Roger Helmer MEP writes: Vaclav Klaus is President of the Czech Republic. And by virtue of the EU’s rotating Presidency, the Czech Republic holds the Presidency of the EU (Jan/June 2009). So today (Feb 19th) President Klaus came to speak to the assembled Plenary session of the parliament, in Brussels.
I should say here that Klaus is one of my heroes. He is committed to conservative values — liberty, free markets, a small state. So clearly the kind of EU we have today is anathema to him. He is also a climate sceptic. And (let me brag for a moment), in his wonderful book “Blue Planet in Green Shackles” he was kind enough to cite my work. In a footnote on page 34.
Now the European parliament is unaccustomed to hear dissent about the European project from visiting dignitaries in its plenary sessions, so there was great interest and a certain tension ahead of Klaus’s visit. And he didn’t let us down. After the obligatory remarks confirming the Czech Republic’s historic place in Europe, he started with a forensic dissection of the EU’s centralising tendency. He called on the parliament, each time we voted (and he was speaking during a break in a voting session) to pause and consider whether the decisions we were taking could be better left to national parliaments.
He spoke at length about the “democratic deficit”, the gap between MEPs and citizens, insisting that ordinary voters felt closer to their national MPs and their national governments than they did to remote EU institutions. More power, more centralised decision-making, such as that envisaged in the Lisbon Treaty, would increase the alienation from the political process already felt by citizens, who were caught up in a process which the did not own and could not control.
More power for the European parliament, he argued, far from increasing democratic accountability in the EU, would drive a deeper wedge between the people and the institutions.
A problem for sceptic MEPs in the parliament is that it is much easier to express support for a speaker, by clapping and cheering, than to express dissent (I and a few others have been fined by the parliament for expressing dissent too vigorously). So it was a delight to hear a sceptic speaker, and to find that the advantage of easy assent lay with us, and not with the bad guys. The fifty or so sceptics, myself included, applauded repeatedly throughout the speech, and though we were a minority, I think we provided considerable encouragement to the speaker over the intense but less audible waves of dissent from the federalists.
But at the suggestion that more powers for the European parliament would be anti-democratic, quite a number of the federalists rose to their feet and walked out (a disgraceful affront to the Head of a member-state). A diminished audience, albeit with the applauding sceptics intact, remained for the rest of the speech. Klaus went on to hint in pretty clear terms that he saw close parallels between the centralisation and over-regulation of the EU, and the authoritarian régime which the Czech people suffered for forty years under the Communists.
It is customary for the President of the parliament, currently German EPP MEP Hans-Gert Poettering, to reply to the speaker. Hans-Gert has the ability to express barbed disagreement and disdain in the most obsequiously courteous terms. But it was clear that he was angry. He petulantly rejected any parallel with Communism. But he also let slip something often claimed by sceptics, but frequently denied by euro-philes: that the EU generates 75% of the new laws affecting EU citizens. Now we have that explicitly confirmed straight from the horse’s mouth — or at least from Hans-Gert’s mouth.
And he concluded with a ringing assertion that “fortunately, in a democracy, it’s the majority that counts”. So let’s conclude with a challenge to Hans-Gert. If you believe that the majority counts, Hans-Gert, let’s have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.