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An economist, Klaus was the principal co-founder of the Civic Democratic Party, the Czech Republic's largest center-right political party. Klaus is a eurosceptic, but he reluctantly endorsed the Lisbon treaty as President of his country. He has been called the "Margaret Thatcher of Central Europe".
Klaus was born in Prague during the Nazi occupation, and grew up in the large (up to 1948 middle-class) Vinohrady neighborhood. He studied what was then called "economics of foreign trade" and graduated from the University of Economics, Prague in 1963. He also spent some time at universities in Italy (1966) and at Cornell University in the United States in 1969.
He then pursued a postgraduate academic career at the State Institute of Economics of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, which he was forced to leave in 1970. However, he soon obtained a position in the Czechoslovak State Bank, where he held various staff positions from 1971 to 1986. It was reported that he obtained a limited permission to travel mainly to so-called socialist foreign countries. This might have been a small privilege at that time. In 1987, Klaus joined the Institute for Prognostics of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.
Rise to premiership
Klaus entered the Czechoslovak politics during the Velvet Revolution in 1989, during the second week of the political uprising, when he offered his co-operation as economist to the Civic Forum, whose purpose was to unify the anti-authoritarian forces in Czechoslovakia and to overthrow the Communist regime. Klaus became Czechoslovakia's Minister of Finance in the "government of national unity" on 10 December 1989.
In October 1990, Klaus was elected chairman of the Civic Forum. Klaus was then principal co-founder of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Czech Republic's largest center-right political party. In the following period of successful economic growth, he became Prime Minister of the Czech Republic on the grounds of impressive electoral results of his party. He was re-elected as Prime Minister after the 1996 election.
Resignation as Prime Minister
Towards the end of 1997 Klaus was forced to step down as Prime Minister by several opponents in his party in connection with accusations of funding irregularities in the ODS.
In this time, Czech President Václav Havel heavily criticized Klaus' policy of voucher privatization of previously state-owned enterprises. This policy was designed as a cornerstone for a speedy transition from command economy to free-market economy. However, Havel blamed the voucher privatization as a reason for current economic difficulties. He also expressed strong criticism of some political allies of Klaus like Miroslav Macek, who was a dentist by profession.
Chairman of ODS
At a congress end of 1997, Klaus was confirmed as chairman of the Civic Democratic Party by 227 out of 312 votes. The defeated faction within the ODS subsequently left the party, and in early 1998 they established a new party named Freedom Union (Unie svobody, US), with President Havel's sympathies.
The ODS lost the early elections in 1998 to the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD). The election results would have allowed each of the two major political parties to create a safe Parliamentarian majority with smaller centrist parties. However, chairman of the Union of Freedom Jan Ruml refused to support the Social Democrats. Subsequently, Klaus negotiated an "Opposition Agreement" (opoziční smlouva) with ČSSD chairman Miloš Zeman, his long-time political adversary, though both also had much mutual respect. During the following legislative period, the ODS tolerated Zeman's minority government in exchange for a share in the control of Parliament positions, including the post of the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies for Klaus himself. The Opposition Agreement led to some public demonstrations, particularly against an attempt to regulate the Czech Television. This, in turn, caused Zeman to announce that he would not stand again for the post of Prime Minister.
ODS went to the elections of June 2002 relying on Klaus' image. This time, however, ODS was again defeated by the ČSSD under their new leader Vladimír Špidla, who previously rejected the Opposition Agreement. Eventually, Špidla created a left-center coalition. After a long hesitation and a defeat of his party in October 2002 Senate elections, Klaus did not run for re-election as party chairman at the December ODS congress. However, he became Honorary Chairman of the party. Against his declared wish, Klaus was succeeded by Mirek Topolánek as the new party chairman.
Having lost two general elections in a row, Klaus's hold on the ODS appeared to become weaker, and he announced his intention to step down from the leadership and run for President to succeed Václav Havel, who had been one of his greatest political opponents. However, the governing coalition, buffeted especially by feuds within ČSSD, was unable to agree on a common candidate to oppose him.
