The irony is that he delayed a long time before signing the Lisbon Treaty, being the last member state’s signatory. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Václav_Klaus. He has spoken at the Bruges Group a couple of times. He is by far the most impressive of the ‘post-Warsaw Pact’ Czech presidents.
Václav Klaus has made a habit of saying things others shy away from saying, but it doesn’t seem to have done him much harm in the popularity stakes. Quite the opposite: the 73-year-old ardently Eurosceptic free-marketeer has legitimate claims to be regarded as the most successful ‘true blue’ conservative politician in Europe over the past 25 years. He was, after all, prime minister of the Czech Republic from 1992 to 1998 and then his country’s president for a further ten years, from 2003 to 2013.
So when we meet after a typically hearty Serbian lunch — at the International Science and Public Conference in Belgrade — I am keen to ask if he has any advice for David Cameron and the British Conservative party.
‘I was invited to a conference last year in Windsor which was called the Conservative Renewal Conference,’ he says. ‘I made a speech in which I asked the question: “Do you really need a renewal — or don’t you think it would be sufficient to have a return?” My speech stressed the need to return to standard conservative ideas and approaches. I am afraid the current leadership of the Conservative party are not exactly doing that.’
Klaus’s message clearly resonates more with activists than with the serial ‘modernisers’ at the top of the party. ‘After I had finished my speech, two or three older ladies came up to me and said, “It was like Maggie’s speech!” So I find the Conservative party now rather confused in its ideas. The party is playing with the green ideas in a way I can’t accept.’ [JK: He does not believe in global warming being the result of human actions]
Klaus is not too keen — to say the least — about another element of the ‘modernising’ agenda. ‘The same-sex marriages and all that stuff about family, to put it broadly, is for me another tragic misunderstanding by the current leaders of the party and I am very sorry about that.’
We move on, inevitably, to Europe. What effect does Klaus think a British referendum on EU membership — and the prospect of a UK withdrawal — might have for the Continent? ‘It would send a strong signal. I was very angry, even in the communist era, looking at Britain from the outside, from behind the Iron Curtain, that Britain decided to leave EFTA to join the EEC in the early 1970s.’ [JK: I didn’t know that, how interesting].
It was a Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath, who took that momentous step. What, I wonder, does Klaus think of the present Conservative leader’s line on Europe? ‘I have met Mr Cameron several times and I am not so sure about his credentials on the EU. I understand he must somehow reflect the division in the whole country and in his party, but nevertheless I don’t think that in a secret ballot in a referendum that he would vote yes [JK: for Britain to remain in the EU] — but this is only my guesstimate.’