Reports

The Contribution of the New Member States to a United Europe

12 May 2004


The European Policy Centre welcomed the playwright and former Czech President, Václav Havel on 10 May, who spoke on “The Contribution of the New Member States to a United Union,” as part of the activities under the EPC’s Political Europe Programme. The Political Director of the EPC, John Palmer, chaired the meeting. A question and answer session followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

Summary:

Former Czech President Václav Havel urged politicians to be courageous decision-makers and approach policy with a long-term vision. They should not be pushed toward formulating short-term answers by the media's hunger for headlines nor their electorates' desire for 'quick-fix' solutions. Europe, the cradle of civilization, had to lead by example - not imposition - in spreading its values. The European Union had to become more transparent and accessible to its citizens to allow for a true identification process to develop, he said.

Event Report:

Opening the meeting, John Palmer thanked the first President of the Czech Republic for leading his country toward membership in the EU and praised him for his “help in giving us a greater understanding of the extraordinary times through which we are living,” through his work as a politician, free thinker and writer.

Mr. Havel said that the EU had reached a critical juncture in its development. Judging Europe’s current situation would only be possible in retrospect. Europe had given birth to a new civilization, a new democracy that was now spreading globally. Nevertheless, Europe was too driven by its desire to compete with the United States. The continuous drive to become “more competitive, “ to be greater than the US reminded him of the Khrushchev era. European values and Europe’s approach to world politics and sustainable development should be spread by example and not through force, he cautioned. “Europe needs to guide what it gave impulse to and think of the prospects it is delivering to its citizens,” he said.

Politicians should think like poets

He urged politicians to undertake necessary reforms to uphold European values and principles. Though these steps might not be easy, courage to embrace change and think in the long-term, not merely to the next election, was a sign of a true statesman. He hoped that a new generation of visionaries, similar to the forefathers of the European Union of today, would tackle the new challenges with foresight and “do more than copy the moods of the public, but construct the right agenda to inspire Europe and the world.”

Discussion

Reflecting on the draft Constitutional Treaty and its role in bridging the gap between the EU and its citizens, Mr. Havel said that one of the most important things to offer the Union’s citizens was direct contact. In this regard, the Constitution should be “a short, understandable text that students can learn at school. European Institutions have to be transparent and understandable. We need to come to the point where we can all identify ourselves with Europe as we do with our family, our streets, our villages.”

In response to a question whether Europe was still adequately responding to the challenges ahead, Mr. Havel said that Europe was not immune to the changes affecting the world more widely. “The developments are faster than the answers given. We need a new sensitivity and a greater sense of responsibility for the long-term to act.”

Responding to a question on the current situation in Iraq, Mr. Havel chose first to reflect on the historical experience of the Czech Republic. “We were too passive when we were occupied and so were our neighbours. We therefore believe that it is important to act in the defence of free people when they are suffering. The question with Iraq is whether it was well-timed and if there was enough intelligence information available.” There are cases in which there is a moral obligation to intervene, Mr. Havel said.

Asked to comment on what European citizens want from Europe and if this mirrored the will of the elites, Mr. Havel said pointed to Eurosceptic opinion polls as proof of a missing European identity. “Europe has always only been a political entity – despite its complicated structure and its diversity – but building a Europe on democracy, solidarity and common social values is the only sensible way forward,” he said. It is the task of politicians to transmit this message to their respective countries. As long as Europe was perceived to be only about the technical regulation and harmonization of goods, then the real spirit of the Union would be lost. Politicians and their agendas needed to be transparent for the public to allow for the necessary “European identification” process to take hold.

Questioned on why he felt there were no more visionary leaders in the same ranks of Jean Monnet, Jacques Delors and others, Mr. Havel pointed a finger at the media’s hunger for headlines.  It played a major role in “chasing politicians into short-sightedness.” As a result, EU citizens and their governments were losing sight of the essence of Europeanism: a respect for history, national differences, “our countries, our environments and our landscapes.”

Reflecting on a quote of his cited by an audience member, (“by accepting our journey on this river, we have a European responsibility”), and the final shape of the European construct, Mr. Havel said that the same moral imperative valid for all human beings should be the basis of the behaviour of the EU as a whole. While the Union was a “unique type of coexistence of states,” for which classical terms should not be used, the road or river pointed to the creation of a federation, but one need not call it that necessarily. Europe faced one of the biggest underlying questions, to which it would have to respond: how to define the global meaning of socialization and how to mobilize the continent’s greatest good – human capital.

Concluding the meeting, John Palmer thanked Mr. Havel for his presentation and the advice that he had given to politicians to listen to their individual conscience the way poets do. He said that Europe was happy to have the Czech Republic in its midst and thanked him for making that part of European history possible.