Klaus was elected President of the Czech Republic by secret ballot of the parliament on 28 February 2003 after two failed elections earlier in the month, in the third round of the 2003 presidential election (both chambers vote on two top candidates jointly). He won with a majority of 142 votes out of 281. It was widely reported that Klaus won because of the support of Communist members of parliament, support which his opponent, Jan Sokol, publicly refused to accept. Klaus denied the charge that he owed the Communists any debt for his election.
Use of vetos
Although Klaus regularly criticized Václav Havel for having used his powers to veto a number of laws, and promised restraint, he exercises his veto more frequently than Havel, generally labelling vetoed bills as illiberal, 'dangerous' and a threat to the country. He vetoed the Anti-Discrimination Law passed by parliament in 2008, characterizing it as a dangerous threat to personal freedoms. He also used his right to veto the bill implementing EU's Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals policy claiming it to be a burden for private enterprises.
Klaus' euroscepticism and possibly also his scepticism about impacts of human activities on climate change are the cornerstones of his policy as President. He claimed that accession to the Union represented a significant reduction of Czech sovereignty and he chose not to give any recommendation before the 2003 accession referendum (77% voted yes).
Klaus' eurosceptic activism has manifested itself in his articles and numerous speeches, in which he warned against the gradual loss of sovereignty in favour of the EU. He promoted the publication of a work by the Irish Eurosceptic Anthony Coughlan. In 2005 Klaus called for the EU to be "scrapped" and replaced by a free trade area to be called the "Organisation of European States." He also attacked the EU as an institution which undermines freedom, calling the EU "as big a threat to freedom as the Soviet Union was".
Also in 2005 he remarked to a group of visiting U.S. politicians that the EU was a "failed and bankrupt entity."
In November 2008 during his stay in Ireland after a state visit, Klaus held a joint press conference with Declan Ganley, head of Libertas, which at that time successfully campaigned for a "no" vote in the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Members of Irish government called this "an inappropriate intervention", "unusual and disappointing".
On 5 December 2008, members of the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament visited the Czech Republic prior to the start of the Czech presidency of the European Union. They were invited by Václav Klaus to meet him at Prague Castle. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, chairman of Green Group, brought a European flag and presented it to Klaus. Cohn-Bendit also said that he "did not care about Klaus' opinions on the Treaty of Lisbon, that Klaus would simply have to sign it". Further, Brian Crowley told Klaus that the Irish people wanted ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon and were "insulted" by Klaus' association with Declan Ganley and Libertas. Klaus responded that "the biggest insult to the Irish people is not to accept the results of the referendum". Crowley replied, "You will not tell me what the Irish think. As an Irishman, I know it best." In the UK the confrontative atmosphere of this meeting was criticized by some of the media: "This bizarre confrontation ... confirms the inability of the Euro-elite to accept that anyone holds views different from their own."
Klaus is a long-term opponent of centrally implemented economic policies in the EU and of the euro as common currency of the eurozone countries. During the observance of the 10th anniversary of the euro in 2008 he expressed his beliefs in a Financial Times article:
If Europe does not wake up, it will face hard times. A common monetary policy will not help. Member countries already react differently to the appreciation of the euro against the dollar, the rising cost of energy, food or raw materials, and Asian competition. . . . In practice, the existence of euro has shown that forcing an economically disparate Europe into a homogeneous entity through a political decision is political engineering par excellence, far from beneficial for all countries concerned.
Klaus long refused to sign the Lisbon treaty, being the last head of state in the EU to provide a signature. Other European leaders ignored his reluctance, making it clear that they would not consent to be "held hostage" by the Czech President. Czech Prime Minister of that time Jan Fischer, however, was confident that Klaus would eventually sign the Lisbon treaty, saying: "There is no reason for anxiety in Europe. The question is not Yes or No, it is only when."
