Interviews

Alexandr Vondra: I Am Going Back To What I Once Studied

Published: 1. 1. 2021
Author: Karel Černý
Photo: Vladan Krumpl and archives of Alexandr Vondra
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Last time I spoke to Alexandr Vondra, he wasn’t involved in politics. But he admitted that politics is a bit of an addiction for him and he’d never stopped following it. Today he is a Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chairman of the ODS.

When we spoke two years ago, you said, among other things, that America was changing, a progressive avalanche of various left-wing ideologies was spreading there. Is that still true, you think?

I have nothing to add to the thesis – of America, that is, the United States, changing. If there is a change, then perhaps only in the fact that far more people are aware of the "change" today. America is changing in three dimensions - power-wise-geopolitically, demographically and sociologically. In the first case - the US is quickly catching up with China in terms of power and economics, which will lead to a relative decline in US dominance in the world. The US will not have the strength or willingness to solve every problem in the world. They will pick and choose more according to their interests and priorities, they will also learn to seek balance in cooperation with other actors in world politics.

In the second case, due to the prevailing immigration from Latin America, the proportion of the Hispanic population will increase and due to the lower birth rate, the proportion of white Americans of European descent will decrease. In terms of religiosity, this will reduce the proportion of Protestants and the proportion of Catholics. And what will this "Latinization" mean for the quality of life? It is a generalization, but I would simply say that there are slightly fewer demands for Protestant morality and the accumulation of capital, and a bit more demands for more varied and high-quality gastronomy. These two changes are, I think, permanent.

And then there is the third dimension - social. I'm not sure how exactly it will develop there. Since gaining independence and the establishment of the republic, American society has been built on the free choice of individuals and the right to pursue personal happiness. In short: the starting line is the same for everyone, but how far you get is a matter of personal effort. This is the essence of fulfilling the American dream, this was the engine of American rise. If one was successful, others didn't envy her, but instead tried to be even better. Recently, however, we have seen the expansion of various socialist tendencies and group legal claims that can internally change and disintegrate the society. We see an invasion of so-called political correctness, which destroys freedom of speech in the media, freedom of research at universities and restricts freedom of enterprise through various quotas and unnecessary regulations. We see crowd iconoclasm and "Me too" or BLM campaigns that don't measure everyone the same and evoke feelings of shame and shame for the past. This is weakening the US - inside and out. I still believe that American society will cope with this challenge, but I'm not entirely sure.

You also said that you see Donald Trump – regardless of what he is like – as a natural correction of these tendencies. Joe Biden is the president now. Where do you think America will head under his leadership? How do they compare in your eyes?

When I was asked to evaluate his presidency in the autumn, I used the metaphor of figure skating, although I realize that politics is a long way from figure skating. So Trump as president: the artistic impression terrible, but the sporting performance far better than expected. Trump disgusted many people with his rude and pompous behaviour, permanent attacks on his competitors, and a lack of empathy for people. But he had good results in both domestic and foreign politics. By cutting taxes, he boosted the economic growth, significantly reduced illegal migration, rightly tightened against China, forced allies in Europe to pay fairer to NATO and the Middle East. Without starting a war he achieved better results than his three predecessors combined. In the end, however, he was defeated by coronavirus. He underestimated the crisis and people reminded him of it in the election.

Biden's presidency will be different. He will be more styled and polished, diplomatic, this president will act with dignity, like a gentleman. He won't flood the space with dozens of tweets a day. At the same time, it does not seem to me that, as a traditional centrist Democrat, he has given in to too much pressure from the radical left in his party. At least his first nominations and performances do not correspond to that. Given his age, he is also unlikely to rule for more than one term.

So to sum up: I don't think there is any cause for concern for us in Czechia right now. There will be no revolution. Biden will honour NATO commitments and want to work with Europe. But his presidency will not tell us much about the long-term direction of the USA, he will be more of a transitional type. We'll have to wait 

In last year's elections to the European Parliament, you were fifteenth on the slate, but almost 30,000 preferential votes took you up to 2nd place, and thus to the European Parliament. Was it a surprise to you?

It was a pleasant surprise. I didn't push to get up, I just wanted to help the ODS and at the same time check in the elections whether there is still interest in having an old hand in the game.

Which area of your work in the European Parliament do you consider to be crucial?

