26 April 2006
President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic says he is worried by European state intervention in the economy. Mr. Klaus, an economist by training, told a Los Angeles forum that recent actions by the European Union remind him of communist times in Eastern Europe.
Mr. Klaus, a one-time finance minister and former prime minister of the Czech Republic, is an outspoken Euro-skeptic for a European chief of state. He told a Los Angeles audience that the European Union is not promoting freedom. "Its current political and socio-economic system is not about freedom, not about openness. It's about statism, about regulation, and about new forms of protectionism," he said.
The Czech leader spoke at a forum on the global economy sponsored by the Milken Institute, a California-based research center. He complained about a recent EU summit decision to guarantee employment for every European within six months of graduating from school. He also scorned the request of an EU commissioner to establish a fund for victims of globalization. Mr. Klaus says the European Union would do better establishing a fund in Africa for victims of EU protectionism.
He lamented the decision by French leaders to abandon efforts to lessen job protections in the country's strict labor code, in the face of student protests. "We see many similar views in other countries. And in my country, the parliament just passed, in my opinion, a very bad new labor code," he said.
The Czech president said he has 15 days to sign or veto it.
Mr. Klaus is known as a politician in the mold of Margaret Thatcher, the conservative British prime minister who was dedicated to reducing the role of government.
He was part of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, and a strong supporter of privatization as the country revamped its economy after the fall of communism in 1989.
His most vocal opponent, former Czech president Vaclav Havel, has called his policies "gangster capitalism." Mr. Klaus has called Havel "half-socialist." The Czech president's Civic Democratic Party lost power in 1997 after it was implicated in a financial scandal, and he was elected president by parliament after two inconclusive votes in 2003.
The Czech leader lobbied for his country to join NATO, and it became part of the North Atlantic defense pact in 1999. He says that for practical reasons, the Czech Republic is not putting all its eggs in one basket, the European basket. "We feel very strongly about the trans-Atlantic relationship. I think we are very good allies and very good friends of the United States of America," he said.
The Czech economy is growing at an annual rate of nearly five percent, which the president says is good by European standards.
He appeared on a panel with David Rubenstein, managing director of the Carlyle Group, a 35-billion-dollar private equity fund. The investor says two countries in Central Europe stand out as good places to put money, the Czech Republic and Poland. The Czech president says continued growth requires liberalization of the economy, and removal of barriers that restrict the flow of goods, labor and capital.