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Europe at the Crossroad: Where to go?

English Pages, 23. 11. 2006

It is a great honor for me to receive the honorary doctorate degree at the University of Athens. I take it as a personal award which reflects my political and academic activities both at home and abroad. I also take it as an extraordinary friendly gesture to my country, to the Czech Republic, which has with your great country, very close and extensive relations. They were recently underlined by our joining of the EU and NATO.

For us, Greece is the cradle of democracy. It is the original source of many values upon which the Western society has been built. It was the first place on earth where free thinking was understood as a necessary precondition for the healthy development of mankind. Your Acropolis is the visible symbol of the great past of our common civilization. The symbolism hidden in your gods has become an unforgettable part of our looking at the world around us.

I came here just a few days after the moment when we, in the Czech Republic, celebrated the 17th anniversary of the rebirth of freedom and democracy in our country. Living in an oppressive, totalitarian communist regime deprived us of many things but we gained something as well. It sharpened our eyes and made us more sensitive to various phenomena of the contemporary world. Due to this I see in Europe more of postdemocracy than of democracy, more often “politically correct” rather than free speech, more of carelessness than of responsibility, more of populism than of courageous initiatives to change things. I believe that the old, great Greek philosophers would have considered it inappropriate and even dangerous.

One thing is comparison in time. If we think in terms of longer periods, we have been probably moving ahead. If we look, however, at the more recent developments, I am not sure the current stage of the European integration process, the marching to an “ever-closer Europe”, is a step forward. I am afraid it is not.

Another thing is comparison of reality with one´s expectations. I can, of course, compare only my own expectations with the reality as I see it. Seventeen years ago, in the moment of the fall of communism, I expected the world (and especially Europe) to be more free, more democratic, more economically efficient, more responsible than it is now:

- I did not expect the current degree of postdemocracy, of democratic deficit and of bureaucratic control of society;

- I did not expect so much of government interventionism and so many restraints on the functioning of markets;

- I did not expect the current extent of income redistribution and of the detrimental welfare-state policies;

- I did not expect the political control of the economy based on the collusion between government regulators and the very industry they are supposed to supervise;

- I did not expect such a risk aversion on the side of politicians who are maximizing their years in office but not the amount of bold moves;

- I did not expect the hypocrisy in demanding trade liberalization from developing countries in the Third World, while maintaining trade barriers and subsidies for domestic products;

- I did not expect the attempts to construct – which in reality means to block – markets under the banner of an anti-monopoly or pro-competition policy;

The past 50 years of the European integration process were usually considered to be a success, even if it is very difficult to prove it. Academicians assembled here know that scientific measurement is very problematic in such complex processes as is the development of political, social and economic systems in Europe.

We are, undoubtedly, at an important crossroad and I am convinced that we have to make a turn. We should stop saying that the more of formal institutionalization of Europe the better, and that this institutionalization is more important than anything else.

The project to do certain things together – in spite of all existing historical, political, economic, cultural or religious differences and incompatibilities – was a positive and meaningful idea. But the question is how to do it. The task is to get more benefits than costs, which is – in my understanding – not the case now.

To explain my position I see two different integration models (or methods of integration) in Europe in the last 50 years. The first one can be called the liberalisation model. It was characterised by inter-European opening-up, by the overall liberalisation of human activities, by the removal of barriers at the borders of countries as regards the movement of goods and services, of labour and capital, and of ideas and cultural patterns. Its main feature was the removal of barriers and its basis was intergovernmentalism.

The second one, which I call the interventionist and harmonisation model, is characterised by centralisation, regulation, harmonisation of all kinds of “parameters” of political, economic and social systems, by standardisation and homogenization of human life. Its main features are regulation and harmonisation orchestrated from above, and the birth of supranationalism.

I am in favour of the first one, not of the second. I am convinced that the unification of decision-making at the EU level and the overall harmonisation of societal “parameters” went much further than was necessary and than is rational and economically advantageous.

I consider it wrong. I suggest, therefore, redefining the whole concept of the European Union, not just to make cosmetic changes. I suggest going back to the intergovernmental model of European integration. I suggest going back to the original concept of attempting to remove barriers. I suggest going back to the consistent liberalisation and opening-up of markets (not just economic ones). I suggest minimising political intervention in human activities. Where intervention is inevitable, it should be done close to the citizens (which means at the level of municipalities, regions and states), not in Brussels.

It should be openly discussed. The discussion should be free, not fair. I am more of the irreplaceable role of universities in this respect. Universities are places of both an open dialogue and constructive doubts. I wish their voice would be loud enough to be heard even in the current world of intentionally misleading headline news and of quick and short e-mails and SMS messages. Their voice needs to be heard in this world of dangerously simplified reasoning, in the world of an abundance of information but of a shortage of knowledge.

Once again, thank you very much for the prestigious award, and for your attention.

Václav Klaus, University of Athens, Greece, November 22, 2006


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