Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 30 January 1995

Mr President, Mr Secretary General, members of the Parliamentary Assembly, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour for me to have the opportunity to address this distinguished audience and to do so several months before the Czech chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.

I am sure that you have heard many interesting speeches in this chamber already. It is, therefore, difficult for me to surprise you with something really different, with something sufficiently provocative or with something intellectually stimulating. All speakers, using their own specific perspectives, try to convince you of their truth. There is no doubt that that exposes a harmony and sometimes a disharmony of views; that is exactly what Europe is about.

European countries share many things, but Europe is based on an undeniable diversity, making it a fragile alliance. We take it for granted that existing differences, authentic habits, dreams, attitudes and interests cannot and should not be suppressed. Individual European countries provide natural frames of reference for our lives. Europe is, nevertheless, more than the sum of its parts and, therefore, deserves our protection. Its existence makes us richer in a material and a spiritual sense. It is our duty to take advantage of all the potential synergic effects.

With an awareness of that point, it must be fascinating to be in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and to feel the enormous responsibility of dealing with issues concerning the entire continent. What is my message to you today? What can be the advantage of someone coming from the Czech Republic, who happens to be its Prime Minister, in these stormy, turbulent and demanding, but exciting times of historical, political, social, and economic transformation? What could be of relevance to you, or at least to some of you?

My approach is based on the following set of assumptions. First, the Czech Republic is located in the heart of Europe. It has always been part of Europe, and after decades of seclusion and isolation, it is once again participating in European efforts. Secondly, we interpret our Europeanism as an obligation to safeguard and preserve our distinctive features because we believe that they are exactly what we can offer to Europe – to all of you. To deserve its name, Europe must apply the principles of exchange and equivalence. We all have to give and to take. If there is nothing to give, there will be nothing to take and we will be part of a debilitating zero sum.

The communist regime in our country is definitely over. Our unfortunate experience has made us specially sensitive to all kinds of deficiencies, disturbances and violations of freedom, even in countries where democratic regimes have prevailed for decades or centuries. Our approach to the European institutions is based more on the ideas of openness, freedom, exchange and voluntary and spontaneous activities rather than on the ideas of constructivism, étatism, interventionism, regulation and controls. We believe more in human action than in human design. We are confident that this simple truth is relevant to most domestic and international affairs.

We believe in Europe because of its genuine attraction to us. We are convinced that Europe is here to stay and that Europe is very real. Nevertheless, some people are confused because they cannot see it or touch it. They suggest, therefore, that we should build institutions. We are not sure that such tangibility should be aimed at.

We do not think that Europe needs to be stronger or bigger to compete with the United States or Japan because we do not believe in the importance of size. We know that the well-known law of increasing returns in proportion to scale is counterbalanced in reality by the effect of other no less important laws. There are limits on organisational and administrative efficiency. Inevitably, there is the dispersal of knowledge among individuals and the impossibility of its aggregation by means of all the available information technology. We do not believe that technical progress needs huge continents organised from single places. On the contrary, we know that it means creativity, motivation and openness, and the elimination of all man-made restrictions, impediments and fences.

Finally, since our velvet revolution in November 1989, we have accumulated some relevant experience of a historically unique process called transformation, which means a systemic change from the political and economic structures of communism to a free society and a market economy.

Let me use that perspective for a brief discussion of two seemingly unrelated but intrinsically and structurally similar issues – the logic and characteristics of transition from communism to a free society, and the logic and characteristics of the evolution of European integration, especially the European Union.

I shall not go into details today, but I shall outline two essential preconditions for the successful carrying out of both those tasks. We need a clear, strong, transparent, appealing vision of what we really want when we talk about our Czech transition. Our vision has been really straightforward. We want a free society based on the system of a pluralistic parliamentary democracy. We want a market economy and, as I always add it must be without disqualifying objectives.

Freedom is based on the permanent contest of competing ideas, not on the dominance of any one of them. The value of freedom itself is crucial, because it is more general and more encompassing than the value of any one specific ideology, ambition or partial interest. Problems arise whenever and wherever another objective is put ahead of it, irrespective of the well-meant intentions and purposes of the individuals who advocate doing so.

