News that the European Union had won the Nobel Peace Prize brought to mind a lunch I had a few weeks ago with the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus.
Mr. Klaus was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, but he took a time out for an event presented by the Hudson Institute and the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College that was timed to the launch in America of his book Europe: The Shattering of Illusions.
In respect of the European Union, Mr. Klaus said, "we find ourselves in a blind alley. The only possible way out is the way back."
He said the sovereign debt crisis is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg — a Europe that has no citizens, only inhabitants. He said he favors European trade liberalization and "integration," but that the European Union had attempted to go far beyond that, to "unification" into a "superstate."
"I think that democracy can exist not at the level of a continent, just at the level of a state," he said.
His book expands on the ideas delivered at the lunchtime speech.
"Apart from the powerful coalition of political and vested financial interests that depend on the EU for their existence — consisting of EU politicians and bureaucrats as well as media, businesses, artistic, scientific, environmental and other groups living on parasitic terms off the various European projects — hardly anybody defends the current developments in Europe," Mr. Klaus writes. Well, hardly anyone except the Nobel Peace Prize committee, which now adds the European Union to President Obama and Yasser Arafat on its list of distinguished honorees.
Mr. Klaus writes that the European Union was born out of a confusion between the aggressive, evil nationalism of Hitler and the traditional nation-state. "Of the many fatal mistakes and lies that have always underpinned the evolution of the European Union, this was one of the worst," he writes.
The Czech president describes Europe as an example of what Hayek called the "fatal conceit" of central planners. He quotes one of the EU's founding fathers, Jean Monnet, as saying on April 30, 1952 at the U.N., "Europe's nations should be led towards a superstate, without their people understanding what is happening." The EU is also a partial result, Mr. Klaus writes, of the secularization of European society since the time of the French Revolution.
Yet even as the European Union poses as an alternative to nationalism, Mr. Klaus suggests that a nationalist agenda, and not en entirely benign one, is lurking in the background. "The European project is primarily a power gambit played by Germany and France in a distinctly socialist style," he writes at one point.
So the European Union will have a Nobel Peace Prize. As Mr. Klaus's book and remarks suggest, it will be small consolation to the inhabitants of Europe, who see their economies dragged down by the Euro and its associated obligations and who see their freedoms slipping away into the hands of Brussels bureaucrats.