As early as in November 2008 Klaus said in an interview with the Czech Television:
I can only repeat aloud one of my verdicts. If indeed all agree that the Lisbon Treaty is a 'golden nut' for Europe that must be, and that there is only one single person who would block it, and that person is the Czech president, so this is what I will not do. This is all.
Russian oil and gas supplies
On some issues like energy policy, Klaus has sought cooperation with Russia.
In the 1990s, Klaus promoted renewed oil and gas agreements between the Czech Republic and Russia. He was at that time, for economic reasons, reluctant to seek other energy sources. He was rather negative towards the construction of a pipeline between the Czech Republic and Germany. According to former Czech secret service directors, he was allegedly warned by the secret service of Russian organized crime spreading in the Czech economy. In one scheme, oil was imported to the Czech Republic as heating oil and re-sold as diesel, which created huge profits for Russian entrepreneur Semion Mogilevich.
Later, Klaus was characterized by The Economist as one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "warmest admirers abroad". Furthermore, Klaus obtained the 2007 Pushkin Medal for the promotion of Russian culture from President Putin. It was suggested that this was due to his use of Russian language in conversations with Putin and Russian diplomats. According to Klaus, as far as Russia is concerned there have been "challenges and successes, tremendous successes".
Otherwise, in a May 2009 interview for Lidové noviny, Klaus said Russia was not a threat but still a big, strong and ambitious country, of which the Czech authorities should beware more than the likes of Estonia and Lithuania should.
In late November 2008 Klaus reportedly had a meeting with Vagit Alekperov, head of the Russian oil company Lukoil. When asked about it, Klaus did not deny the report. The Czech government later awarded a contract to Lukoil. Afterwards, Lukoil allegedly paid for the translation into Russian and subsequent Russian distribution of Klaus' book on global warming.
It was also argued that Klaus' reluctance to sign the Lisbon Treaty "put him in step with the Kremlin yet again, this time over one of Moscow's biggest foreign-policy goals: splitting European unity".
Klaus criticised NATO bombings of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo crisis. Afterwards, he voiced many times his disagreement with the unilateral Kosovo declaration of independence. During his visit to Slovakia in March 2008, a country that together with Spain, Romania, Greece and Cyprus has not recognized the independence of Kosovo, Klaus categorically rejected the argument that Kosovo was a special case. He stated that a precedent was set, as those who have recognized Kosovo opened a Pandora's box in Europe. According to Klaus this could lead to disastrous consequences, and he compared the situation of Serbia to the 1938 Munich treaty. When Serbia recalled its ambassador in protest of the Czech government's recognition of Kosovo, the Serbian ambassador was invited to the Prague Castle for a friendly farewell. During his visit to Serbia in January 2011, Klaus stated that as long as he was President the Czech Republic would not appoint an ambassador to Kosovo.
The Czech Presidential election of 2008 differed from past ones in that the voting was on the record, rather than by secret ballot. This was a precondition demanded by several Czech political parties after the last experience, but long opposed by Klaus' Civic Democratic Party which had strengthened since 2003, already had the safe majority in the Senate even by itself and needed only to secure a few votes in the House for the third round.
Klaus' opponent was the former émigré, naturalized United States citizen and University of Michigan economics professor Jan Švejnar. He was nominated by the Green Party as a pro-EU moderate candidate. He gained the support of the leading opposition Social Democratic Party, a small number of deputies and senators of the KDU-ČSL and some independent Senators. The first ballot on 8–9 February 2008 resulted in no winner. Švejnar won the Chamber of Deputies, but Klaus led in the assembly as a whole and barely failed to achieve the requisite majority.
The second ballot on 15 February 2008 brought a new candidate MEP Jana Bobošíková, nominated by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. However not drawing any wider support, she withdrew her candidacy before the election itself. The first and second rounds ended similarly to the previous weekend. However, Klaus consistently had 141 votes. Thus in the third round, where the only goal is to achieve a majority of all legislators present from both houses, Klaus won by the smallest possible margin.[clarification needed] Švejnar received 111 votes, the 29 Communists voting for neither.