These days a typical conflict in our part of the world stems from efforts to attribute a higher value to different visions and objectives. The vision of a good or a moral society presents the most difficult case. People may believe that a free society does not always produce results that we, and they, like. The definition of goodness and morality that they have in mind is, however, rather vague.

What is more important, freedom can be introduced whereas goodness and morality can only be preached about, or disseminated by giving advice or by setting a good example. The guarantee of freedom is one of the crucial tasks of the ongoing systemic change; it is a task for those who organise it. Preaching morality is an individual task for those who feel entitled to carry it out. Such activity deserves our admiration, but it cannot be a defining feature of any society, and therefore it cannot be part of a transformation vision.

That was the domestic transformation. When we talk about the process of European integration our vision need not be less straightforward, and it must be related to our societal vision. We want a free Europe, and European institutions that will enhance the freedom of individuals living in Europe – institutions that will make our lives happier, and will contribute to improving the welfare of all of us.

We do not want institutions that will try to control us, regulate us, co-ordinate, organise or prefabricate us. We do not want institutions that will try to force their own values, ambitions and prejudices on us – institutions that would favour partial interest at the cost of the interests of the whole.

A strict distinction between goals and means represents another crucial part of our vision. European institutions are no more than an instrument, not a goal in themselves, and they must be evaluated with that distinction in mind. They must be strictly instrumental, and should never become substitutes for real goals. That may sound trivial, but it is not.

The vision must be supplemented by a feasible strategy for achieving it. I do not intend to discuss technicalities about the most suitable strategy, and the comparative advantages of gradualism and of shock therapy, of optimal sequencing rules or of various aspects of the often neglected cost-benefit analysis of our debt.

A successful strategy must be based on a symmetrical and balanced interplay of political, social and economic measures. To omit any one of those is to take the fastest way to failure. The strategy to be applied must be technically, administratively and organisationally feasible, and it must be fair. Its costs and benefits must be widely spread, and its impact should not exceed the tolerance limits of various social groups.

The strategy must also gain and keep credibility, and must be adequately explained to the whole of society. When we look back at the recent transformation attempts in post-communist Europe, we see many troubles connected with inconsistent visions, unfeasible strategies and huge gaps between winners and losers. However, the main troubles are connected with the lack of credibility of politicians and their programmes, as well as the lack of social consensus among the citizens of the transforming countries.

If there is a bottleneck in the complexity and complementarity of the transformation tasks, it is political – inability to secure sufficient political support for the necessary transformation measures. One government after another has had to face growing opposition because it is easier to promote a negative quality than a positive one. So far the Czech Republic has been successful in that respect, and I hope that it will continue to be successful.

Now I shall switch to Europe again. The present European issue – the evolution of European institutions and the substance of the European integration process – constitutes a similar trouble. It needs both a vision and a strategy – a strategy that is feasible, fair and credible. To formulate a European vision – the original vision – to prevent a relapse into the disastrous second world war is not easy. That vision is designed to integrate Germany into Europe in a new way; to promote the values of freedom and democracy against a communist ideology; to promote welfare by removing trade barriers and by creating a common market. The original vision, which was more or less accepted by most Europeans, has been quietly replaced by a more comprehensive vision – Europeanism. That is based on more co-ordination from a single place; more uniformity in policy; common policy in many sectors; belief in extensive regulation; a reduction in the authority and responsibility of the national historic states and efforts to create a European identity.

I believe that such a vision still must be explained to many Europeans. Their questions must be answered and their doubts dispelled. The strategies for Europeanism face the same problems as I have already described, for example, the sequencing issue – the gradualism or shock therapy dilemma – and involve aspects of distribution and credibility. They are not technical problems because they affect millions of human beings and their dreams, habits and prejudices. The credibility aspect is, once again, the most important.

