In New Year's Day address, President Klaus calls for greater political accountability in 2005

President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

It is customary throughout much of the world for heads of state or government to deliver a live New Year's Day address, to look back at the good and bad of the previous year and inspire the nation to work for a brighter future, even as many citizens are nursing hangovers from the previous night's celebrations. We take a look at the New Year's Day address of Czech president Vaclav Klaus.

President Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
As is every year, 2004 was the best of times for some; and the worst of times for others, but the much-heralded entry into the European Union didn't make much of an impact either way - in a nutshell, that, plus a call for politicians to act with greater "humility and responsibility," was the overall message of Vaclav Klaus' second New Year's Day address as president of the Czech Republic.

What set the year 2004 apart was a noted decline in the level of political discourse, said President Klaus, with Czech lawmakers more inclined towards making rude remarks and discrediting their opponents than to taking on the weighty tasks of growing the economy and reforming the ailing pension and health-care systems. He also criticised the coalition government for having failed to rein in public spending.

Still the honorary chairman of the centre-right main opposition Civic Democrats, Mr Klaus mentioned three elections that were held last year — and in which the ruling Social Democrats took a beating — namely, the elections to the European Parliament in June, of regional assembly members, and of one-third of the Senate in November.

The rather low turnout showed that voters think little of these institutions, he said, but even so the election results showed "the growing strength of the parliamentary opposition."

A noted euro-sceptic, Mr Klaus said that European Union entry in May had not proved to be the watershed event many had predicted, with the ongoing changes "although not small" largely unperceived.

Looking ahead to 2005, the president called on the Czech nation — now in its 15th year as a democracy — to expect more from its leaders:

Former president Vaclav Havel,  photo: CTK
"Let us ask our democratically elected representatives — in the government and in Parliament, as well as in the regional and local assemblies — to show in the year 2005 the courage to solve problems; to show a strong drive, a creative approach and in particular to act responsibly and exhibit humility in serving those who sent them to the posts."

Although he did not directly address the issue in his New Year's Day address, Mr Klaus and the Civic Democrats for whom he long served as party chairman have repeatedly warned that the European Union constitution is a "threat" to democracy in Europe and would lead to a further "loss" of Czech sovereignty within the EU framework. The Civic Democrats are pushing for a public referendum to be held between November 2005 and January 2006.

The day after Mr Klaus' address, former Czech president Vaclav Havel gave an informal interview in which he echoed his successor's calls for greater accountability among elected officials.

But in what some observers are calling Mr Havel's strongest statements on domestic politics since leaving office two years ago, he also warned against holding a public referendum on the EU constitution because the text is too complicated for voters to fully understand. Failure to ratify the EU constitution, said Mr Havel, would result in Czechs losing their influence over the process of European integration.