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Europaeum´s Summer School in Prague: Is Europe Endangered by Euroscepticism and Populism or by Something Else?

English Pages, 31. 8. 2015

Many thanks for the invitation. To speak about Europe is an almost existential topic for me as well as for many others who like me spent most of their lives in the tragic communist era, who had been – for decades – dreaming about freedom, democracy, free markets, and – last but not least – national sovereignty. The expectations-reality gap becomes, however, too big. We, or at least some of us, are deeply frustrated by what we experience in Europe just now. I know, or I guess, that this is not the way how most of you look at it.

It is impossible to comprehensively express, explain and justify my views about this issue in the rather limited space of time I have at my disposal for my today´s presentation. For those of you who would like to know more, I suggest to look at my book “European Integration without Illusions” (published in 2011 in Czech and translated into eight languages, including English[1]).

In the letter I got from the Secretary-General of the Europaeum several weeks ago, he mentioned I could talk about “the emergence of widespread Euroscepticism and Populism across Europe”. It surprised me. I took it as an expression of a misunderstanding or of an extreme naivism about European affairs.

Does it mean that the author of these words believes that Euroscepticism and Populism are the main issues of contemporary Europe? Does it mean that he is not aware of the deepness of the current European crisis and of its multidimensional character? I don´t know. He probably doesn´t see the rapidly shrinking space of freedom in Europe and its post-democracy, the growing oppressiveness of the dictate of political correctness, the already long lasting economic stagnation, the large and for several countries insolvable debt crisis, the European liquidation of nation-states and as a result of it the loss of our identity. It seems he doesn’t see the retreat of prestige and relevance of Europe in the world, etc. I consider these tendencies and their discussion more important than the criticism of those who dare criticize them.

I have to ask: is the criticism of these – undoubtedly negative and dangerous – tendencies in still nominally free Europe allowed or not allowed? Can the criticism go to their substance or should it stay on the surface? Is anyone who is frustrated with the current European arrangements and developments a Eurosceptic or a Populist? Isn´t – on the contrary – he or she a Eurorealist who looks at Europe without rosy glasses? Isn´t the currently prevailing approach in the EU to any kind of criticism in many respects similar to the way how the communist regime in its later stages (not in the era of Stalin) dealt with its opponents?

I always protested against cheap analogies, but sometimes analogies may be useful. In this respect, I support the Polish philosopher, currently Member of the European Parliament, Ryszard Legutko, when he repeatedly raises the question of “the similarities between communism and liberal democracy” (this is how he calls – I am not sure whether correctly – contemporary European arrangements).[2]

He rightly stresses that “the difference between the people´s (communist) republic and the democratic republic of today is so vast that only an insane person would deny it” (p. 9), but I agree with him that “whatever fundamental differences exist between the two systems, it is perfectly legitimate to ask why there are also some similarities, and why they are so profound and becoming more so” (ibid).

He correctly emphasizes the fact that we are witnesses of an uncompromising hostility against all who have a different view. They are “suspected of stupidity or bad intentions, and usually of both... The people, structures, thoughts that exist outside the liberal-democratic pattern are deemed outdated, backward-looking, useless, but at the same time extremely dangerous”(p. 11). The atmosphere in Europe is – according to Prof. Legutko – currently such that “debating with non-liberal-democrats is like debating with alchemists or geocentrists – they are to be condemned and laughed at, not debated” (ibid). I am afraid some of you look at me in a similar way.

The present European crisis – and I am convinced that the term crisis is appropriate – of its political arrangements, of its economic system, of its continental-wide institutional structures, of its values, culture and behavioural patterns is not an accident. It is also not a short-term phenomenon. Europe has a long-existing systemic defect. There are, therefore, no partial concrete measures which could eventually eliminate it. No EU summits – ostentatiously lasting whole nights – can lead to a substantial change.

Europe needs much more than partial improvements. Europe needs a paradigm shift, a fundamental change of our thinking and of our behaviour. Cosmetic and superficial reforms – like those in Greece today – will not make any change.

