Jiri Pehe — once an advisor to Vaclav Havel, now an academic and a go-to man for international journalists seeking smart quotes about Czech politics — once pointed out to me that Czech president Vaclav Klaus is more anti-integration than just about every mainstream politician in Europe with the exception of one branch of the British Conservative Party. The only other guy who might approach him is Hungary’s nationalist noisemaker Viktor Orban, whose star was fading last I checked.
Yesterday’s Czech papers were awash with Klaus’s comment that he’d prefer to have no European constitution at all. He’s thus the first European head of state (but oddly, not an EU head of state) that has rejected the constitution. EuroSavant hits the nail on the head with this sentence: “I get the picture here of old grandpa over there sounding off in the corner, right when the rest of the family has gotten together to try to make a decision – he’s got some mighty strange views, and he’s sure to express them in his cranky way, but as long as you are polite and say ‘Yes, grandpa’ you can otherwise pretty much ignore him.” (Pragueblog expressed similar sentiments recently: The Czechs are dealing with Klaus the same way they dealt with the Communists. That is, let him have his special title and then ignore him.) But…
Klaus does pull a good deal of weight, though. He is the president, and his ODS is the most popular party, and with the unreformed anti-EU Communists in second place, there’s really no viable rival. Vladimir Spidla and his europhile Social Democrats control the government and will likely stay in power until the next elections, but beyond that, it’s not looking good for for the SocDems right now.
What this means is that Klaus’s noisemaking will give the weakened SocDem PM and the Czech government a stronger position at the EU bargaining table. They can play good cop-bad cop. They can say, “Look, we’d love to let up on such-and-such a point (voting rights, for example) but with our very own president vocally opposed to the Constitution, it could easily be put to a referendum and fail if we don’t get more concessions from you.”