Prague-based correspondent Dan Bilefsky can't abide Czech Republic President Vaclev Klaus. That's clear from Tuesday's story by Bilefsky and Stephen Castle, "Contrarian Leader Questions an Ambitious Path for Europe ."
Klaus's sins? Being a supporter of free markets and Israel, and a harsh critic of the European Union, which Bilefsky apparently considers beyond criticism, as does the European left in general.
When Klaus took the position of president of the European Union in November 2008, Bilefsky responded with a piece seething with hostility. In a truly creepy lead, Bilefsky relayed the contents of a secret police file from the former Communist state of Czechoslovakia to insult Klaus for his "now famous arrogance."
Although the Czech Republic handed over the European Union's presidency to Sweden in June, Bilefsky is still nursing contempt for Klaus in Tuesday's piece. Besides being an "ardent exponent of free markets" and defending Israel's incursion into Gaza as a defensive move (Bilefsky called that "anathema to most big European nations, including France"), Klaus is stubbornly "clinging to national sovereignty" by opposing the Lisbon Treaty, which would install apermanent European presidency.
When theEuropean Unionand Russia held their most recent summit meeting in May, the Czech president,Vaclav Klaus, stunned European diplomats when he passed out copies of his book denouncingthe fight against global warming- a central policy of the 27-nation bloc he was supposed to lead.
Just before the summit meeting, Mr. Klaus, whose country held the rotating presidency of the European Union, warned his European colleagues that they should take greater heed of Russian concerns than those of "small Estonia or Lithuania" - two former Soviet republics that are now, like theCzech Republic, members of the union.
The European Union is the world's biggest political and economic bloc, and it often aspires to global leadership. But Mr. Klaus, a contrarian agitator who is also the head of state of one of Eastern Europe's wealthiest democracies, does not agree with many things the European Union espouses- or even that Europe should have a strong union. Hedeclined to display its gold-starred flagin his office during his nation's presidential term.
The fact that he was one of Europe's top representatives at the height of the global economic crisis reveals the difficult trade-offs made to achieve the semblance of unity, as well as the limits of Europe's clout. The European Union rotates the top leadership post among its members in half-year increments, irrespective of their size or, in some cases, commitment to its professed goals.
Mr. Klaus helped topple the Czech government in March midway through the Czech presidency, embarrassing many supporters of Europe in his homeland and leaving the bloc of 495 million people rudderless during the financial crisis.
Even after the Czechs ceded the presidency to Sweden at the end of June, Mr. Klaus remains a potent symbol of the difficulties of acting collectively in a union divided between leaders who favor greater integration, and those like Mr. Klaus who cling to national sovereignty.
Check out the Times' bellicose imagery:
Soon Mr. Klaus may have the opportunity for the ultimate act of sabotage. In a few months he will be asked to sign the Lisbon Treaty, which aims to enhance the bloc's role on the world stage by creating, among other things, a permanent European presidency. The treaty has finally approached ratification after years of setbacks, but Mr. Klaus, one of its fiercest critics, has warned that it will create a centralized "superstate."
The article actually got more hostile from there, with Bilefsky and Castle accusing Klaus of undermining the European Union. For a less starry-eyed view of the EU, read Andrew Stuttaford's devastating Weekly Standard piece .