After two years of debate, referendums, furious revision, and campaigning, the fate of the Lisbon Treaty to reform the European Union has come down to the signature of one man. Unfortunately for advocates of European integration, that man is Czech President Vaclav Klaus.
In his latest bid to scuttle the treaty's adoption, Klaus is insisting that a new, basically meaningless footnote be added, a demand that the the Czech government, which previously endorsed the treaty, is grudgingly supporting, despite the fact the treaty had been approved by the Czech Parliament. If he can delay matters long enough until an anti-Lisbon Conservative government comes to power in Britain, Klaus now has a small but not insignificant chance to sink the treaty altogether, a fitting swan song for the lifelong Euroskeptic.
Although mostly known outside his country for his skeptical views on global warming (environmentalism, in his opinion, is "the most prominent antiliberal, populist ideology of the contemporary world, comparable to communism and Nazism.) Klaus is one of the most important figures in post-communist Czech history, and the Lisbon battle is just the latest in a long series of controversial stances in his career. But lately, this lifelong iconoclast appears more and more as a tragic political figure. He is now totally isolated in Europe, shunned by most EU politicians, who view his obstructions as proof of his, and his country's, lack of democratic credentials.
When Klaus first appeared on the Czech political scene shortly after the fall of communism in November 1989, the public viewed him as a godsend. Compared with both the former communist power elite and the anti-communist dissident leaders who came to power at the end of 1989, he appeared, well, very Western.
He differed from the former dissidents not only in ideology but in appearance. Impeccably dressed and groomed, the well-spoken Klaus had nothing but scorn for those hairy men in old sweaters, many of whom still adhered to slightly utopian ideas of post-totalitarian politics.
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel, the unofficial leader of the dissident movement in the 1980s, has recalled that Klaus was first introduced to pro-democracy leaders of the Civic Forum movement during their negotiations with the communist regime in the late 1980s. The dissidents were desperately searching for an economist familiar with Western free market theories. Klaus, who had studied at the University of Chicago as a disciple of Milton Friedman, fit the bill. He was hardly a dissident, having worked for years as a clerk for the Czechoslovak Central Bank -- but he certainly appeared to be competent.