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National Sovereignty and the Unsolvable Problem of the EU

English Pages, 10. 6. 2019

Many thanks for inviting me and for asking me to talk about “National Sovereignty and the Problem of the EU”. The suggested title is excellent and goes straight to the real point of the issue which is for many of us – on our continent – the crucial one. More and more Europeans feel that they are losing their national sovereignty and one of their most important identities – the national one.  

We – and now I dare to speak for all the Central and East European former communist countries – see the issue of national sovereignty as fundamental. As a side-remark, I don’t like the frequently used term post-communist countries. It is a misleading label now. 

Communism in its original meaning ceased to exist in our part of the world almost 30 years ago. I am convinced that there are no more true believers in communism or Marxism in my home country, in the Czech Republic, than at the University of California in Berkeley now. Recently, flying from China, my neighbour on the plane, a middle-age Frenchman, told me: France is the only remaining communist country in Europe now. It may be an overstatement, but not entirely. 

As I said, we see the issue of national sovereignty as fundamental. We are not and do not want to be “citizens of the world” (in President Obama´s sense), we are also not citizens of Europe. We are inhabitants of Europe, but citizens of our nation states. This distinction is for me undisputable. 

A brief outline of our history

The Czech lands had its first kingdom more than thousand years ago. It continued in various forms during the whole Middle Ages. At the beginning of the 17th century we became, however, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and for the following three centuries were ruled from Vienna. The centuries-lasting effort of my forefathers was to regain our national sovereignty. We finally got it in 1918 as a result of the First World War with an important and non-negligible support of the US President Woodrow Wilson. 

The next 20 years we spent together with the Slovaks in a state called Czechoslovakia, in a uniquely democratic oasis in Central Europe. Only 20 years. It was destroyed by Hitler by means of the Munich Agreement in September 1938 (signed by Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain) and the following six years we were ruled from Berlin. It was a tragic era. It also revealed the relative weakness of the bond with the Slovaks and led to the first schism – while the Czech lands became a non-sovereign Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren (part of the German Reich), the Slovaks declared their own “Slovak State”, which became a German ally and participated in the Second World War on its side. 

Czechoslovakia was restored after the war but lasted as a sovereign state only three years. The communist coup in February 1948 made us a part of the Soviet empire. Our attempts to change our fate at the end of the 1960s were brutally suppressed by Soviet-led invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies. We continued being mercilessly ruled from Moscow. 

Our Velvet Revolution in November 1989 – in the moment of the fall of Berlin Wall – brought about the end of communism. I always deliberately speak about “the end or the fall of communism”, not about “the victory over communism”, because communism collapsed or deceased, it was not defeated. An entirely new era started. 

Our transition from communism to freedom and capitalism, from a highly authoritative (if not totalitarian) one-party political system to a pluralistic parliamentary democracy, from central planning to free markets was really fast, faster than in other ex-communist countries. 

We were, however, dreaming not only about the end of communism, we wanted national sovereignty as well. We wanted independence; we wanted to become a normal European country. The following development was in this respect only a half-success.

Europe itself has changed

We underestimated one thing which proved to be crucial. We underestimated that Europe itself has changed – from the historically evolved bundle of sovereign and independent countries to the very authoritative and centralistic empire called European Union. The friendly, but innocent and naive slogan of our Velvet Revolution era “Back to Europe” turned out to be rather problematic. Peeping through the Iron Curtain didn’t make it possible for us to have a clear picture of the developments in the EU at that time. I was the first Czech politician who tried to tell my compatriots that “back to Europe is something else than Avanti (forwards) into the European Union” but my voice was not loud enough. 

Even now many Europeans don’t apprehend and grasp this difference. I spoke in March at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, and to my great surprise they suggested as the title of my speech the following words: EU is not Europe. This statement is, of course, my cardinal and principle point but in the most pro-unionistic European country, in Germany, it sounded as a revolutionary proclamation. 

The European political elites, the uncritical admirers of the EU in politics, media and academia as well as the huge and permanently growing EU nomenclatura see these two terms as perfect substitutes. They behave as if these two terms were identical. 

They are wrong, but I understand why – they have a vested interest in pretending that the EU and Europe are identical. They want to be the owners of Europe. They want to be recognized as the authentic heirs of all European historic events and achievements. They believe they have a right to authoritatively interpret current events and to decide whether they are European or un- or anti-European. They take the EU as the personification of Europe. I strongly disagree. 

