President Zeman addresses European Parliament

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

Czech President Miloš Zeman addressed the European Parliament on Wednesday morning in a speech anticipated to be far more pro-EU than that of his predecessor Václav Klaus. In that respect he delivered. At the same time, he was also critical, pulling no punches when it came to criticizing EU red tape, nonsensical directives, and failures to agree on common policy.

Miloš Zeman addresses European Parliament,  photo: Czech Television
President Miloš Zeman, accused by his critics of sometimes boorish behavior at home, was fairly lighthearted and in the end entertaining in his address to the European Parliament in Strasburg on Wednesday. On the one hand, the president signaled steady support for the EU, not least in its fiscal plan and adoption of the common currency (a marked departure from his famously euro sceptic predecessor). On the other, he was not uncritical. Mr Zeman got applause from some when he aimed a number of well-pointed barbs at the EU right off the bat, most of them lighter but some of them more serious in tone.

“My European dream does not include the crazy movement of MPs between Strasbourg and Brussels and back again. My European dream does not include nonsensical directives such as the directive about economical safety bulbs. I have one of them at my cottage and it looks like a cemetery or a mortuary. So I speak from my own experience.

“My European dream does not include Brussels so-called ‘European architecture’ which sometimes looks like an amplified shoe box. And it does not include the steak at the European Commission centre which looks and tastes like bubblegum.”

Mr Zeman went on to discuss serious issues which in his view remain unresolved: the lack of a common European foreign policy or agreement on defence, including the better use of its armed forces. But most of all, he made clear he was for the European project albeit with caveats. Again, he suggested, there were two dreams to choose from:

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“What does it mean to unite? If it means ‘to integrate’, to integrate common rules, I fully agree. If it means ‘to unify’ I am strictly against. Because being uniform is gray and boring. I am against having a ‘common European cheese’ or a ‘common European beer’, in which case I recommend you try Czech beer which is the best in the world. What we need is integration, a European federation – not a European unitary state.”

Even as a candidate ahead of last year’s presidential election, Mr Zeman promised a shift back towards the EU rather than to follow the rocky political road trekked by Mr Klaus and two centre-right governments: Wednesday’s speech, though critical, was confirmation. The president ended by saying he believed the union was a good thing, confirming that the Czech Republic was returning to the fold. But he also made clear it was returning with eyes open: backing the European project will not mean accepting every directive or plan from Brussels blindly.