What will Václav Klaus do next? This has been a pertinent question in Czech politics pretty much any time over the last twenty years and, of course, no more so than now: VK steps down from his second and final term as President of the Czech Republic on 7 March with nowhere very obvious to go politically. Klaus himself has been typically sphinx-like about his future plans, telling the Prague news magazine Euro shortly before Christmas that following the end of his presidential term he could
see no reason to signal any immediate political ambitions, but I don’t think it’s the end of the road (nemyslím, že je všem dnům konec) so we’ll se what happens. But I don’t think I’ll be announcing a return to Czech politics tomorrow. I don’t think that’s realistic. But I wouldn’t rule out some kind of attempt to go into European politics (pokus o politiku evropskou).
As the interview was ending he also lobbed in the (not very plausible sounding) revelation that in 2002 – in the wake of a bad defeat in national parliamentary elections which had seen his Civic Democrat party (ODS) finally stir into life and contemplate throwing him out – he had considered running for the European Parliament. They would, he explained, happily have given him the top spot on the party list to get him out of the way. And – if you believe the rest of this rather unlikely sounding story - no doubt they would.
It’s a still harder scenario to imagine for 2014. While Klaus still has his fans in ODS – and didn’t miss the opportunity in this interview to stir the party’s factional politics by praising Prime Minister Nečas’s presumed Number One Challenger, Industry Minister Martin Kuba- his active re-entry into ODS politics is hard to imagine. And still harder to imagine is that it would lead him straight to Brussels and Strasbourg to the heart of a small-ish ODS Euro-faction and – if it still exists – the small and still rather troubled European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) group.
It is after all hard to stand for election EU institutions if you have deep-seated ideological objections European political structures and think they are sucking the life out of politics, which can only be reconstituted at national level. Still some Eurosceptics do manage this. So what might a Klausian pokus o politiku evropskou look like?
In the inevitable reference his latest foreign speech, Klaus approving mentions meeting maverick anti-Euro, central banker-turned-pcritic of immigation and multi-culturalism Thilo Sarrazin, who reportedly shook Klaus warmly by the hand and congratulated him warmly for being real radical. Could we imagine the emergence some kind of trans-European alliance of euro-sceptic personalities with Klaus and Sarraz and various local equivalent from across member states? A more high profile version of Declan Ganley’s stillborn Libertas venture of 2009, perhaps artfully fudging whether it was a party or movement, and coming onto the European political stage in much more deeply crisis-hit times.
While it would undoubtedly match Klaus’s sense of personal and political grandeur, such are the complexities of pan-European political organisation is unlikely to come about. And, if it did, as with Libertas in 2009, Klaus would be unlikely to be in the vanguard.
The logic is exactly the same as that explaining Klaus’s retreat from Czech politics. Despite the endless speculation and hints from Klaus himself that he would launch or back a new eurosceptic conservative-nationalist political party – and the fact that admirers and ideological confreres created numerous political vehicles that might have served as the basis for such a grouping (the Free Citizens Party, Libertas.cz, the DOST initiative, even Jana Bobošíkova’s Sovereignty movement) it never come about.
This perhaps reflected shrewd assessment on the part of Václav Klaus that as leader or patron of such a movement he would garner enough support to be more that a bit player in Czech politics, presaging a slow drift into the role of has-been elder statemans of the kind experienced by Vladimír Mečiar in Slovakia.
The same logic suggests that Klaus should stay clear of risky, potentially humiliating ventures European politics and stick to the safer confines of the soon to be established Václav Klaus Institute. Notwithstanding Klaus’s (actually rather well formulated and perceptive warnings a growing wave of angry anti-political nostrums a ‘chaotic mix of everything possible) he does, on balance, seem set as the idiosyncratic commentators at Prague’s Fleet Sheet predict ‘for the nether world of NGOism and will undermine Czech and European politics from outside the system of political parties’.
My own hunch is that, while Klaus’s Institute is likely to be as active as he promises, we might perhaps see an Olympian DeGaulle-like retreat into conspicuous obscurity on the part of the man himself, as VK waits for his moment of destiny.
And you sense from the interview that he thinks that such opportunities may come. Europe he tells his interviewer cannot go on becoming more and more indebted: ‘at some point there be an irreversible crash to which, if change does not come, is certainly heading’ (… to jednou musí narazit na neodvratný krach, k němuž to, pokud nenastane změna, jednoznačně směřuje.) before quickly reassuring us that he does not in fact actually want such a crash.