The Very Doubtful Construct Called the European Union
The following speech was delivered at Geopolitical Symposium, Tel Aviv University 16th Anniversary 2016 Board of Governors Meeting, Tel Aviv, May 20, 2016, by the economist and former president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus.
Many thanks for the invitation to participate in today´s symposium. When I, as someone from a small Central European, ex-Communist, now EU member state country, looked at its title, I didn´t feel I was the right person to speak here, to speak about both Israel and global geopolitics.
My knowledge of Israel is rather limited. I have visited this country only on official state visits – as prime minister and later as president – which isn´t the most productive way to see and understand a country. Similarly, to discuss geopolitics is meaningful only for someone who comes from a country (or a coherent grouping of countries) which is an active player in geopolitics. Not just an observer.
I have to admit that the Czech Republic has never been a significant participant in geopolitical games. Perhaps as a kingdom in the 13th and 14th century. My country, as a voluntary but more often involuntary part of empires and alliances – such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Soviet block and now the European Union – has always had the feeling that it is underrepresented, that its voice is weak and insignificant, that we have to follow the lead of bigger neighbours. To some respect, it was our fault, caused by our lack of courage, by our lack of strong views, by our lack of powerful leaders. Some of them were internationally praised but, mostly, for expressing views that were in the interest of important world or continental powers.
The Czech Republic is a part of a specific and very doubtful construct called the European Union. Not many foreign observers and scholars look at it seriously enough. Most of them see only what the EU propaganda wants them to see. A real scholarly analysis is missing. Most of the world seemingly believes 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 traditional European values and behavioural patterns;
- an entity which centralizes only a small part of decision-making, only things that cannot be done efficiently at the level of individual countries (in another terminology, “public goods” at a continental level);
- 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 (where there is an authentic solidarity);
- an institution where the opposition to official views is allowed and made possible;
- an institution (or organization) where there is a genuine, democratically selected and implemented foreign policy, etc., etc.
Nothing can be further from the truth than this picture. A small, ex-communist and due to it weaker, Central European (which means non-periphery) country wanted after the fall of communism to return – as it was symbolically called – to Europe. I tried to explain to my fellow-citizens at the very beginning that the ambition to become again a normal European country is something else than to enter the EU. Nobody listened.
It has many implications. I will discuss just one of them, related to the topic of this session – the impossibility for such an entity to be a meaningful, trustworthy, consistent and foreseeable geopolitical player. It does not have one voice. It doesn´t have sufficient credibility. People in EU countries don´t trust the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels. They don´t represent their views. They were not democratically selected and elected. The EU foreign policy is not a sum of views and stances of individual member countries and of their citizens. It is a “policy” of the top politicians of EU leading countries and of the EU nomenklatura tightly connected with Brussels (and entirely disconnected with their original countries and nations).
The EU has, of course, its foreign minister, its commissioner for “Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”, but most Europeans have never heard her name. Federica Mogherini, a totally unexperienced Italian lady, speaks for Europe in a totally inaudible way. British commentator Daniel Johnson put it recently very clearly: “it is hard to point to a single battle she has won (or even fought) on behalf of the 500 million Europeans whom she is supposed to represent” (Standpoint, May 2016, p. 78). It is, however, not only a personal problem. She doesn´t have a real mandate.
If I werea partner of the EU, I wouldn´t take its foreign policy seriously. I would look at Germany (the originator, author and winner of the Lisbon Treaty transformation of the EU). I would eventually pay attention to dissenting voices in other EU countries. They are often blamed for being anti-European in such cases. It has no connection with Europe, however, only with the EU.
Let me mention several recent EU foreign policy stances which I consider serious (and – in my eyes – very problematic):
- the anti-Russian rhetoric and policy which is nothing else than the acceptance of the U.S. pressure and its attempts to restart a new Cold War. It is supported by short-sighted politicians and public intellectuals in Western Europe and by some East European countries, close neighbours of Russia (and especially by their politicians). A normal European doesn´t feel it that way. A recent opinion poll in the Czech Republic said that only 15 % of Czechs are afraid of Russia;
- the official EU support of the mass inflow of migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa is not accepted by the people of Europe;
- the attempts of some EU politicians to expand EU membership by making concessions to Ukraine and Turkey (and eventually letting them quickly enter the EU) is not shared by the common people of Europe either. The EU used to be a highly selective, elite club with very strict conditions for entry and the people don´t want to change it for the sake of short-term political interests of one, however strong country;
- the EU tries to have a balanced approach to the Middle East which I find rational and correct. But moving from one side to another without a coherent long-term plan is not a policy but sheer opportunism.
I mentioned the current migration wave. It seems that – at first sight – the flow of migrants into Europe has no direct connection with Israel. I am not sure about it. The current migration wave destabilizes Europe in many respects and releases various extremist forces. One of the visible consequences – in some countries, especially in France – is the growing anti-Semitism and a movement of non-negligible amount of European Jews back to Israel.
The mass migration weakens not only Europe. It brings about a weakening of the Middle East as well. The migrants, more flexible, more ambitious, more active than the average of their fellow-citizens will be missed at home. In the long run, this may have a negative impact on the neighbourhood of Israel.
I mentioned the importance of homogeneity of any rationally and democratically organized society. I suppose you are sufficiently aware of that. It seems to me that Israel is a perfect example of the inevitable problems connected with the multicultural arrangements of a country. The invasion of the ideology of multiculturalism into Europe has turned into a huge problem.
Those were just a few comments made by a non-expert in geopolitics. I am afraid I spoke for too long.