Petr Mach – former advisor to President Klaus on founding of new political party

Petr Mach, photo:

In today’s One on One, Jan Velinger’s guest is the economist Petr Mach, a former advisor to Czech President Václav Klaus and the head of the conservative think- tank CEP - the Prague-based Centre for Economic and Politics. All eyes have been on the 33-year-old since he announced recently that he and colleagues would be founding a new right-wing political party, one that would take a tougher stance on the European Union, specifically the Lisbon treaty. The idea is also to present conservative-minded voters at home an alternative to the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), although specifics, including the new party’s name, have not been revealed yet. In our interview, Mr Mach, himself a former Civic Democrat, suggests that the ODS made compromises which have led some voters - and perhaps future politicians like himself - to turn away. One key issue is the Lisbon treaty.

“I don’t blame the Civic Democrats (ODS) for not fulfilling pure free-market policies because they had to form a coalition which is very fragile and limited. So I don’t criticise them for many compromises in economic policy. But, for instance, the Lisbon treaty was not part of the coalition treaty: they didn’t have to reverse on that - that was their own decision.”

From your point of view, what is wrong with the Lisbon treaty and how the European Union would function under that document?

“First of all, the Lisbon treaty is bad for the Czech Republic simply because it’s not advantageous compared to the current treaties with the Nice system of qualified majority where voting is better for the Czech Republic as well as, for example, Ireland. [But let me stress] when I say we are against the Lisbon treaty it doesn’t mean we are for leaving the EU. We are simply saying that the current treaties are better than the one proposed.

“Our main concerns are about democracy: the Lisbon treaty changes not only the system of voting but it gives the EU more powers at the expense of the member states. It reduces the unanimity principle and it also gives the EU the power to set economic or employment or social policies of the member states. Until now these are basic things decided at the national levels by voters in regular elections. I don’t think that the EU should set economic guidelines for individual member states. The main objection is that the Lisbon treaty is a constitutional treaty in principal. In principal, it would make the EU a federal state.”

We saw at the EU summit a willingness by European leaders to allow concessions regarding Ireland: what are your views on that?

“It’s up to Ireland whether or not to hold a second referendum. But if they are satisfied by some concessions, I insist that it would be a new treaty. A treaty with new changes: that means that it should be ratified again, with the new concessions, it should be ratified again in all of the EU countries. Allowing concessions means changing the whole treaty.”

A regular observer who has seen the process from the failed constitution to the Lisbon treaty, and seen the hurdles along the way – France, the Netherlands, Ireland – may ask what is ‘wrong’ with the EU that it can’t reach some kind of agreement?

“I think that EU leaders – the elites – should learn to respect decisions by voters. They didn’t respect the decision of voters in the Netherlands and in France. They simply renamed the treaty and they decided to override the people and to ratify the agreement in individual parliaments. Now they fail to respect the decision of the Irish people and are simply trying to push it through with some concessions. Concessions they claim are somehow ‘outside’ the treaty. It’s ridiculous. I think that the EU leaders should start respecting decisions by voters, by the people.”

To come back to the party you are on the verge of founding: many agree that there is room on the political right for a new party – right now we have only the Civic Democrats. So, there’s room. But some wonder how much anti-EU or anti-Lisbon sentiment there really is. And how important is that for your party platform?

“Let me repeat that we are not anti-EU. We are not. The Lisbon treaty will not be our only concern, our only topic. We are looking to establish a standard and firm political party in the Czech Republic. Naturally, Lisbon is a hot issue right now and an important one in political debates. It is a debate that splits the Civic Democrats (ODS). For us, it’s a topic which can attract more voters than just those disappointed with the Civic Democrats. Right now Lisbon is key, but we will also argue for policies like low taxation, low regulation and so on. We won’t be only an anti-Lisbon party.”

It’s getting ahead of the game a little bit but if you do prove successful, do you foresee the Civic Democrats as a viable partner in the future, even if they are more moderate in terms of the European Union than your own party?

“Definitely, yes. At least by their party programme or manifesto there is no closer party than the Civic Democrats. If we succeed, I imagine we would be potential partners a coalition.”

Next year we will see European Parliamentary elections, and less than two year’s time a national election in the Czech Republic: what are your ambitions?

“Our intention is to establish our party in the beginning of January and to immediately begin campaigning for the EU elections. If we succeed there, we will take it as a sign that we should continue and we will gear up for the election here in the Czech Republic in June 2010.”

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the role of businessman Declan Ganley, the force behind the Irish “No” vote on Lisbon. Now he wants to open offices in different EU countries and field candidates in the EU parliament elections. Will you be cooperating with Mr Ganley in any way?

“Well, I am ready for cooperation since we share criticism of the Lisbon treaty, but whether we will is not yet decided. We are ready for such cooperation, and I would welcome being part of the broader Libertas movement, but it depends on both sides.”

You have very close ties to the Czech president, Václav Klaus. He is also the president of CEP (The Centre for Economics and Politics) which you run. How important has he been as a figure in terms of the founding of this new party?

“I told him about my and my colleagues' intention to found a new party some two weeks ago, so I can tell you it was my idea - together with my colleagues. I would be grateful for any advice from the president but when you found a party it is an autonomous decision. So, I will be happy if President Klaus considers are party worth voting for, or for any kind of support, but he had no special role in establishing this new party.”

Given the information that we have from numerous opinion polls, it seems that conditions currently are not great for the political Right. The Civic Democrats seem to be losing voters and if elections were held today, polls suggest, they would lose handily to the Left. Do you think, are you confidant, that there is a chance to revitalise the political Right here before 2010?

“It means taking a risk, it’s a venture, but I felt that I had to do something and that I had to do it now. So I will try. My intention and my main concern is not only about the EU but also to try and change Czech politics.”