Klaus's first term as President concluded on 7 March 2008; he took oath for the second term on the same day so as not to create a president-less interregnum since the Parliament could not otherwise come to a joint session before the following Tuesday. Thus, he lost the day of overlap and his second term will end on 6 March 2013.
Criticism of theories of anthropogenic global warming
Klaus is a vocal critic of the theories that any global warming is anthropogenic. He has also criticized the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a group of politicized scientists with one-sided opinions and one-sided assignments. He has said that some other top-level politicians do not expose their doubts about global warming being anthropogenic because "a whip of political correctness strangles their voices."
In addition he says, "Environmentalism should belong in the social sciences" along with other "isms" such as communism, feminism, and liberalism. Klaus said that "environmentalism is a religion" and, answering questions of U.S. Congressmen, a "modern counterpart of communism" that seeks to change peoples' habits and economic systems.
In a June 2007 Financial Times article, Klaus called ambitious environmentalism "the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, market economy and prosperity". He hinted at present political and scientific debates on environment issues as a design to suppress freedom and democracy, and asked the readers to oppose the term "scientific consensus", adding that "it is always achieved only by a loud minority, never by a silent majority". In an online Q&A session following the article he wrote "Environmentalism, not preservation of nature (and of environment), is a leftist ideology... Environmentalism is indeed a vehicle for bringing us socialist government at the global level. Again, my life in communism has made me oversensitive in this respect." He reiterated these statements at a showing of Martin Durkin's The Great Global Warming Swindle organised by his think tank CEP in June 2007.
In November 2007 BBC World's Hardtalk Klaus called the interviewer "absolutely arrogant" for claiming that a scientific consensus embracing the bulk of the world had been reached on climate change. He added that he was "absolutely certain" that in 30 years people would look back and express their thanks to him for his stands.
At a September 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Klaus spoke of his disbelief in global warming, calling for a second IPCC to be set up to produce competing reports, and for countries to be left alone to set their priorities and prepare their own plans for the problem.
In 2007, Klaus published a book titled Modrá, nikoli zelená planeta (literally "Blue planet – not green"). The book has been translated from the Czech into various languages. The title in English, which is not a direct translation, is "Blue Planet in Green Shackles". It claims that "The theory of global warming and the hypothesis on its causes, which has spread around massively nowadays, may be a bad theory, it may also be a valueless theory, but in any case it is a very dangerous theory."
At the September 2009 UN Climate Change Conference, Klaus again voiced his disapproval, calling the gathering "propagandistic" and "undignified."
On 26 July 2011 at the National Press Club Address, Klaus pronounced himself again against global warming calling it "a communist conspiracy".
On 21 May 2012 Klaus addressed the climate sceptic Heartland Institute’s Seventh International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC-7).
In August 2012 he delivered the Magistral Lecture to the World Federation of Scientists in Erice, Sicily.
In 1995, as Prime Minister, Klaus was awarded the title of Professor of Finance from his alma mater, so he is sometimes addressed as "Mr. Professor" as is customary in the Czech Republic. Since that time Klaus occasionally teaches seminars in economics at the University of Economics. He focuses on his free-market opinions.
His defining issue as economist since 1990 has been his enthusiasm for the free market economy as exemplified by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. According to Klaus, legislation and institutions cannot be created before economic transformation, they have to go hand in hand.
Since 1990, Václav Klaus has received nearly 50 honorary degrees, among them one from Universidad Francisco Marroquín, and published more than 20 books on various social, political, and economic topics. Klaus is a member of the Mont Pelerin Society. He published articles in the libertarian Cato Journal. On 28 May 2008, Klaus gave the keynote address at an annual dinner hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market advocacy group in Washington, D.C., and received its Julian L. Simon Memorial Award.
