Presidential pair in London - Euro-scepticism and a visit to the tomb of Good Queen Anne

President Vaclav Klaus with his wife Livia in London, photo: CTK

Prince Andrew, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, were just three of the people met by the Czech President, Vaclav Klaus and his wife Livia, when they flew to London at the beginning of this week. In a short visit they also found time to talk to Czechs living in Britain, who they described as 'the Czech Republic's real ambassadors'. The visit was largely ceremonial, but Mr Klaus is a politician at heart and he did also take the opportunity to express some of his ideas about Europe. Radio Prague spoke to Czech Radio's correspondent in London, Milan Kocourek, and asked whether this was Mr Klaus's first state visit to Britain.

President Vaclav Klaus with his wife Livia in London, photo: CTK
"It is the first visit. He has been in Britain many times - as minister of finance, also as prime minister and as leader of the Czech parliament, but this is his first presidential visit."

The Czech president is quite an anglophile, certainly in political terms - he seems to like the pragmatism and element of Euro-scepticism that is strong in the United Kingdom. Was that quite clear from the moment he arrived?

"He does feel at home, and repeats it in his speeches. I heard it in the Czech Embassy and again in his speech in the Mansion House, where he was a guest of honour invited by the Corporation of London, that he does feel like a British pragmatist and is sometimes quoted as a man who never shrinks from a good debate from his Euro-sceptic positions. So he does say that quite often. For instance in his Mansion House speech he mentioned that there will be two problems now in European integration. One of them is that new countries, which have joined on 1st May, are economically much weaker than the traditional member states, and he thinks that will need to be solved by real convergence. The second problem he mentioned, that concerns everybody, is that the costs of integration will rise now - information costs, gathering information, managerial decisions and similar problems, and he sees that as the main challenge for the future of the European Union. So they are Euro-sceptic positions and he will keep them."

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
Mr Klaus does have a somewhat negative image internationally. He's often seen as being arrogant and as being the man who came with the Czech economic dream of the 1990s which didn't quite work out. Do you think that his visit to Britain is part of an attempt to improve that image in the United Kingdom?

"It may well be, but the problem in the United Kingdom is different, I think. He's not very well known here, I'm afraid, compared with his predecessor Vaclav Havel, so I think that his aim here is slightly different in that sense, that he's coming here to be better known generally speaking, rather than to counter some negative image of his personality."

President Klaus in Westminster Abbey, photo: CTK
I gather that President Klaus and his wife Livia visited Westminster Abbey on Monday. The Abbey does have a couple of Czech connections, doesn't it?

"Indeed. There is a Queen of Bohemia - Anne of Bohemia. They called her 'Good Queen Anne' in Britain. She is buried in Westminster Abbey, and Mrs Klaus visited her tomb. She was the very much loved wife of Richard II. She lived with him for twelve years, but she died (in 1394) and he became a widower."

And I gather that in the Abbey there is also a memorial to Czechs who gave their lives during the Second World War in the Royal Air Force.

"Indeed. That is the place where the president actually laid some flowers. This is a memorial which has been there for some years now, and usually people who come here - Czech representatives - put some flowers there and offer their condolences."