Vaclav Klaus

The Czech President maintains a measured opposition to global warming alarmism

Environment EU Europe Politics Underrated

German and French diplomats in Brussels this autumn reportedly urged colleagues from the Czech Republic to impeach their President, Vaclav Klaus, for refusing to sign the Lisbon Treaty. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy had already threatened to throw the Czechs out of the EU because Klaus was the last obstacle to unification.

All in a day’s work for President Klaus, the most reviled and detested European leader since General Franco. Klaus is not just a leading Eurosceptic, he’s also the world’s top global warming sceptic.

How did the head of state of a small Central European country become an outcast and object of derision in polite circles in capitals across Europe? After all, Klaus is not exactly a dashing, larger-than-life character like his political rival and predecessor as Czech President, Vaclav Havel. In fact, he’s a professional economist.

His iconoclasm began with his professional career in communist Czechoslovakia. Trained as a Marxist economist, Klaus was exposed to free markets and free-market economists during short academic stints in Italy and the US in the 1960s. He saw that communist economies were failing and capitalist ones were succeeding. And he found the reasons why in the economic analyses of the Chicago and Austrian Schools. 

Klaus was the last man standing against the Treaty, but he finally gave in and signed it on 3 November after obtaining an opt-out for the Czech Republic from the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. It was inevitable that he would lose that fight, but it is worth asking whether Europeans will have reasons to regret it for decades to come.

Klaus opposed the Treaty because of the threat it posed to individual freedom, prosperity and his country’s sovereignty. As he often reminds people, he has personal experience of central planning. What he lived through in Prague was more brutal and stupid than anything the centralisation of power in unaccountable Brussels is likely to produce, but Klaus’s point is that it is part of a larger movement in the wrong political direction.

At one of several speeches he gave commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall, Klaus noted that the first decade after communism collapsed was an uphill movement towards more freedom and democracy. But “the second post-communist decade has been…downhill. Now, we experience less freedom, more regulation, more manipulation of people in the name of all kinds of politically-correct ambitions, post-democracy instead of democracy, growing disbelief in markets.” Now that EU centralisation and unification are proceeding, member states are going to have to deal with the consequences.

Klaus is currently also losing his fight against global warming alarmism and the energy-rationing policies required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically in the next 40 years. However, he is almost certain to end up on the winning side of the climate debate eventually.

That’s not because Klaus is part of a powerful international cabal lavishly funded by Big Oil and King Coal (the reality is that most oil companies support cap-and-trade programmes, such as the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, and coal’s kingdom has been reduced to a principality). In fact, he’s one of only three prominent political leaders in the world to oppose global warming alarmism vociferously and persistently — the others being US Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Britain’s Lord Lawson. Klaus’s position is eventually going to prevail simply because reality is on his side. The wheels are beginning to come off the global warming bandwagon. But until that happens, Klaus is going to be lonely and isolated.

It is no coincidence that Klaus is the only head of state who knows something about climate science and a lot about the economics of cap-and-trade and other energy-rationing policies and is also the only head of a country who is a global warming sceptic. He correctly argues in his 2007 book, Blue Planet in Green Shackles, that the policies proposed to deal with global warming will certainly be much more ruinous than any negative impacts of higher temperatures. 

But as with Lisbon, Klaus is fundamentally opposed to the global warming agenda because “the largest threat to freedom…at the beginning of the 21st century is no longer socialism. It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism.” No wonder he’s unpopular with the chattering class in London and New York.

Perhaps the truest estimate of Klaus’s stature comes from an unexpected source. Klaus has made a point of trying to engage Al Gore. The two are invited to speak at many of the same conferences. Klaus always asks to debate Gore. Gore always declines. This may seem odd given that the audiences they speak to are overwhelmingly on Gore’s side, but the reason is obvious: Gore has the fantasy, Klaus has the goods. Vaclav Klaus may be underrated by many people who are annoyed by his courageous stands, but he’s not underrated by Al Gore.