I do not believe that a process of European integration should be based on expectations of stronger European feelings than those of national identity on the part of the most Europeans. I do not believe that the process of European integration should be based on a shift from the fragile balance of unity in diversity towards one based more on unity than diversity. I do not believe that that process should be based on ambitions to create a strong, unified European entity, which is able to compete with the United States of America or Japan. I do not believe that that process should be based on temporary fashions in ideology, for example the current approach to industrial policy, trade polices, the Social Charter and environmental aspirations.

The process of European integration should be based on undisputed ideas and approaches – on permanent ideas. It should be based on the natural affinity that most Europeans feel towards Europe, based on a similar culture and history, our genuine common interests, which undoubtedly exist, and on geographical proximity.

Technically speaking we must define public goods at a European level, based on the implicit assumption that all the other things are either private goods or public goods supplied at a national or regional level. We do not believe in the extension of the domain of public goods. We are convinced that most of them can be supplied nationally. Such a debate, which is based on analysis and not emotions, is long overdue. The Czech Republic is ready to take an active part in that.

With all of those issues on our minds, I would like to assure the Assembly that the Czech Republic, now in its early post-transformation stage, will complete its historic systemic change very soon. It will be a democratic, peaceful and stable country. It will be a reliable partner to all of you. We are, at the same, true Europeans. Despite all our questions, doubts, and sometimes, objections, we want to participate actively in the process of European integration. We want to become a full member of the European Union as soon as possible. Thank you for your attention.


Thank you very much, Mr Klaus, for your inspiring, interesting and sometimes provocative statement. I am sure that members of the Assembly enjoyed it and have taken careful note of it. This week we shall discuss a number of the issues that you have raised.

A number of colleagues have expressed a wish to put questions to you, Mr Klaus. I remind colleagues that they cannot have more than thirty seconds to put their questions. After Mr Klaus has answered the main question, colleagues will have an opportunity to put supplementary questions if they find it necessary to clarify some of the points raised. The first question is from Mr Szymanski of Poland.


On co-operation, how will the Czech Republic assist transfrontier co-operation with Poland in the context of the future integration of our countries in the European Union? Do you agree, Mr Klaus, that that co-operation involves legal regulations and practical application?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

That is not a special question, because I stressed in my speech that individual countries represent a natural frame of reference for our lives. The second frame of reference is our neighbouring countries. I am sure that we have the best possible relations with all our neighbours – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Germany. We are interested in extending cooperation in all sectors, including European transfrontier co-operation. We co-operate with our neighbours, including Poland, because it is in our mutual interests and that of our joint citizens to do so. We do not co-operate with you because of our future membership of the European Union. Our co-operation is genuine and we are most interested in extending it.


What is the Prime Minister’s opinion of the extension of European Union support for transfrontier co-operation among countries that associate with it?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic does not ask for support from anyone. If co-operation with Poland is productive for both countries, I cannot imagine that anyone else would finance it. That is neither necessary nor useful, and in principle it is wrong. I do not think that taxpayers’ money from fifteen European Union countries should finance co-operation between Poland and the Czech Republic; we should finance it ourselves.

Mr GÜL (Turkey)

I thank Prime Minister Klaus for his interesting exposé elaborating the Czech Republic’s perspective on current European issues. An important part of Europe’s difficulties exist in its relations with Russia and its conception of “near abroad” countries. A human drama is being lived in Chechnya, where Russian troops, mostly unwillingly and under instructions from Moscow, are indiscriminately killing civilians, including women and babies. What is the position of your country, Prime Minister, regarding the conflict in Chechnya?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

There can be no one under the sun who does not support resolving the conflict in Chechnya. It is the position of all of us here, including the Czech Republic. We believe in a political solution to all problems. A military solution, which impacts tragically on civilians, is absolutely unacceptable to us all. You used the term “near abroad”. I should stress that we do not consider ourselves to be “near abroad” from the former Soviet Union or Russia, so our relations with Russia are the same as those with standard European countries and are not specifically Czech vis-à-vis Russia.

