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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Former Czech President Pushes Back Against European Integration

Former Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a rock star among American neo-conservatives and a polarizing force in his own country, has always had a flair for generating controversy and grabbing the spotlight.

He has blamed a foolhardy battle against global warming for helping to create the financial crisis and accused the European Union of behaving like a communist state.

Now, the fiery former president is causing ripples in Prague, the Czech capital - and indigestion among European officials in Brussels - by launching a new campaign against adherents of greater European integration. The move has been interpreted by analysts in Prague as Mr. Klaus’s first salvo before a run to become a member of the European Parliament, where he could prove to be a potent wrecking ball from within. Elections for the European parliament are in May. Mr. Klaus recently disappointed his many supporters when he decided against a political comeback in his own country.

Reacting to a manifesto by proponents of greater European integration led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Franco-German left-wing firebrand and prominent member of the European parliament for the Green party, Mr. Klaus this week published his own manifesto titled “Democrats of Europe, wake up!”

In it, he warned against efforts to transform the E.U. into a superstate and compared supporters of that effort like Mr. Cohn-Bendit to dangerous Marxists. The appeal was signed by several Czech economists and academics close to the former President as well as Nigel Farage, the Brussels-bashing leader of Britain’s U.K. Independence Party, who has spent more than two decades campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union.

Outlining the dangers of those who want to overturn the European nation state, Mr. Klaus wrote: “That is why we appeal to all the democratic elements in Europe, to all those who still believe that Europe must not become the laboratory of another social-engineering experiment of eternal revolutionaries, to oppose these attempts in an equally fierce, vociferous and uncompromising manner as that of our opponents.”

Jarda Plesl, a long-time Klaus watcher, who is deputy editor of Tyden, a Czech weekly political magazine, predicted that if Mr. Klaus ran for the European Parliament, he would likely win, giving him a new stage from which to pour vitriol on Europe. A divisive figure who has long polarized the country, Mr. Klaus nevertheless has a legion of ardent supporters on both sides of the Atlantic.

“He would love to have such a stage and for people to show him respect or at least attention,” Mr. Plesl said by phone from Prague. “Lots of Czechs will be happy to send him to the European Parliament to get him out of the Czech Republic. And he would, of course, be very entertaining.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Klaus’s ten-year presidency ended in ignominy after his granting of amnesty to dozens of business people accused of financial corruption spurred the Czech Senate to accuse him of high treason. He was later exonerated. But not before mayors and teachers across the country removed his portrait from their offices to show their discontent.