat it posed to individual freedom, prosperity and his country's sovereignty. As he often reminds people, he has personal experience of central planning. What he lived through in Prague was more brutal and stupid than anything the centralisation of power in unaccountable Brussels is likely to produce, but Klaus's point is that it is part of a larger movement in the wrong political direction.

At one of several speeches he gave commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall, Klaus noted that the first decade after communism collapsed was an uphill movement towards more freedom and democracy. But "the second post-communist decade has been...downhill. Now, we experience less freedom, more regulation, more manipulation of people in the name of all kinds of politically-correct ambitions, post-democracy instead of democracy, growing disbelief in markets." Now that EU centralisation and unification are proceeding, member states are going to have to deal with the consequences.

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December 2nd, 2009
1:12 AM
Excellent piece on a courageous man. Thank you.

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