Mr PAHOR (Slovenia)

It would appear that the European Union is to expand to the east selectively. Although central European countries will be seeking membership separately, it would seem beneficial to them all to pursue closer economic and political co-operation than before. What is your opinion on that?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

First, as I pointed out in my speech, I stress that after decades of seclusion and isolation the most dramatic change that has taken place in our part of the world and especially in our country is the fact that we have opened up to the rest of the world. That was the crucial revolution and the real change. I disagree that the time has come just now to increase co-operation between central European countries, however it is in our interests to co-operate.

As you know, we created CEFTA – the Central European Free Trade Area – which we consider to be absolutely crucial. As I am sure you know, it was my personal initiative to extend that co-operation and establish the central European free trade area from four countries to five, by including Slovenia. This year, we plan a summit of the prime ministers of CEFTA countries and I have invited them to my country to discuss future co-operation. We are ready to extend that group and the free trade area.

There are many reasons for co-operation, but it should not be a substitute for anything else or for membership of the European Union. We repeatedly refused to consider any attempts, which are made from time to time, to create a special small Comicon in central Europe. That would be absolutely wrong. It is wishful thinking on the part of those who do not want us to join the European Union, which we shall do very soon.


Thank you, Mr Klaus. Mr Pahor has no supplementary question. I am sure that everyone here follows what I told the President earlier, that no one among us does not want you to be among us. Not only do we want you in all the institutions that articulate European construction, but we need you, and the sooner you join the better. I call Mr Gross.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr Prime Minister, precisely because I have such a high regard for the successes you have achieved, I should like to ask you the following question: what effects do you see for political culture and for the political motivation of people in the Czech Republic as a result of the fact that both governments ignored the wish – as manifested by the signatures collected – of 20% of the citizens of Czechoslovakia to be allowed to vote on the division of the state?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

First, I shall reply generally and then I shall say a few words regarding the split and division of our country. Generally speaking, we do not believe in direct democracy. We are true believers in a standard political pluralism, indirect democracy and the parliamentary system. I know that there is a referendum-style democracy in Switzerland, but that does not apply to us. There are many arguments, from the ideological to the purely technical, in favour of a standard indirect democracy and that is our principle.

When we talk about the delicate issue of the split of our country I should stress that it was something that we did not want. My wife, who is here with me, is a Slovak. I am a Czech, so it definitely was not in our interests to divide the country. We tried to keep the country together. For me it was the natural frame of reference of my life for fifty years, so I lost a lot when it was divided by being deprived of living in the entity that was Czechoslovakia. There was no reason to have a referendum on that issue, especially in the Czech part of the country where we did not want a split. There would have been no imaginable question for Czech voters to answer. I cannot imagine one in any fantasy. It would not be positive or constructive and there is no question to be raised by having a referendum.

Mr de PUIG (Spain) (translation)

The adoption of Law No. 40.1993, Mr Prime Minister, has been a cause for concern among certain international organisations. This is why some representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly, including Mrs Verspaget, have asked the Committee of Ministers to follow up on the consequences of the application of the law, in particular as far as Gypsies and Roma are concerned.

Mr Prime Minister, what concrete measures has your government taken, or does it envisage taking, to ensure that this law does not result in the creation of a category of stateless persons deprived of citizenship?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I have trouble in understanding the question. We have tried many times to explain to you that your question and similar questions which we have been asking in recent weeks and months are based on misunderstanding, on not really reading our constitution and laws sufficiently, and our legal system with regard to the citizenship of the country.

We had a very difficult task to divide the country into two parts smoothly. I think that we divided the country in such a way that all citizens of the former Czechoslovakia have either Czech citizenship or Slovak citizenship. No residual group in any of the countries was deprived of citizenship. We tried to do that.

I know that my Deputy Prime Minister who is an expert on legal issues wrote a long letter to you, explaining the technicalities of all that, which I am not able to repeat now by heart. I am sure that the Czech delegation here in the parliamentary assembly can give you details of that; but I am aware of that question. We try to supply all the necessary information to your Organisation, to your Council.

