Vaclav Klaus is the president of the Czech Republic. A former prime minister, finance minister and founder of the center-right Civic Democratic Party, he was elected in 2003 to succeed Vaclav Havel to become his country's second president since the Velvet Revolution led to freedom from Soviet domination in 1989. He was reelected president in 2008. An economist by profession, his free-market seminars were spied upon by secret police during the dark days of communism. An outspoken opponent of meddlesome and incompetent big government, Mr. Klaus has pushed for deregulation of business and decentralization of the European Union bureaucracy. Author of more than 20 books, his new work, "Europe: The Shattering of Illusions," is being released in English this week. You can find out more about the president at: www.hrad.cz/en/president-of-the-cr/current-president-of-the-cr-vaclav-klaus/curriculm-vitae.shtml.
Decker: You are renowned as a "Eurosceptic." What is it about the European political union that concerns you? Is political and economic union really possible among such a diverse collection of nations?
Klaus: I don't like the term "Eurosceptic"; there are only Euro-realists and Euro-naivists in Europe these days -- and I am certainly not a Euro-naivist. I live in Europe and care about democracy and sovereignty of nation states there. That is why I wrote the book "Europe: The Shattering of Illusions" to be published by Bloomsbury on Sept. 27. We witness a growing tendency of the EU institutions, especially of the unelected Commission, to make decisions about most of the issues of our lives. I resolutely oppose this development as undemocratic.
The solution to the current problems in Europe does not lie in creating a political union. What we need is a systemic change: of the European integration model on the one hand and of the European overregulated and paternalistic social and economic model on the other. I see the solution in the return to intergovernmental cooperation and in the nation states becoming, again, the basic building block of Europe. They should retain control over all kinds of their policies, including monetary and fiscal ones, because their governments are democratically accountable to their citizens. Europe does not have any demos, there are only citizens of individual EU member states there, and that is why any attempts to build a political union in Europe from above have nothing in common with democracy.
Decker: Europe seems on the verge of collapse, weighed down by massive debt and crippled by profligate spending policies that only make the crisis worse. What does the EU need to survive, and do the character and will exist to get the job done?
Klaus: Europe is a continent, and this continent is not on the verge of collapse. What failed is the supranational integration model, which has become dominant in Europe in the past 20 years. Together with it, also the European economic and social model failed. The solution lies in the recognition of this fact. The member states must regain full control of their own public finance and focus on spending cuts rather than on increasing their indebtedness further or on putting further burden on the taxpayers.
Decker: Europe's common currency is in tatters. What is wrong with the monetary union, and should the euro be scrapped?
Klaus: It is obvious that the monetary union among 17 very different European countries does not work. As an economist, I know that the eurozone is not an optimum currency area, as defined in economic theory. Some countries in the eurozone would be helped by their organized departure from the eurozone, which means by restoring their own currency and control over their monetary policies. My country has experienced the dissolution of the monetary union called Czechoslovakia. This experience shows that it can be done and no catastrophic scenarios would happen in the case either -- on condition that it is not a chaotic but organized development.
Decker: Rare among world leaders, you have challenged the radical green agenda on global warming. What about the climate-change ideology is so dangerous?
Klaus: You rightly call it "ideology" because the global-warming alarmism is not about science. This is a collectivistic ideology with a very particular political agenda which restricts our freedom and prosperity. The attempts to command the climate and decide about the temperature on our planet are wrong and arrogant. I wrote a book about it which was published in English under the title "Blue Planet in Green Shackles."
Decker: There is now an ascendant leftist policy known as "leading from behind" that seeks to diminish Washington's position of global leadership. What do you see as America's special role in the world, and are you worried the United States will tire of its global responsibilities and pull back into a posture marked by less active engagement in international affairs?
Klaus: I am not that much afraid of the diminishing U.S. position in the world. I am worried about the Western world. Those of us who lived under communism for most of our lives were looking toward the Western world because of its values, emphasis on democracy, individual liberties and freedom, and economic prosperity. When communism collapsed in my country in 1989, I did not think that one day I will have to call for defense of these values in the Western world itself.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book "Bowing to Beijing" (Regnery, 2011).
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