Into the future

In a few short weeks, we shall be in the EU. The Czech political parties are starting to take notice, and have formed their candidate lists for the next crucial step, the election of our parliamentarians to the EU. As of this writing, only one party has launched its campaign (the Christian Democrats), with their phrases “We are not afraid“ and “We are strong.“ Meanwhile, Premier Špidla demonstrated his leadership abilities in naming the country’s first EU commissioner Miloš Kužvart, only to have him resign a few days later, stating that he didn’t have government “support.“

It is unfortunate that the self-serving Czech political establishment will base its campaign on the only thing it knows how to do: increase the power base through populist demagoguery. Instead of Špidla demonstrating any leadership whatsoever, i.e. putting together a multilateral commission to draft up national election policy regarding our EU representation (what kinds of things do we as a nation want all of our candidates to push for, and what type of person should lead them?), we instead are witness to political ineptitude. Instead of facts, we only get emotions. Though we are used to this from the president and the Communist Party, it’s sad to see that when an issue affects the entire nation, the political paralysis comes from all sides. Despite all of this, the voter will again be put in a position of having to decide. But as is the case in all immature democracies, his vote will be cast on the basis of personality cult and name recognition. Even sadder, his mandate will serve to enable a party to further its own interests. The reason for this is that in today’s Czech Republic, no one knows what the issues are and party platforms on the key issues exist on paper only, if they exist at all.

But there is good news via a different path. Due to the current state of affairs, this path naturally bypasses politics completely. In our entire history, we Czechs have never had the opportunity to govern ourselves without interference. Instead, we have always been part of supranational organizations, and thus have learned to do well in each one, no matter what the new ruling language or political tune. We do well in preexisting systems, since we can blame them for our failures while at the same time successfully adapting and even outfoxing them to achieve success.

For us, the Vienna of the Habsburgs has moved to Brussels. But this time, the move brings the additional advantage of incorporation into a mature democratic mindset with practical implications as well. For example, within the EU, corruption is far below the levels of our state. We can therefore reasonably expect, that no matter what our homeboy politicians do, with the mandatory application of EU laws and standards, corruption should decrease and not increase over time.

Our Czech politicians who participated in our EU accession negotiations returned noticeably positively influenced by their sojourn in Brussels. Hopefully the same will happen to those politicians who will go off to Brussels in May. Though they will enter an environment which is far from ideal, it is nevertheless years ahead of ours in terms of learning the value of meaningful negotiation and democratic compromise.

Finally, I do believe that the new members, particularly those from the former communist countries, will learn that they form a powerful negotiating block. First, they bring a population of tens of millions to the EU. Second, their experiences and sensibilities are different from the rest of Europe. For example, they tend to support the role of the United States more than do their western counterparts. Third, the populist-nationalist rhetoric of local politicians such as Czech president Klaus, who view the EU as a threat to national sovereignty, will quickly disappear. Poland and Spain’s defeating the first EU draft for a planned EU constitution serves as a counterexample. All of the above will give the new members confidence and strength.

The paradox of this will be, that the new EU will now represent, in many ways, a return to the “old“ Europe, a Europe of traditional boundaries without a line down the middle, a Europe where the differences between the haves and have-nots will be greater, not smaller, and a Europe where ethnic tension will be greater, not smaller. It is from such a Europe that two World Wars were created. Hopefully, the EU will fulfill its chief mission – guaranteeing that a third one never comes.



The New Presencespring 2004

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