Havel discusses future of EU as writers around continent mark Europe Day

Vaclav Havel, Jiri Paroubek and Margot Klestil, photo: CTK

Tuesday was Europe Day, marking May 9, 1950 when the German-born French politician Robert Schuman made a declaration on the creation of an organised Europe which is now regarded as the beginning of today's European Union. One of the main events around the continent this year was a project called Café d'Europe, in which writers appeared at coffee houses in all the EU's capital.

Playwright and former Czech president Vaclav Havel outlined his vision of Europe at Prague's Café Slavia on Tuesday. He was one of 27 authors who appeared in coffeehouses in the capitals of the EU states and Romania and Bulgaria. The Prague gathering was also attended by students, members of the public and senior politicians, including Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and the country's European commissioner, Vladimir Spidla. Vaclav Havel clearly enjoyed the meeting.

"It was organised by the writers' and intellectuals' association PEN club, although there are also a lot of different politicians here today. It was a good opportunity to put questions to them - for instance, it's not often we get a chance to meet our European commissioner. This event was interesting and important."

Austria, which currently holds the EU presidency, was the main organiser of the Café d'Europe project. Its ambassador to Prague is Margot Klestil, whose late husband Thomas Klestil was Austria's president. I asked her: why cafes?

Vaclav Havel, Jiri Paroubek and Margot Klestil, photo: CTK
"I think that we should not limit the discussion about Europe to Brussels, to Strasbourg, let's say to the headquarters of the European Union. We have to go out and try to meet as many people as we can with our ideas.

"I think coffeehouses are very popular meeting points and I think in this respect it's a good initiative of the Austrian presidency."

Why have you chosen to invite writers to speak?

"You know coffeehouses like the Café Slavia here are also the meeting points of intellectuals, and we need intellectuals like Vaclav Havel to spread new ideas, to give people visions and to make people confident about the European project.

"And I think Jiri Grusa, the [Czech-born] head of the PEN Club made the right decision, to invite writers to this event."

What does it mean to you that Vaclav Havel was the speaker here today?

"It meant a lot to me personally, because Vaclav Havel was a good friend of my husband, they were close friends, and it was really great to see him again. He is one of the greatest political visionaries and to have him here at this event, launched by the Austrian presidency, is a great honour for me personally and for my country."