Tuesday, February 24, 2009

No Opposition, No Freedom

I only know a little about Václav Klaus; he pretty much has to live up to the standard of Václav Havel, and that's extraordinarily difficult to do. But Klaus is managing at least part of what's needed to do that:

The present decision making system of the European Union is different from a classic parliamentary democracy, tested and proven by history. In a normal parliamentary system, part of the MPs support the government and part support the opposition. In the European parliament, this arrangement has been missing. Here, only one single alternative is being promoted and those who dare thinking about a different option are labelled as enemies of the European integration. Not so long ago, in our part of Europe we lived in a political system that permitted no alternatives and therefore also no parliamentary opposition. It was through this experience that we learned the bitter lesson that with no opposition, there is no freedom. That is why political alternatives must exist.

And not only that. The relationship between a citizen of one or another member state and a representative of the Union is not a standard relationship between a voter and a politician, representing him or her. There is also a great distance (not only in a geographical sense) between citizens and Union representatives, which is much greater than it is the case inside the member countries. This distance is often described as the democratic deficit, the loss of democratic accountability, the decision making of the unelected – but selected – ones, as bureaucratisation of decision making etc. The proposals to change the current state of affairs – included in the rejected European Constitution or in the not much different Lisbon Treaty – would make this defect even worse.

You can tell he shook things up by the fact that a number of MEP's at several points in his speech booed, shouted "Shut up!", and walked out. (As Daniel Hannan notes, some of them had very bad timing about when they did this, since they did so at the point in his speech where he was talking about the importance of listening to opposition views.) Czechs seem to have been some with some rather fearless and strong-minded politicians of late; Havel, Klaus, and Zeman seem all to have had their own considerable strengths, despite very, very different views on some matters (and, of course, their own weaknesses).

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