Europe needs an opposition

President Vaclav Klaus (source Petr Novák, Wikipedia)

Czech president Václav Klaus touched a few raw nerves with his speech in the European Parliament today, but he also unveiled the contradictions in his position. (You can read the speech here.)

President Klaus is a noted critic of the European Union and did not skimp on his criticism today – apparently some MEPs walked out in protest – declaring the European Parliament to be distant from the voters and the EU as a whole to be too centralised.

But, as ever, it is important to distinguish between these two issues – the powers of the EU and its decision-making methods – and look at them separately.

On the powers, President Klaus said that the EU has two tasks: “removing unnecessary – and for human freedom and prosperity counterproductive – barriers” and “a joint care of the public goods”, issues which he said should be chosen “rationally”. He was clear that “there was and there is no alternative to the European Union membership”: maybe the EU has too many powers, but it should certainly have some.

In which case, how should it exercise those powers? President Klaus does not think that the European Parliament can serve as a genuine representative of the citizens, because “there is no European demos”. How the EU should take its decisions he does not say, only that it should not do it the present way. The Lisbon treaty, he says, would make matters worse, not better. A parliamentary democracy needs a government and an opposition, which the European Parliament lacks.

It is no good to object to the bureaucratisation of the European Union, as President Klaus does, and then blame the European Parliament. Without the EP, there would even more bureaucracy, not less. Federalists agree with the call for a government and opposition model for the European Parliament, but President Klaus would be surprised to find himself in their company. But he cannot resort to the Daniel Hannan argument that the EU should not exist at all: remember that “there was and there is no alternative to the European Union membership”.

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