The Crisis of the European Union by Václav Klaus President of the Czech Republic, Part I

In 13 History on 2011/10/15 at 1:11 AM

The Crisis of the European Union: Causes and Significance, Reprinted in this blog with permission from Imprimis.

Václav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, spoke to friends of Hillsdale College in Berlin during Hillsdale’s 2011 cruise in the Baltic Sea. The speech was delivered at Berlin’s Hotel Adlon on June 11, 2011.

As some of you may know, this is not my first contact with Hillsdale College. I vividly remember my visit to Hillsdale more than ten years ago, in March 2000. The winter temperatures the evening I arrived, the sudden spring the next morning, and the summer the following day can’t be forgotten, at least for a Central European who lives—together with Antonio Vivaldi—in le quattro stagioni. My more important and long-lasting connection with Hillsdale is my regular and careful reading of Imprimis. I have always considered the texts published there very stimulating and persuasive.

The title of my previous speech at Hillsdale was “The Problems of Liberty in a Newly-Born Democracy and Market Economy.” At that time, we were only ten years after the fall of communism, and the topic was relevant. It is different now. Not only is communism over, our radical transition from communism to a free society is over, too. We face different challenges and see new dangers on the horizon. So let me say a few words about the continent of Europe today, which you’ve been visiting on your cruise.

You may like the old Europe—full of history, full of culture, full of decadence, full of fading beauty—and I do as well. But the political, social and economic developments here bother me. Unlike you, I am neither a visitor to Europe nor an uninvolved observer of it. I live here, and I do not see any reason to describe the current Europe in a propagandistic way, using rosy colors or glasses. Many of us in Europe are aware of the fact that it faces a serious problem, which is not a short- or medium-term business cycle-like phenomenon. Nor is it a consequence of the recent financial and economic crisis. This crisis only made it more visible. As an economist, I would call it a structural problem, which will not, by itself, wither away. We will not simply outgrow it, as some hope or believe.

It used to look quite different here. The question is when things started to change. The post-World War II reconstruction of Europe was a success because the war eliminated, or at least weakened, all kinds of special-interest coalitions and pressure groups. In the following decades, Europe was growing, peaceful, stable and relevant. Why is Europe less successful and less relevant today?

I see it basically as a result of two interrelated phenomena—the European integration process on the one hand, and the evolution of the European economic and social system on the other—both of which have been undergoing a fundamental change in the context of the “brave new world” of our permissive, anti-market, redistributive society, a society that has forgotten the ideas on which the greatness of Europe was built.

I will start with the first issue, because I repeatedly see that people on other continents do not have a proper understanding of the European integration process—of its effects and consequences. It is partly because they do not care—which is quite rational—and partly because they accept a priori the idea that a regional integration is—regardless of its form, style, methods and ambitions—an exclusively positive, progressive and politically correct project. They also very often accept the conventional wisdom that the weakening of nation-states, and the strengthening of supranational institutions, is a movement in the right direction. I know there are many opponents of such a view in your country—at such places as Hillsdale—but it has many supporters as well.

A positive evaluation of developments in Europe over the past 50 years can be explained only as an underestimation of what has been going on recently. In the 1950s, the leading idea behind the European integration was to liberalize, to open up, to remove all kinds of barriers which existed at the borders of individual countries, to enable the free movement of goods, services, people and ideas across the European continent. This was undisputedly a step forward, and it helped Europe significantly.

But European integration took a different course during the 1980s, and the decisive breakthrough came with the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991. Political interests that sought to unify and create a new superpower out of Europe started to dominate. Integration had turned into unification, and liberalization had turned into centralization of decision making, the harmonization of rules and legislation, the strengthening of European institutions at the expense of institutions in the member states, and what can even be called post-democracy. Since then, Europe’s constituting elements—the states—have been consistently and systematically undermined. It was forgotten that states are the only institutions where real democracy is possible.


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