Mr de PUIG (translation)

Am I to understand from your reply that you would be ready to accept experts from the Council of Europe to carry out an in-depth study of the situation which would help allay our fears?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

We are ready to accept experts from the Council of Europe on any issue. I did not say that we welcomed experts from the Council of Europe on that issue, because as I understand it, the issue is non-existent and in that respect I do not think it would help to send a mission. 1 am sure that you know that with that special social group – the gypsies – there are problems all over the world in some respects; it is not specific to Czech laws concerning citizenship. There is definitely no discrimination in any respect.

Mr MUEHLEMANN (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr Prime Minister, you have translated into action the words of Alexis de Tocqueville: “People not only want to be free, they also want to eat.” You are the father of the economic miracle in the former communist countries. How do you assess the chances of other countries – such as Romania, Bulgaria, Albania or, indeed, Russia – to be able to follow your example, in order to get away from a centrally planned economy and move to a market economy?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

As I said, we are advocates of the market economy without disqualifying objectives, and we are in favour of the market economy with a sufficient and reliable social safety net. However, it seems to me that it is wrong to put the word “social” before the words “market economy”. It should be placed after those words. You said that the people should not only be free, but should eat. That is correct. However, if there is at least something, if there is one theoretical theorem, which we have learnt, if there is a lesson that my country has learnt, it is that the tasks of creating freedom and creating enough to eat are indivisible. One cannot be done without the other.

The people can eat sufficient only on condition that they are free, and they can be free only on condition that they have enough to eat. Therefore, the whole transformation process from communism to a free society and market economy must be based on a delicate, fragile mixture or interplay of political, social and economic measures.

If one tries to go ahead in one direction only, one is lost. It is necessary to create what I call a critical mass, as in physics; a critical mass of reform measures, then the reform, then the change. Only then is the systemic change able to start.

When there is not a sufficient critical mass of reform measures, countries are in great trouble.

I always say that the post-communist countries are in three different stages nowadays; the pretransformation stage, the transformation stage proper and the post-transformation stage. To make it easier or more dramatic to understand, I think that the first stage is similar to a waiting room in a hospital. That is a place where some preparatory work is done and where the patients usually dream about a chance to take a pill instead of undergoing surgery. I am sorry to see that some of the post-communist countries remain in the waiting room of the hospital.

Using that analogy, the next stage is the surgery. Surgery must be done smoothly and rapidly, and must be finished. When one stops surgery in the middle, everything is lost and the position is worse than at the start. In some countries the surgeons were sent out in the middle of surgery and the wound is left open. In such cases, more troubles begin than if surgery had never been done. I say that as an independent observer. In such a capacity, I would be able to name the countries; as Prime Minister, I am not able to do that. However, you may guess which countries belong to that category.

The final stage is rehabilitation or convalescence. Sometimes I talk about a fitness centre; it seems to me that the Czech Republic has already entered the finess centre. We are both free, and we have enough to eat.


Thank you. Mr Muehlemann, I see that you are satisfied. Mr Demiralp from Turkey has the next question.

Mr DEMIRALP (Turkey)

I have already received answers to all my questions in the course of the Prime Minister’s answers.


Thank you very much. Mr Maruflu from Turkey, do you want to put your question?

Mr MARUFLU (Turkey)

Thank you, Mr President. First, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his excellent speech. A new framework instrument for the protection of minorities, as it is called, has been opened for signature under the umbrella of the central European initiative. In my opinion, the instrument, although more or less drafted along the lines of the Council of Europe framework convention, is more radical than the latter in that it riot only brings a definition but also adumbrates the specific cultural rights to be accorded to national minorities. In that context, what is the position of your country as regards the framework instrument of the central European initiative?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I am aware of that issue. The Czech Republic is in favour of the basic approach of the minority issue discussed in this Organisation. We have criticised the stricter and more aggressive approach suggested by some of our collegues in the central European initiative. As I am sure you know, the latter approach was not accepted. The Czech Republic suggested that we should not accept a special solution to that problem and that we should wait for the resolution which will be discussed here in the Assembly.

