President Klaus makes new comments about climate change, do they echo the views of Czechs?

Photo: European Commission

Czech President Václav Klaus is notorious for his outspoken views on climate change. He calls evidence of global warming “bogus” and ambitious environmentalism "a threat to freedom and economic growth". But now Mr. Klaus is no longer just up against “ambitious environmentalists”. He is opposing the far-reaching measures that the EU has put in place to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the coming decade.

Photo: European Commission
Mounting scientific evidence about man’s contribution to global warming has led the EU to adopt concrete, far-reaching measures to slash greenhouse gas emissions, pushing others to follow suit. The plan is for EU member states to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and will involve turning to renewable energies like biomass, wind and solar power. The Czech government has accepted its share of responsibility saying it will meet the set norms, but in an interview for the German paper Handelsblatt on Thursday President Klaus railed against the EU policy, calling it a “tragic mistake” and suggesting that Brussels was not just hurting Europe’s business interests but restricting personal freedom. “For me it is almost a tragedy” President Klaus told the paper. The European Union aims to enact the new measures by the spring of 2009 and the Czech Republic is due to hold the rotating EU presidency in the first half of that year. If Mr. Klaus is re-elected in next week’s presidential elections – the Czech Republic may send out somewhat conflicting messages on the subject in the course of its presidency.

Václav Klaus | Photo: Radio Prague International
With a government pledging to combat climate change, and a president railing against the move, where do ordinary Czechs stand on the global-warming issue? This is what I asked Jiří Pehe, a political scientist:

“Most Czechs think that global warming is a serious problem, and they don’t identify with their president on this issue at all. In fact, I think that many Czechs see Vaclav Klaus as having odd views on this particular subject, and I think they would prefer him to be a bit less outspoken on this issue.”

In need of more proof, I hit the streets, and asked some passers by whether they were worried about climate change, and what they thought of Mr Klaus’s views:

“I think it is a problem, and I think that it is a matter for experts to discuss, and not for our president.”

“Our president – I think he knows what he is talking about.”

“I think that when you are president, your view on global warming doesn’t matter that much. There are more important problems than global warming, so it’s a big problem, but not the main problem.”

It seems that a large number of Czechs don’t agree with Mr Klaus’s views on climate change. But it also seems that they are happy to overlook these views as long he performs well as president. Here’s Jiří Pehe again:

“He is an important politician, probably the most talented politician in this country, and has been for the last 20 years. People think ‘well, we don’t have anyone better to represent us’. This might be a misguided notion, but that is what many people think.”