Monday, November 24, 2003

Czech President Vaclav Klaus said Europeans are living in a “dream world” of welfare and long vacations and have yet to realize “they are not moving toward some sort of nirvana.”

The Czech Republic is a candidate for European Union membership, but Mr. Klaus, who was elected president in February, made clear in an interview his distaste for the organization.

However, he conceded during a visit to Washington last week that “the political unification of Europe” is now in “an accelerated process … in all aspects and in all respects.”

Mr. Klaus said the movement toward a single political entity of 25 European nations “will not change until people start thinking and realizing they are not moving toward some sort of nirvana.”

The Czech president remains convinced that “you cannot have democratic accountability in anything bigger than a nation state.”

Asked whether he could see the nation-state disappearing, Mr. Klaus replied, “That could well be the case, [but] it remains to be seen whether it will be the nominal disappearance or the real disappearance.

“We could see the scaffolding of a nation-state that would retain a president and similar institutions, but with virtually zero influence,” he said “That’s my forecast. And it’s not a reassuring vision of the future.”

Last week, the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg released a 400-page report that found “systematic problems, over-estimations, faulty transactions, significant errors and other shortcomings” in the EU budget.

EU auditors could vouch for only 10 percent of the $120 billion the bloc spent in 2002. It was the ninth successive year the auditors were unable to certify the budget as a whole.

Europeans have not yet faced up to such “serious underlying issues,” Mr. Klaus said, because “they are still in the dream world of welfare, long vacations, guaranteed high pensions and cradle-to-grave social security.”

The biggest challenge for the Czech Republic, Mr. Klaus said, is to avoid falling into the trap of “a new form of collectivism.” Asked whether he meant a new form of neo-Marxism, he said, “Absolutely not, but I see other sectors endangering free societies.

“The enemies of free societies today are those who want to burden us down again with layer upon layer of regulations,” Mr. Klaus said.

“We had that in communist times. But now if you look at all the new rules and regulations of EU membership, layered bureaucracy is staging a comeback.”

The European Union’s 30,000 bureaucrats have produced some 80,000 pages of regulations that the Czech Republic and the other applicants for EU membership will have to adopt.

Mr. Klaus dismissed anti-Americanism in Europe, which he sees as “more a reflection of American anti-Europeanism than European anti-Americanism.”

He said those who organize demonstrations in Europe are a tiny minority of the population. “The majority doesn’t care to demonstrate.”

Asked about the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Mr. Klaus said, “It is quite normal that the principal targets of al Qaeda are the U.S. and the UK, as they have taken the lead to do something about those who launch the terrorist attacks.

“We understand the fragility and vulnerability of today’s world and we know these attacks are coming close to us, but as someone from a small country, I have a tendency to take domestic issues first and then look at the external ones.”

The Czech Republic is one of 33 nations with troops in Iraq, but Mr. Klaus has been critical of the postwar transition to an Iraqi civilian government.

“My concern was always what to do after the end of the war because I know something about the transition from a totalitarian regime to a free society,” he said. “This cannot be done by soldiers, or by foreigners.

“After we won back our freedom at the end of the Cold War, there was a proposal to bring back Czechs who had escaped to Western countries and make up a new government of those people who had been living in free countries.

“Those who had lived the tragic communist experience said no to the idea of foreigners organizing our transition back to freedom. We said we had to do this ourselves without outside influence dictating what we should do.”

• Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large of The Washington Times, is also editor at large of United Press International.

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