Klaus steps into lion’s den with speech attacking “democratic deficit” in EP

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

The Czech president Václav Klaus addressed the European Parliament on Thursday morning, in a keenly-anticipated appearance that disappointed neither the president’s critics, nor his supporters. Eurosceptic MEPs rose to their feet and applauded as Mr Klaus attacked the “democratic deficit” that he said plagued the European Union, while pro-integration parliamentarians booed, whistled, and even walked out.

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Václav Klaus stepped into the lion’s den on Thursday for his long-awaited appearance on the floor of the European Parliament. Europe’s anthem – Beethoven’s Ode to Joy – resounded through the auditorium as MEPs rose to their feet, many of them singing the words out loud and staring defiantly at Mr Klaus, who represents for them the very antithesis of the European idea.

There was a short, polite introduction by the parliament’s chairman – partly delivered in Czech – before Mr Klaus took the floor, and it wasn’t long before his vague endorsement of the EU as the “only alternative” for his country gave way to stinging criticism of the way it is run.

“The current system of decision-making in the European Union is something rather different from the classic time-honoured system of parliamentary democracy. In a typical parliamentary system you have a section which supports the government and a section which opposes it. But this – unless I’m very much mistaken – does not exist in the European Parliament. Here, only one alternative is provided, and whenever someone suggests a different alternative, they’re described as an opponent of European integration.”

That was met with cheers from Eurosceptics and boos from those who believe passionately in “ever closer union”, and from then on, the booing continued, sometimes interrupting the president’s speech.

Photo: CTK
“Between the citizens of the EU and their representatives ….between the citizens of the EU and their representatives … there is a great distance, and not just a geographical one, which is even greater than the distance that exists in the individual member countries. There are various terms for it. Democratic deficit. Loss of democratic accountability. Decision-making not by the elected but by the chosen. Bureaucratisation of decision-making. And so on. The proposed EU reforms that featured in the EU Constitution, and now feature in the Lisbon Treaty which is almost identical to it, would only increase this deficit.”

Mr Klaus went to say there was no European 'demos', no such thing as a European nation, and that therefore there was no point in strengthening the role of the European Parliament. The boos became louder when he reminded MEPs that Czechs had lived through four decades of totalitarian communism, and were therefore wary of any reminders of communist methods.

This was vintage Klaus, indeed his speech today represented no significant departure from anything he’s said in the past 12 months. Now, of course, the Czechs are in charge of the EU, and President Klaus has a European stage on which to air his views.