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UPI interview with Czech president

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Czech President Vaclav Klaus in an interview with UPI Editor at Large Arnaud de Borchgrave discusses the EU, terrorism and the situation in Iraq:

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de Borchgrave - Are you old or new Europe in Rumsfeld's nomenclature?

President Vaclav Klaus--I abhor such distinctions. They are counter-productive and I cannot support this simplistic view of today's Europe. You must understand the positions of various European countries and political leaders and become more sensitive to what are, in the final analysis, small disagreements. I meet constantly with my opposite numbers from all over Europe, and I assure you there is much more friendly criticism than explicit hostility.

Q--So where and how do you see EU evolving -- as a federal system dominated by France in opposition to America, or as a confederal system with Britain keeping EU as a close partner of the U.S.?

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A--What I would not like to see happen is the political unification of Europe. But what I see, like it or not, is an accelerated process of unification in Europe in all aspects and in all respects.

Q--Do you agree with Poland that says the EU's proposed new voting rules risk turning EU into a unipolar club dominated by France and Germany?

A--I don't believe that the main issue in Europe is discussing the percentages each nation will be entitled to as it votes on issues. That would be missing the main point. For me, it is utterly irrelevant whether the Czech republic will have 22 or 24 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament), or 2.3 percent or 2.6 percent of the voting power in a future European Union. Politicians are wasting time and energy debating these quantitative issues while missing the main thrust of the forward motion, from intergovernmental cooperation to supranationalism, to a single European state. So to have two additional members in the European parliament would be nice, but meaningless.

Q--So you see this single European state emerging within how many years?

A--I don't do political forecasting.

Q--By 2010?

A--For me what matters is the tendency. And that will not change until people start thinking and realizing they are not moving toward some sort of nirvana. They are still in the dream world of welfare, long vacations, guaranteed high pensions, and cradle-to-grave social security, and which obviates the imperative need to face really serious underlying issues.

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Q--In a 400-page report, the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg said it found "systematic problems, over-estimations, faulty transactions, significant errors and other shortcomings" and could only vouch for 10 percent of the $120 billion the EU spent in 2002.

A--That is indeed a serious underlying issue.

Q--This was the 9th successive year the European auditors court felt unable to give assurances for the budget as a whole.

A--As I said, not nirvana.

Q--At the last Thatcherite in Europe, you cannot be in favor of the political unification of Europe you deem to be inevitable.

A--I am a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher, but my views on the need to maintain the nation state as a building bloc for European unification are not related to hers. I am convinced you cannot have democratic accountability in anything bigger than a nation state.

Q--So you see the nation state disappearing with untoward consequences?

A--Yes, that could well be the case. Remains to be seen whether it will be the nominal disappearance or the real disappearance. We could see the scaffolding of a nation state that would retain a president and similar institutions, but with virtually zero influence. That's my forecast. And it's not a reassuring vision of the future.

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Q--Former CIA Director James Woolsey calls the war on transnationalism terrorism World War IV (the Cold War was World War III). Europeans tend to smile and dismiss as hyperbole President Bush's frequent references to the U.S. leading a global war on terror. Is it because Europeans don't feel threatened?

A--And many are not smiling because they consider the attacks against the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, as an attack against our common civilization. What you see as European smiles is more a reflection of American anti-Europeanism than European anti-Americanism.

Q--Then how do you explain very strong feelings against president Bush in Europe, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East, as evidenced in several surveys on global attitudes?

A--We live in a political democracy, which means people have a right to have views, frequently evenly divided views, witness your own country where the last presidential election was won by a handful of votes in Florida. Those who organize demonstrations in Europe are a tiny minority of the population. The majority doesn't care to demonstrate.

Q--After 9/11, an al-Qaida spokesman said this terrorist organization had the right to kill four million Americans, but he didn't say four million Europeans too. It is also undeniable that U.S. targets, not European targets, are at risk - from the WTC bombing in 1993, to U.S. Embassies in Africa in 98, the USS Cole in 2000, and 9/11/01, the U.S. was the target. Bali, Djakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Istanbul were targets in Muslim states perceived to be close to the U.S. and Israel.

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A--But we understand the fragility and vulnerability of today's world and we know these attacks are coming close to us. However, to look at the world in terms of terrorism and counter-terrorism gives you a distorted, unidimensional view of reality. We should look at the larger picture. I remember some of us looked at the Yugoslavia crisis the same way, and I used to say 'Don't look at Europe through the Sarajevo glasses'."

Q--If you ask any American what he/she believes to the gravest threat to the United States, the reply will most probably be the marriage of terrorism with weapons of mass destruction. But that's not a direct threat to Czechs and other continental Europeans. So how would you assess the greatest threat to Europe?

A--As someone from a small country, I have a tendency to take the domestic issues first and then look at the external ones.

Q--All politics is local...

A--All human activity is local, not only politics. I see our local problem in terms of how to have a free society, free markets, how to achieve real democracy, how not to fall into the trap of a new form of collectivism.

Q--By collectivism, do you mean a form of neo-Marxism?

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A--Absolutely not. But I other sectors endangering free societies. The enemies of free societies today are those who want to burden us down again with layer upon layer of regulations. We had that in Communist times, but now if you look at all the new rules and regulations of EU membership, layered bureaucracy is staging a comeback.

Q--What about the mostly Muslim immigration and the common external border to contain it, known as the Schengen agreement?

A--We lived for decades in a communist regime so I know what it means not to be able to travel abroad. After living behind the Iron Curtain, I now appreciate normal borders between countries. I have no problem showing my passport when I travel from one country to the next so a Schengen agreement to encompass countries that have abolished the need to show passports for travel between them is not a big deal. On the other hand, it does make it easier for illegal immigrants to move around from one country to another.

Q--The war on Iraq and subsequent occupation have touched off a hue and cry about U.N. reform. Has the global status quo, as evidenced by the composition of the U.N. Security Council, based as it still is on the outcome of World War II, now overtaken by events? Shouldn't Germany, Japan, India, Brazil and the EU (replacing France) be permanent Security Council members?

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A--Undoubtedly. Whether it's the League of Nations, or the United Nations or whatever the future brings, we need a place to meet and talk about critical issues. No one wants to dismantle it except some politicians in the United States, Of course, the Security Council's permanent membership is out of date but I cannot see how it could be changed.

Q--Why do you think continental Europe is being spared by al-Qaida and other terrorists?

A--I do not understand the question. It is quite normal that the principal targets of al-Qaida are the U.S. and the U.K. as they have taken the lead to do something about those who launch the terrorist attacks.

Q--The Czech republic is one of 33 nations with boots on the ground in Iraq, yet you have been quite critical about the occupation of Iraq.

A--My concern was always what to do after the end of the war because I know something about the transition from a totalitarian regime to a free society. This cannot be done by soldiers, or by foreigners. After we won back our freedom at the end of the cold war, there was a proposal to bring back Czechs who had escaped to western countries and make up a new government of those people who had been living in free countries. Those who had lived the tragic communist experience said no to the idea of foreigners organizing our transition back to freedom. We said we had to do this ourselves without outside influences dictating what we should do.

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