Ex-president Klaus calls on Czechs to leave EU

Václav Klaus, photo: Filip Jandourek

Václav Klaus is known for his eurosceptic views. But now the former Czech president has made perhaps his strongest statement yet. In a new book due to hit the bookshelves next week, he says the European Union is contributing towards everything bad in Czech politics, society and the economy – and calls for the country to pull out of the EU all together.

Václav Klaus,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Václav Klaus has long been a critic of the European Union, but never before has he openly called for his country to leave it. As prime minister he negotiated the terms of Czech EU membership, and was president when the country joined on May 1st, 2004. But he’s been a constant critic of the EU, accusing it of unacceptable meddling in its members’ sovereign affairs and comparing its economic policies to communism. His suggestion that the Czech Republic should now seek an exit from the EU was immediately welcomed by those on the eurosceptic right, including Petr Mach, head of the Free Citizens’ Party.

“I’m happy for this change in the opinion of Václav Klaus. By the way, I gave him my own book – How To Leave The EU – four years ago, and I’ve been criticising him for just criticising the EU but not offering this option, to leave the EU.”

Petr Mach,  photo: archive of the Free Citizens’ Party
How much impact do you think these comments will have on the Czech political scene?

“Well, I think they will have some impact. Today it was in the main newspapers. I was just commenting on this for Czech Radio. So I think it will have some impact, and although he is now a retired politician, he still has the chance to speak to the media and so on.”

Certainly there is a thick vein of euroscepticism amongst Czechs; support for membership has fallen steadily since 77% voted in favour of joining in a 2003 referendum. But despite the grumbling few support leaving the EU altogether. Václav Klaus, says former deputy parliament speaker Jan Hamáček of the Social Democrats, cuts a lonely figure in Czech politics.

“I think Mr Klaus is completely out of touch with reality. I don’t think it will be advantageous for the Czech Republic to consider leaving the European Union: quite the contrary. I think we have gained a lot from our membership, and what we should focus on is how to benefit from our membership and how to actually try to influence the future course of the European Union for the good of our country. So from my point of view, leaving the union is lunacy.”

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
Mr Klaus accuses the EU of being fundamentally anti-democratic and says the project of European integration has failed. Because of endless EU regulation, he says, Czech political parties are unable to make any fundamental changes to their country. The only way out of this mess, says the former president, is to leave.