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Did Brexit Enhance the Chances for a Much Needed Change in Europe?

English Pages, 16. 9. 2016

Many thanks for the invitation. It is a great pleasure and honour to be here, in Helsinki, and in this country, after more than a decade. I was here last time on a formal state visit in 2005.

It was a good and all of us enriching idea of the Boris Mints Institute to bring us here, close to the borders between the EU and Russia and to let us see Europe from a slightly different perspective. It was a good idea to bring us to a place which makes our days longer and nights shorter than at home due to its geographical location, to bring us to a country which has a longer distance to Brussels than most of the other EU countries and, therefore, feels less endangered by Brussels than some of us in the Central Europe, to a country which is evidently not helped by the “common” Euro exchange rate, but to a country which many times in the past dared to fight almost invincible wars.

One special thing has to be mentioned. We are in a country which escaped going through the tragic communist era but had experienced very similar economic difficulties after the fall of communism in Russia as the communist countries themselves. I called the Finnish experience an almost laboratory experiment – the huge fall in GDP in the years 1991-1993 without a radical systemic change as it was necessary in all post-communist countries. The tentative conclusion is that the loss of markets in a big neighbour country is sufficient to create a big problem. This is a very important argument in the still ongoing debate about the costs of post-communist transition.[1]

We met last time almost four months ago in Tel Aviv. Many things have happened but the most important event in our part of the world between our meetings in Tel Aviv and in Helsinki was undoubtedly the British referendum and its rather surprising outcome. Let me say a few words about it.

I disagree with the intentionally misleading interpretations of it which try to shift its importance by saying that the main topic of the British referendum was the issue of immigration. No, the dominant reason for the majority of Brits voting Leave was democratic, it was their conviction that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK, it was their long-term experience that the nation is (and should be) the primary political entity, the only possible embodiment and guarantor of freedom. The result was at the same time a radical rejection of the faulty project of centralistic, dirigistic, and unnecessarily unified, harmonized and homogenized European Union. Having said that I do believe, with all my cautious optimism, that Brexit has opened a new chapter in the European history.

In one respect the British referendum didn´t tell us anything new. It “only” confirmed to those, who hadn´t known it before, that not just a few reactionary eccentrics, the residual believers in obsolete doctrines of the Chicago and the Austrian schools of economics and of Margaret Thatcher but millions of ordinary people have similarly critical views as regards the contemporary version of the European institutional arrangements, of the EU policies and of the ideology behind them.

Those of us who want to return Europe from a post-democracy to a democracy, from the constructivistic unification of the continent to the old concept of Europe as a family of free and democratic nations, brought together by our Judeo-Christian civilization and the Greek-Roman culture, see Brexit as a breakthrough or – at least – as an important step to it. Due to the destructive developments of the last decades, Europe needs a large-scale, fundamental reconstruction. The British voters sent us exactly this message.

The minor, more or less cosmetic changes, which have been done in the EU on a permanent basis for decades, are evidently not sufficient and, what is much worse, go in the wrong direction. All Europeans, not only the British people should say very loudly that we occur in a blind alley where there is impossible to go forward. Only backwards. They should accept that a fundamental change is inevitable. In the moment of the fall of communism almost 27 years ago, I didn´t expect to experience in my life-time such a disillusion with the world around me as I feel it now.

To be able to think rationally, we have to pay attention to the difference between Europe and the European Union. Some people – especially the exponents of a rather new species called homo bruxellarum – deliberately and intentionally confuse us by mixing them up.

Europe is ok. We shouldn´t attempt to build a different Europe, to shift its geographical location and boundaries, to rewrite and change its history, to get rid of its traditions, habits, customs, behavioural patterns, culture and religions, to give up our, so called, European values which have been developed through centuries and millennia. We shouldn´t try to build a new Europe or to create a new species – a politically correct, multiculturally thinking, gender differences denying, new European man.

The EU is something else. The overambitious man-made construct called the European Union is a product of an erroneous design. I am frustrated that not many people look at it seriously enough. Most of them see only what the EU propaganda wants them to see. They seemingly believe that the EU is

- a peace-guaranteeing community of nations;

- a democratically run grouping of countries, where the demos feels like a demos;

- a coherent entity monoculturally based on European values and behavioural patterns;

- an entity which centralizes only a small part of decision-making (only the issues that cannot be – because of existing externalities – solved efficiently at the level of individual countries);

- a conglomerate of countries where all are equal (in the Orwellian sense);

- a family-like institution where the weaker members are significantly helped by the stronger ones;

- an institution where the opposition to official views is welcomed, allowed and made possible;

- an institution where there is a genuine, democratically formed and implemented policy, etc., etc.

Nothing can be farther from the truth than this propagandistic scheme. The current European Union is something else:

- it is an entity without demos, which means without democracy;

- it is an entity with only a weak common identity. For many of us being a European basically means a geographical delimitation. As regards our identity, we are primarily the Czechs, the Italians, or the Finns. And we are proud of it. There are some “European” commonalities, but Europe has never been a melting pot;

- it is an entity which misuses the term subsidiarity for disguising the actual state of affairs and the predominant tendency – the ever-growing centralization of the EU decision-making;

- it is – especially due to the Lisbon Treaty – an entity with one dominant country, Germany, which – as was recently stated by the German “Staatsminister für Europa” Michael Roth – must fulfil its leading role in Europe whether it likes it or not;

- it is an entity without authentic, genuine solidarity;

- it is an entity constrained by a non-functioning monetary union which brought together economically incompatible countries, etc.

All of it is sufficiently visible. All of it has been observed and noticed by anyone with opened eyes. We are witnesses of an evident decline of Europe in many fields. This decline wasn´t caused by the Islamist terrorists, by the recently started mass migration, by rapidly growing China, by the awakening and resurgence of Russia, by the not hard-working and debt easily-accumulating Greeks. Neither by globalization. Neither by the incorporation of ex-communist Central and East European countries into the old elitist EU-club. It was also not caused by a structurally similar and in time coinciding development – the currently undergoing weakening of America.

This decline was caused by us, by the originally flawed and continuously worsening design of the European integration process, by the unproductive economic and social policies and by the progressivistic civilizational and cultural doctrines which started to gain momentum in the 1960s.

This – in the long run untenable – state of affairs can be changed only by us, by our radical reshaping of the EU design and by getting rid of the ideology of Europeism. The sooner we will do it, the better. The British people showed us that a radical breakthrough is possible.

The much needed change will not start at the top. It has to start at the bottom, in individual European countries. It should lead to the transformation of the current EU into an alternative community of nations.

All of us should learn positive lessons from Brexit. Some Europeans, especially the European elites, have been learning very quickly. They have already taken the lessons and started to implement them:

- they began – more aggressively than before – to block or suppress anyone who is critical to the current status quo in the EU;

- they tacitly decided that referenda on EU issues shouldn´t be organized any more.

The European democrats have to come with an alternative strategy based on moving from the mentality of the elites to the mentality of the common people. It is a role of institutes or think-tanks as our one to be in the forefront of debates about it.

[1] See my article “About Us on the Basis of the Finnish Experience” (in Czech), Lidové noviny, April 11, 1994.

Václav Klaus, The closing lecture at the Annual Meeting of The Boris Mints Institute, Hotel Vanajanlinna, Helsinki, September 16, 2016.


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