Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Not wanted in Paris

Vaclav Klaus was speaking in Paris recently. He took the opportunity while there to complain that although in the last twenty years he had given hundreds of speeches and lectures throughout the world, not many of them had been in Paris. In fact, his last one was in 2003.

Ever sensitive to the subtle nuances of international discourse, Klaus confessed to have picked up some slightly negative vibes, suggesting that his prolonged absence from the speaking circuits of gay Paree might just have had something to do with his choosing the "wrong topics". It is either that or it could be that his views were "politically incorrect", he said.

One cannot even begin to imagine why this might be the case, although Klaus has discerned something which approaches less than wild enthusiasm when he speaks about Europe and the European Union.

This lack of rapture seemed especially prevalent when he offered some analysis (he called it criticism, although I do not know why) of "the currently dominant European ideology" he called "Europeism".

It is a measure of the man's sensitivity, which must have gone down so well amongst his cultured audience, that he half-apologised for suggesting that, in the last couple of years, "this loosely structured, rather heterogeneous, not coherently described, formulated, analysed and defended 'conglomerate of ideas' has achieved an enormous strength and that it influences our thinking, our policies, our way of life more than we are aware of."

Even if they did not have the first idea of what he was talking about, the French-speakers listening to him would have enjoyed the gentle cadences of that last sentence. And they cannot have helped but enjoy his helpful summary of his understanding of "Europeism". The main aspects, he told them, comprise:

  • the belief in social market economy, and the demonisation of free markets

  • the reliance on civil society, on NGOs, on social partnership, on corporatism, instead of classical parliamentary democracy

  • the aiming at social constructivism as a result of the disbelief in spontaneous evolution of human society

  • indifference towards the nation state and blind faith in internationalism

  • the promotion of the supranationalist model of European integration, not its intergovernmental model
  • Deferring to his learned audience, recognising that they would be entirely familiar with the French political, philosophical, economic and sociological discourse, he tactfully suggested that he was not altogether in complete agreement with this "doctrine". He also recognised that his stance might be slightly at odds with "the deeply rooted and centuries old views of the French intelligentsia." How they must have loved that.

    And that, he tentatively surmised, could also have something to do with the fact that he was not regularly invited to speak in Paris.

    Then, in a spirit of openness and tolerance - with not a hint of recrimination - he gave his audience every opportunity to measure the soundness of his views, as he led them through the following tenets:

    The undergoing weakening of democracy and of free markets on the European continent, connected with the European unification process, is a threatening phenomenon especially for someone who spent most of his life in a very authoritative and oppressive communist regime. I consider, therefore, the marching towards an ever-closer Europe (which is one of the crucial tenets of Europeism) a mistaken project. This ambition was the main building block of the European Constitution and it remains without substantial change in its new version, in the Lisbon Treaty.

    The gradual shift from liberalising and removing all kinds of barriers towards a massive introduction of regulation and harmonisation from above, the ever-expanding, overgenerous welfare system, the innovative, and more sophisticated forms of protectionism, the continuously growing legal and regulatory burdens on business, the markets undermining quasi-competition policies, the Single Currency arrangements, are all very real. They weaken and restrain freedom, democracy and democratic accountability, not to speak about economic efficiency, entrepreneurship and competitiveness.
    Hastening then to remind his audience that he did "care about Europe" – not that they could have been in any doubt - and that for his country, "EU membership has never had any alternative," he then offered a very slight, barely noticeable caveat, so mild that it would have passed by all but the most attentive listener - of which there must have been many.

    His support for the EU, he said, "does not imply that we are willing to accept the dogma that the forms and the methods of the EU institutional arrangements don't have alternatives." In a land where the tumbrels once rolled, and la Madame did a roaring trade, hardly anyone could have disagreed with that, nor with Klaus's cautious suggestion that, "To take one as sacrosanct, as the only permitted and politically correct one, is unacceptable."

    The right of the people to say "yes" or "no" to the European Constitution or to the Lisbon Treaty, he ventured, "or to any other similar document should be considered sacred." This right, he added, represents the genuine substance (and meaning) of Europe. The attacks on those who dare say "no" to the attempts to accelerate the deepening of the EU, which is the essence and aim of the Lisbon Treaty, are attacks against the true nature of Europe.

    How they must have cheered this staunch defence of freedom and the rights of the common man, as they opened their hearts to embrace a suggestion that "global warming alarmism," was an "ideology" that had "gradually turned into the most efficient vehicle for advocating extensive government intervention into all fields of life and for suppressing human freedom and economic prosperity."

    Even those who had by then been so overcome with admiration at such noble sentiments that they had been forced to leave the room would, had they been acquainted with it, have shared Klaus's frustration that this ideology had not been sufficiently challenged both inside and outside of climatology.

    They would doubtless have heartily agreed with his view that, "We keep hearing one-sided propaganda, but do not hear serious counter-arguments." And how could they possibly have disagreed with his eminently sensible assertion that, "the debate should go beyond climatology."

    Once Klaus had so generously expressed other such thoughts on this subject, and then given so freely of his advice on the financial crisis, there surely can only have been one conclusion amongst the throng – that he had been excluded from Paris for far too long.

    With such liberal, far-seeing and elegant views, it cannot be long before Klaus is fêted throughout the salons of Paris, welcomed freely to deliver his ideas so that all may imbibe from them.

    And then again, perhaps not.