Klaus was also elected to become a foreign member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 2009.
In April 2011, Klaus was seen taking a pen during a state visit to Chile. The alleged theft, caught on television cameras, was widely reported around the world and has been dubbed an "international event" causing a "diplomatic stir". Event was however exaggerated, because official pens are normally free to be taken by official visitors and this one was not an exception.
Australian Parliament House incident
In July 2011, President Klaus visited Canberra, the national capital of Australia. Klaus's visit to Australia was sponsored by the conservative Australian think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies, and so was not afforded the diplomatic niceties of an official visit. During his stay in Canberra Klaus was invited to an interview to be conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in their Parliament House studios. At Parliament Klaus was requested to undergo standard security clearance, ABC staff tried to convince security staff to allow the President to bypass security but they declined the request, and so Klaus left the building. Klaus commented that it was not an issue of his passing through the electronic security system, but rather of the treatment of his person by the officials. First, when he and his entourage arrived on time, nobody was expecting him. After waiting for ten minutes in front of the building, a worker of the ABC Television invited him in, where he was left "among perhaps as many as hundred school children". After another few minutes he found out that the whole group was waiting for a security clearance. Klaus refused to waste more time waiting in line behind the school children and offered ABC Television to conduct the interview in his hotel. This offer was declined by ABC as they were already set up for the interview in the Parliament House studio. Klaus' approach was further backed up by the head of protocol in the Office of the Czech President, Jindřich Forejt, who described the whole incident as “incredible.” Former speaker of President Václav Havel, Ladislav Špaček, commented that "it is absolutely out of place to check a head of state; it is disrespectful. I am not at all surprised that Klaus turned around and went off. He should not be there trying to argue with some operative that he is not a terrorist."
Airsoft gun assault
On 28 September 2012, Klaus was attacked during a bridge opening ceremony in Chrastava. While Klaus was walking through a thick crowd, shaking hands and chatting with bystanders, a 26-year-old man named Pavel Vondrouš came near, pressed an airsoft pistol against the President's right arm and pulled the trigger seven times before disappearing into the crowd. The attacker, a self-proclaimed communist, was detained after several minutes, but later released. He will be prosecuted, probably for misdemeanour. Before he was preliminarily taken into custody, he had even managed to comment to journalists that he "had done it because politicians were blind and deaf to the people's despair."
Klaus was taken to Prague's Střešovice hospital with what was described as a "minor wound", treated and immediately discharged.
The lack of action from the President's bodyguards was heavily criticised. The head of the President's security resigned after the incident.
Resignation as honorary ODS chairman
Václav Klaus resigned as honorary ODS chairman on 6 December 2008. On the following day, the Mayor of Prague and friend of Klaus, Pavel Bém, stood against Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek for the post of ODS chairman at the ODS party congress. Bém lost by 284 votes to 162, and was replaced as first deputy chairman of ODS by David Vodrážka.
Václav Klaus is married to Livia Klausová, who is a Slovak by origin and an economist. They have two sons, Václav (a private secondary school headmaster) and Jan (an economist), and five grandchildren.
It has been claimed that Klaus had several extramarital affairs. The first alleged relationship might have been in 1991 with Eva Svobodová. In summer 2002, Klaus was photographed by a tabloid as having a "special relationship" with 24-year-old economy student Klára Lohniská. One paper claimed he spent the night after his second presidential inauguration (7 March 2008) with 25-year-old Petra Bednářová. The alleged extramarital affairs, if they have occurred, had no lasting impact on his married life.
|Austria||Grand Star of the Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria||May 2009|
|Lithuania||Grand Cross of the Order of Vytautas the Great||April 2009|
|Poland||Order of the White Eagle||July 2007|
|Russia||Medal of Pushkin||December 2007|
|Saxony||Saxon Merit Cross||May 2008|
|Spain||Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic||September 2004|
|Czech Republic||Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the White Lion|
|Czech Republic||Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk|
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