Let me briefly indicate several steps (not measures) towards an eventual perspective solution.

1. It is more than evident that the European overregulated economy, additionally constrained by a heavy load of social and environmental requirements, operating in a paternalistic welfare state atmosphere, cannot grow. This burden is too heavy. If Europe wants to start growing again, and this is what Europe needs, if Europe wants to solve its many daunting problems, it has to undertake a far-reaching transformation of its economic and social system. This is my proposal No. 1. I have in mind a fundamental systemic change, return to free markets, not “reforms” à la Greece. We have to deregulate, liberalize, desubsidize, sometimes even privatize.

2. The excessive and unnatural centralization, bureaucratization, harmonization, standardization and unification of the European continent have led to a deep democratic defect there. This I consider – in the long run – a much bigger problem than the economic stagnation. Getting rid of this defect means – in addition to changes inside individual countries – changing the whole concept of the European integration, eliminating its post-Maastricht undemocratic developments. This forms my proposal No. 2. We have to rehabilitate the concept of the nation-state which has proved to be an irreplaceable institution – for nothing less important than democracy. We have to go back from unification to integration.

3. The realization of the most ambitious European project, of the project of European common currency, didn´t help but brought new problems. It weakened the self-discipline of individual countries. It created a “fuzzy” state of affairs, without clear delimitation of competencies and responsibilities. It produced an exchange rate which is too soft for the countries of the European North and too hard for the European South. It opened the doors to unproductive and involuntary redistribution (what we see in Europe these days is not an authentic personal solidarity but government-organized fiscal transfers).

It is evident that countries like Greece did not bring about current European problems. The system itself is a problem. By having entered the Eurozone, economically weaker countries became victims of the single currency system. They were forced to operate in a world of – for them – unsuitable and inappropriate economic parameters, which proved to be untenable. Letting these countries leave the Eurozone – in an organized way – would be the beginning of their long journey to a healthy economic future. This is my proposal No. 3.

4. Some directly uninvolved observers and critics (mostly from America) keep telling us – as if we didn’t know – that it was a mistake to establish a monetary union whose members enjoy fiscal sovereignty. They recommend us to accompany it with a genuine, full-fledged fiscal union and don’t want to hear that the people of Europe want to retain fiscal sovereignty of their nations. Establishing a fiscal union in Europe should not be our task. On the contrary. My proposal No. 4 is to guarantee fiscal sovereignty of individual European countries.

5. The growing undermining of nation-states has several unfavourable consequences which have been weakening Europe. The most visible of them is the more and more daunting immigration problem. It should be made clear that this is not an issue of an appropriate or sufficiently politically correct approach of the Europeans to different cultures, religions, races, ethnicities as some people try to tell us. The acceptance and even promotion of massive immigration – don´t mix with labour mobility – is a mistake which threatens not only to undermine the cohesion of countries in Europe and the social peace in them, but the future of freedom and democracy on our continent.

To rehabilitate nation-states, to reintroduce some sort of borders, to get rid of overgenerous welfare state policies, to forget the destructive ideology of multiculturalism, and to stop non-individual immigration is my proposal No. 5.

6. As I said, we need a fundamental transformation of our thinking and of our behaviour, we do need a “Paradigm Change”. This is my proposal No. 6. We need to forget the ideology of europeism[3] which brought us to this crisis. We are in a blind alley and the only way out is to go back, to return to the principles on which the West (and Europe) were based.

[1] Klaus, V. “Europe: The Shattering of Illusions”, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2012.

[2] Ryszard Legutko,”Saving Liberal Democracy from Liberal Democrats“, Quadrant, April 2015.

[3] See my “What is Europeism or What Should not be the Future for Europe”, CEP (Center for Economics and Politics), Prague, 2006.

Václav Klaus, Speech at the Europaeum´s Summer School, Carolinum, Prague, August 31, 2015.


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