All European democrats should oppose this way of thinking. Europe is a historically evolved cultural and civilizational entity (with more or less widely accepted geographical borders), whereas the EU is a man-made construct which has its well-defined beginning and will have – undoubtedly – its glorious or not so glorious end. 

Deep shifts in the form of European integration

The Americans, who live in a more or less fixed structure, in the United States of America, usually underestimate the fact that the EU is not a constant body. It is a moving and variable entity. Every EU summit redefines its substance – some of them only marginally, some fundamentally. 

The changes go, however, all in one direction. The well-known ratchet effect functions in this field as well as in many others: every treaty or summit takes Europe closer to a centralised European state. This is almost inevitable because the main goal of the European political elites (and their fellow-travellers) is the dislocation of national sovereignty and the overcoming of the nation state. These people consider the sovereign nation-state an obsolete historical anachronism which should be defeated. 

 Last decades in Europe were characterized by the consequences of two such fundamental systemic and institutional restructurings. Both the Maastricht Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty brought about significant changes in the EU (originally EC) arrangements. We were not yet members of the EU in the moment of the Maastricht Treaty (in 1992) and had no “voice” in European debates then. We couldn´t express our disapproval or disagreement. However, I was the last President of all EU member-states who – under tremendous pressure both at home and abroad – capitulated and signed the Lisbon Treaty (in 2009).  

These two treaties – neither of which was fully democratically approved and implemented – transformed the original concept of integration, which means better and deeper cooperation of sovereign states, into something else, into transnational unification. They pushed the heterogeneous community of sovereign European states into a union of subordinated regions and provinces. They substantially augmented the power of the bureaucratic central agency in Brussels. They supressed democracy and turned it into a post-democracy (misleadingly called liberal democracy). 

By unifying (by means of averaging) important economic parameters (currency, exchange rates, interests rates, all kinds of obligatory non-economic standards, etc.) these two treaties turned some regions of the EU into the position of winners, some into losers. The level of these parameters was advantageous for some parts of Europe only, especially for the North of the continent. They proved to be detrimental for the European South.  Instead of facilitating the mutually advantageous cooperation of European countries, these – economic realities disrespecting – unification measures created deep disparities inside Europe. 

Euro and Schengen

By believing that it is possible to have a common currency in a heterogeneous, the economists say “non-optimal currency” area, the EU political elites contributed to the evident economic decline of Europe and to the slow economic growth of the Eurozone countries. The recent 20th anniversary of the euro was not used as a reason for a serious debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the European common currency, even though the already 20 years’ long experience gives us sufficient data.  One conclusion is clear: the single currency in Europe needs either an explicit or an implicit transfer union. 

The explicit transfer union is not politically feasible (for many of us entirely undesirable), but the euro hasn´t yet collapsed because of the existence of an implicit transfer union in the form of the ECB´s “target balances”. It is now well-known that – within the current European monetary system – the governments can finance themselves via the European Central Bank. They cannot, of course, directly print euros but can issue their own government bonds which can be bought by the ECB. This is also a transfer union. 

 Another unification measure, the so called Schengen arrangements, the liquidation of internal borders inside Europe, was supposed to facilitate the movements of the Europeans inside Europe and to create a new European Man, Homo europeus. This had, however, an important, very destructive side-effect. It led to the mass migration of non-Europeans who mostly didn´t come to Europe as future Europeans or as a labour force, who don’t intend to be assimilated and who don´t want to accept European culture, religion, values, habits, ways of life.   

Mass migration

My position on the mass migration – a totally negative one – can be summarized as follows.

When speaking about migration, we should strictly differentiate between the individual and the mass migration. The European political elites speak about mass migration but use – almost exclusively – the arguments relevant for individual migration only. 

The absorption capacity of countries for individual migration is relatively high, the mass migration – on the contrary – represents a fundamental attack on the cohesion, coherence, traditions, habits, institutions, cultural patterns, social systems, etc. of countries which are these days flooded by migrants. It necessarily leads to substantial cultural, social and political conflicts, shocks and tensions. It touches upon fundamental aspects of citizenship, community and identity of our countries. The European political leaders pretend not to see it.

As an economist, I am schooled to apply the terms “supply” and “demand” wherever it is possible, which means also in the non-market settings. 

