Article by Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Presidency of the European Union between January and June 2009

Article by Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Presidency of the European Union between January and June 2009

In the latest JMECE Lab newsletter we have the honour to include an article written exclusively for the JMECE Lab by Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, EU presidency of the European Union between January and June 2009.

INTRODUCTION: The motto of the Czech Republic EU presidency is “Europe without barriers”. The Czech Republic will be presiding over the meetings of EU-27 between January and June 2009. The main priorities of the Czech Presidency can be summed up as “the 3 E’s”: Economy, Energy and External Relations.

ARTICLE:

Over Prague, a giant metronome counts the time of the Czech Presidency. It stands on the site of a memorial to the Soviet dictator Stalin, put up with great pomp in the 1950s and then stealthily disposed of during one night. A megalomaniac statue of an autocrat that was to stand “forever” has been replaced by a subtle symbol of transience and the passing of time. True, it sometimes seizes up, which is a technical glitch, and the European Union flag has been twice damaged by vandals, which is being dealt with by the police (although the twelve stars on a blue background are not a “state symbol”), but the Czech Presidency goes on, works on fulfilling its priorities, the “3E’s” – the Economy, Energy and Europe in the world – and has also responded to unexpected events, which, for now, we refer to as the “2G’s” – Gaza and gas.

However, the metronome makes me also think of Fellini’s mock-documentary “Orchestra Rehearsal” in which the Italian director depicts a revolt of musicians who depose the conductor and replace him with a metronome. The director commented on the political metaphor by saying: “Before I hear it with my own ears, I cannot believe that such an inharmonious community of humans, metal and wood can coalesce into one single melody”. For the first half of 2009, the Czech Republic has chosen the slogan “Europe in sweet harmony”. This is to say that we consider our Presidency to be about a search for equilibrium and moderating joint debates rather than pushing through our own interests and ambitions. At the same time we wish our Presidency to be as open and transparent as possible. Of course, we cannot afford this in certain strategic or security-sensitive areas, but in principle we put more faith in dialogue than in monologue; the former is not only easier to listen to, but also to understand.

The European Union – or rather its institutions – are struggling against a crisis of trust. A thirty-year-long opinion poll, i.e. the elections to the European Parliament, show that this has been a long-term, consistent trend. The institutions try to act all the more decisively and convincingly, but whenever someone voices a different opinion or even criticises their actions, they often become wimpy – i.e. they reject even valid objections. Pressure for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty or shuttling between the seats of the European Parliament are thus seen by the general public above all as symbols of obstinacy and unwillingness to listen.

True, for institutions to work together, they need rules to play by or, if you like, a common score and rhythm, and also somebody to make sure that these rules are respected, but, coming back to Fellini’s orchestra, I think it is symptomatic that the musicians often don’t share their conductor’s zeal for the cause and after some time tend to reject his authoritarianism. However, they realise that they need direction and consequently choose the metronome over the man.

“Over Prague, a giant metronome counts the time of the Czech Presidency. It stands on the site of a memorial to the Soviet dictator Stalin, put up with great pomp in the 1950s and then stealthily disposed of during one night."
“Over Prague, a giant metronome counts the time of the Czech Presidency. It stands on the site of a memorial to the Soviet dictator Stalin, put up with great pomp in the 1950s and then stealthily disposed of during one night.”

The error is manifest – the conductor had been stepping up his rigour and pressure as criticism directed at him grew, until he lost all backing. He could not bear the criticism nor the challenges; he responded with increasing authoritarianism. A bad communication strategy, we would say today. The apathy of Fellini’s musicians who say: “We have no deeper interests. What are we interested in? Nothing”, and the ensuing disunion are resolved by the impact of a wrecking ball which breaks through the walls of the chapel where the rehearsal is taking place. The conductor picks up his baton again but, instead of humility and respect for others, he starts voicing orders much more strongly than before. With a bit of exaggeration, we could say that the EU is also experiencing turbulence, which has been provoked by the financial crisis. If its institutions respect the different positions of the Member States, their respective situations and the different expectations of their inhabitants, they will boost their trustworthiness, but if they issue new orders that are binding on everybody without distinction, there will be yet another decrease in the turnout at this year’s elections to the European Parliament.

This is what the Czech Presidency brings forward for other EU Member States to consider. Let us not succumb to the momentary mood provoked by the impact of the economic crisis and let us not give up the functioning mechanisms. Let us not weaken the strength of the internal market and let us not undermine Europe’s competitiveness. Let us realise that musicians cannot do without technical rules or without a conductor, but everybody is responsible above all for tuning their instrument and for playing by the common score. I believe that in the end, the important relation is not that of metronome and conductor, but that of orchestra and audience. The tempo may vary but false notes are audible at once.

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