In a truly bizarre display, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who holds the rotating EU presidency, yesterday compared the institution to the Soviet Union. Constant Brand for AP:


Klaus is known for deep skepticism of the EU and has refused to fly the EU flag over his official seat in Prague during the Czech presidency, saying the country is not an EU province.

He said current EU practices smacked of communist times when the Soviet Union controlled much of eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic and when dissent or even discussions were not tolerated.
“Not so long ago, in our part of Europe we lived in a political system that permitted no alternatives and therefore also no parliamentary opposition,” said Klaus. “We learned the bitter lesson that with no opposition, there is no freedom.”

He said the 27-nation bloc should concentrate on offering prosperity to Europeans, rather than closer political union, and scrap a stalled EU reform treaty that Irish voters have already rejected.

Klaus said that questioning deeper integration has become an “uncriticizable assumption that there is only one possible and correct future of the European integration.” “The enforcement of these notions … is unacceptable,” Klaus said. “Those who dare thinking about a different option are labeled as enemies.” Observers had been expecting Klaus to deliver a critical speech during his first and only visit to the EU chamber at a time when his country holds the EU limelight as chair of the 27-nation bloc.

“I have never experienced a situation where the presidency of the European Union … compares the EU with the Soviet Union,” said Belgian lawmaker Ivo Belet.

Still, Tobias Wolny argues, “The Czech EU presidency has done a good job so far, managing a number of unexpected international and domestic issues over the last two months. And the Czechs deserve more credit from fellow European leaders in the current debate on protectionism.”  He contrasts this with Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempts to shut down auto building in the Czech Republic and bring those jobs home to France and Angela Merke’s passivity on the issue.

The Czech agenda in the first two months of its EU presidency has not been an easy one. As if the financial crisis, Lisbon and the energy and climate package weren’t enough, the Czechs had to coordinate the European position in the Gaza war the Russian Ukrainian gas row. Coincidentally, it is during the presidency of a former Soviet bloc country that we are witnessing the first signs of improvement in relations between the EU and Russia after the war in Georgia. This may have more to do with the low oil price and Russia’s economic woes than with Czech diplomacy, but at least the Czechs are not hindering this process.

Wolny also makes the fair point that Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, not Klaus, is the country’s head of government and that Klaus’ Euroskepticism does not reflect official Czech policy.

Nonetheless, while I’m somewhat sympathetic to Klaus’ go slow approach to expanding the scope of the EU’s power, thinking deepening makes more sense than broadening at this juncture, this was a bizarre rant coming from an EU president. And there are better ways of making the argument than a harangue.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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