Most commentators speak about mass migration without differentiating its supply and demand side. There is no doubt that there exist big problems in many developing countries of the world, in the Middle East, North Africa and West Asia. This, of course, creates a reservoir of potential migrants. The worst the situation in these countries becomes, the more motives for migration are created. This story is true but insufficient. 

The supply of migrants must eventually find its demand. Without it, no migration can ever come about. The European countries are strong enough to stop mass migration on condition they decide to do it. We cannot directly influence the supply side but we can do it indirectly especially in a negative sense (we can destabilise the vulnerable countries by exporting revolutions there – as it happened with the Arab Spring – or we can make wars in others, as it was the case in Iraq). But we are basically positioned on the demand side. 

I consider the demand side in the current European migration context to be the crucial one, not the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia or elsewhere. Migrants find themselves in the European countries and cities because there has been a demand for them. It is useful to differentiate the explicit and the implicit demand. The implicit demand is more important. It is based on the current European culture and ideology, on multiculturalism, on progressivism of liberal democracy, on the pseudo-humanism of political correctness, on our version of the social system. 

When talking about the explicit gestures, I don´t have in mind only the well-known gestures like the one made by Angela Merkel in (the year) 2015 (even though I don´t underestimate its huge impact). Similar gestures and statements have been made repeatedly by many other European politicians, journalists, public intellectuals and especially by the political NGOs. Such gestures also belong to the official position of the European Union. 

There are, in my understanding, two main motives the authors of these gestures have. They do it either as an expression of their own feeling of humanism, philanthropy and compassion with human suffering (which gives them the noble feeling of being good), regretfully, without seriously thinking about the side-effects and consequences. Or they invite migrants more or less ideologically in connection with their almost religious belief in the ideology of multiculturalism, with their belief that

– diversity is more than unity;

– heterogeneity is better than homogeneity;

– sharp conflicts of values, behavioural patterns, cultural principles and religions contribute to human happiness (and social progress) more than social, cultural and religious harmony. 

The European elites understood that succeeding in their ambition to get rid of the nation-states and to create a State of Europe (and a European Nation) they have to dissolve the old existing nations by mixing them with migrants from all over the world. By means of this procedure they want to create a new, truly European man, a Homo bruxellarum. This is the main reason why they are – without paying attention to all kinds of negative and destructive side-effects – supporting and promoting mass migration. 

They don´t want to stop migration. They do want to manage, organize, mastermind it. They are helped in this respect by the UN documents such as the recent Compact on Migration. These documents were not written in Africa, but here in Europe and in America. They reflect the multiculturalists´ demand-side way of thinking, not the victims of war or the victims of bloody ethnic cleansings way of thinking on the supply-side. 

The Brexit

The results of the Brexit referendum in 2016 were taken by us as a great hope. Brexit was and is not only about Great Britain, it was and is about Europe, about all of us. The arrogant dealings of the EU with Great Britain reveals the true face of this institution and the untenability and unsustainability of the current version of the European integration scheme. 

We, the Czechs, have our own, relatively recent experience with a specific exit, with the termination of the existence of our former state, Czechoslovakia, and with the way how to efficiently handle it. We had, however, one great advantage. Both our countries – the Czech lands and Slovakia – wanted, each of them for different reasons, to make a deal, to achieve a friendly, the future not endangering split of our original common state.

In the terminology of the theory of games, we both played a cooperative game. Many Europeans and, regretfully, many Brits as well, subconsciously assumed in the year 2016 that it would be the case also in the Brexit negotiations. They couldn´t have been more wrong. The EU was playing – since the very beginning – a non-cooperative game. The EU didn´t want a positive outcome. The EU wanted to punish the rebellious Great Britain, to humiliate the proud Albion, to harm it. The EU also wanted to demonstrate to all EU member-states that there is no friendly exit from this very proud, conceited and self-assured organization.

This behaviour of the EU nomenclatura has been connected with the whole concept of the EU. The people in Europe have mostly underestimated that the original idea of integration has been slowly, in a creeping style, transformed into a totally different concept. The original idea was a friendly integration, based on cooperation, on the liberalization of Europe from its overregulation and on the elimination of all kinds of barriers between countries (introduced in the interwar period). It has been gradually replaced by the unfriendly concept of unification, centralization and de-democratization.

Václav Klaus, Notes for Hillsdale Cruise Talk, Hillsdale Cruise, Great Britain,  June, 2019.


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