I said in my speech that our forty years of communism have made us perhaps over-sensitive on some issues. We are over-sensitive about the difference between individual and collective rights. We are watching very closely the debate in the Council of Europe. Sometimes we have the feeling that collective rights are put ahead of individual rights. I cannot accept that. I have to disagree with it. I am glad that your question gave me the opportunity to express my views on that topic.


We are glad that you agree with the line taken by the convention that is being proposed by the Council of Europe.

Mr FASSINO (Italy) (translation)

Mr President, your gentle and convincing tone of voice tends to take the edge off what you say; nevertheless you make a number of rather specific points. You ended your statement with the hope that the Czech Republic would soon become a member of the European Union, yet prior to that you said there was no need for European social policies, for European institutions or for common policies.

What I would like to know, therefore, is whether in your eyes Europe is merely a market and, if so, whether you do not feel it is something of a contradiction to endeavour to join a European Union that for its part aspires to be more than just a market.

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

I did not say that Europe was only a market. I talked about topics and issues other than merely economic co-operation between European countries. I am well aware that Europe is much more than that. I tried to express exactly that in my speech.

We live in a world in which there is no end to history. We are all moving, transforming and coming up with new ideas. Europe is not a static picture. Both my country and the European Union are moving. We are redefining our goals, visions and strategies. We are ready to participate in all that. We want to be insiders, not outsiders in the game. We want to have our say and to express our views on the dramatic issues that we have to face. By we, I mean all of us here in Europe. The Czech Republic wants to be a standard European country. I am sure that we are approaching that moment very fast. We take it for granted that membership of the European Union is part of that. We want to be in, not out.

Mr VALLEIX (France) (translation)

Mr Prime Minister, I would also like to ask you an economic question, to quote de Tocqueville, I would say that economic problems are not unconcerned with liberty and democracy.

You referred to the course taken by the first phase of economic progress in your country and the free-trade area. You did not mention the Rhine-Main-Danube waterway which now stretches, without interruption, from the North Sea to the Black Sea, thus permitting busy, cheap and highly profitable shipping, although the latter is somewhat impeded by obstacles like borders and the Slav tragedy.

Mr Prime Minister, is this waterway likely to strengthen the economy of the Czech Republic? Might it promote economic and political cohesion in central Europe?

Mr Klaus, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

It always helps to build infrastructure. We were in Egypt last week. For me, more promising than the recent talks in one city or another are projects such as the construction of a pipeline from Egypt through Israel and to Jordan or the transmitting of electric power from one country to another.

In principle, if we make the infrastructure of Europe more flexible, it will connect all of us. Speaking on behalf of the Czech Republic, I am sorry to tell you that we have no chance to go to the Danube because it is not in our country. It was, formerly, when we were part of Czechoslovakia. I am sorry that the Danube is very far from us, as is the Rhine. If there is one river in our country, it is the Elbe. The project to which Mr Valleix referred is not specifically interesting to us. There is an association of countries and regions. We have only observer status in that organisation at the level of the deputy minister. We are not full members of that grouping.


We have come to the end of the questions. I thank you for the answers that you have given us, Mr Klaus. Your country may be far away from big rivers, but the ones that you have have inspired important musicians. Those who have had the privilege to visit your country know how inspiring the rivers and the bridges over them are. We are all very happy to have received you among us here. It has been an important inspiration with which to start the week, which will be a long, heavy and tense week of significant decisions. I assure you that your speech and your answers have given us certain music for the rest of our debates.

I also thank Mrs Klaus not only for joining you on the visit to Strasbourg but – which is less frequent – for being one more among us in the Assembly, listening, fully participating and becoming more informed. Thank you for your presence and your interest. Today has given us great hope for the Czech Presidency, which will begin in a matter of months or even weeks. This is a crucial moment both for the Council of Europe and for European construction. I am sure that we shall have further opportunities to communicate with you, either in Strasbourg or in Prague. We wish you well, Mr Prime Minister. As I said, we wish you the success that you, your country and your people deserve. Thank you very much.