For the last 30 years, I have been working on foreign and security policies, but haven't signed up for the  Foreign Affairs Committee in the EP. It didn't make much sense to me. The EU does not have much competence in this area, and it is more of a combination of a travel agency with a declaration workshop that no one reads the reports much from. I really don't have any ambitions to be there. But I am in the subcommittee on defence, because it can be useful in modernizing our army. As the main committee, I have the environment. I am going back to what I once studied. It was the right choice. ENVI is the largest committee of all, preparing the vast majority of key regulations that will affect our daily lives more than anything else. The EP is all about the Green Deal these days. We’ll discuss there what fuels we shall use for heating, what lighting we’ll use, what cars and means of transport we’ll drive, and even what we will eat. In addition, in includes the topic of healthcare too. Although it is not an EU competence as a whole, the issue of covid vaccines, for example, will be discussed there.

What do you see as the biggest issue of the European Union? And what about its biggest advantage?

The biggest problem are internal tensions and contradictions within the EU, which can break it down. These are the turning points that run consistently across the Union. I see three. The first creates tensions between the competitive North and the indebted South, which permanently threatens the eurozone. The second runs between the West, which is unwilling to stop uncontrollable immigration, and the East, which fears it. Finally, thirdly, there is a discrepancy between the ambition of some former powers (Germany, France, Spain) to make the EU a kind of empire or superpower on the one hand, and the possibilities of this very diverse continent to carry out such a project. That won't work. The common market is already associated with a bloated bureaucracy, and each deepening of integration increases it further. The EU will start to fall apart with these ‘centrifugal’ spins, as we already see with Brexit. The EU thus becomes a clumsy mastodon that hinders free competition and destroys our competitiveness. Which is a pity. I believe that the idea of the four freedoms of movement (people, goods, services and capital) is a great thing - as is the peaceful cooperation of all the nations of Europe as a way of preventing us from being engulfed in strife and war again. We should protect what we have, not engage in experiments that will pit us against each other.

As a correspondent, you also submitted in the European Parliament an opinion on the draft regulating establishing the Fair Transformation Fund, which should be key to the transition to a climate-neutral economy by 2050. If adopted, what would this mean would mean for Czechia ? And what is the current development of this point?

It is one of the funds that should help with the transition to decarbonisation. It is intended exclusively for the areas that will be most structurally affected. We have three regions - Moravian-Silesian, Karlovy Vary and Ústí nad Labem. This is primarily related to the closure of coal-fuled power plants. This is important for us, as along with Poland, Germany and Romania, Czechia will be most affected, because coal is still an important part of our energy mix. The negotiations are still underway. There are three problems. Firstly, the total amount of funds may not be enough. Secondly, even the promised amount (about CZK 45 billion for the Czech Republic for the next four years) is not negligible and will require perfect preparation for drawing. The government is still groping their way. They are communicating with large capital entities, but completely ignoring small and medium-sized companies. And thirdly, it is a question of gas and nuclear energy. Unfortunately, the core is forbidden for this fund due to the resistance of the Germans and other Greens. The use of gas will be limited, the details are still being fine-tuned.


CV BOX

Alexandr Vondra (born on 17th August, 1961 in Prague) is a Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chairman of the ODS.

He teaches International and Security Relations at the UJEP in Ústí nad Labem and the CEVRO Institute in Prague. He is also the Director of the Centre for Transatlantic Relations at the CEVRO Institute, the honorary President of the Czech Euro-Atlantic Council, a member of the board of the Czech-German Discussion Forum and a member of the Forum 2000 programme board.

He studied geography and received a Doctorate in Natural Sciences. He then worked as the Administrator of the Asian Collections of the Náprstek Museum.

He was also the Manager of the rock band Národní třída, co-published the samizdat magazine Revolver revue.

In 1989, he was a Spokesman for Charter 77 and one of the authors of the Several Sentences petition. He was imprisoned for his activities.

From 1990 to 1992, he worked as the Adviser to President Václav Havel. After that, he was the First Deputy Secretary of State for five years, and since 1997 he’d held the post of Ambassador to the United States for four years.

#In 2006 he returned to politics to become Foreign Minister for a year. He was also a Senator for 6 years, and for two years he was the Minister of Defence.

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Elections

The year 2021 will be marked by elections to the Chamber of Deputies. They will be in the autumn, and the parties are already preparing for it. "We have already decided to go into it with the SPOLU with KDU-ČSL and TOP 09," says Alexandr Vondra about the ODS strategy. "We are a right-wing alternative to the chaotic rage of today's government, and we have joined forces because we want to win. I do not think about another alternative. Freedom and democracy in our country are at stake. On the left, the Pirates are joining the STAN, which is basically taking over the former votes of the Social Democrats. The autumn crisis showed that the governing coalition is in total disarray, it is acting completely chaotically and unpredictably, and it is already disregarding people’s needs. They can't even agree on taxes, and probably also not on the budget. Under normal circumstances, the government would have to resign immediately. It is using the emergency state and the pandemic as a respirator to prolong its life. This suffering must end at the latest after the elections."





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