This summer marks the beginning of the last year of Alexandr Vondra's five-year term in the European Parliament. When he started out in 2019, everybody thought he would join the foreign affairs committee given his past as a diplomat and minister, but he chose the environment committee instead.
Do you regret that decision in retrospect?
Not at all. I made that decision purposefully and intentionally, for two reasons. First, the EP Foreign Affairs Committee is made up of various former ministers of foreign affairs or defense – I know many of them personally and I'm aware that there is quite a relaxed atmosphere, but the blemish is that their authority is too minimal to have any real effect on matters. They travel a lot and write up numerous declarations, but those rarely get read. And second, the environment committee is the largest and, thanks to the Green Deal agenda, also the most powerful. The results of its work have a major impact on people's lives throughout Europe, meaning here in Czechia as well. They are reflected in the quality of life, they influence the prices of basic items – from heating and housing all the way to food and transportation. It's the main battlefront in the EP. But I also retained a bit of my previous agenda. I'm a member of the subcommittee on defense. That's important because it has partial voting power on military aid that goes to Ukraine.
You consider yourself to be, at least in part, a conservative. Can a conservative be a defender of the environment?
Of course, they can. It's directly and literally linked. The field is, after all, called nature conservation. Edmund Burke, the founder of the modern conservative ideology, defined conservatism as a contract between us, who are now living, and those who came before us as well as those who will come after. We do not own the Earth. We have been entrusted with its stewardship, and it is our responsibility to hand it down to our children and grandchildren in a better, not worse, state than when we took over. That is the quintessence of the conservative approach to protecting the environment. But we must not mistake it for the green-socialist ideology. It interprets the issue in a radical way that intends to reshape man and his nature in the Marxist image. After Lenin failed to incite global revolution through military or economic means, his followers are now trying to do the same in the name of culture or ideology. That has nothing to do with the conservative interest in nature, however. It's just another way to further impoverish people. Conservatism isn't inclined to be radical, but rather rational and temperate.
Your election posters say, “Europe without nonsense”. What kinds of nonsense do you see in the policy of the European Union recently besides pushing the green agenda somewhat aggressively?
Many kinds. Let me give you three examples that have a large influence on us. First is the enduring opposition against nuclear energy. Fighting against nuclear and hydrogen at the same time is nonsense. Decarbonizing the energy industry without nuclear is impossible. When I came to the EP four years ago, nuclear was essentially a banned word. I was told I mustn't even speak it during meetings. We're changing things gradually; I started a nuclear energy friendship group with the French and others but it's slow and rough going because of the nonsensical bias. Second, the European Commission proposed the absurdly radical Euro 7 norm for vehicle emissions other than CO₂. If it were to go into effect in its current form, it would have a major detrimental effect on the automotive industry in Europe (it makes up for roughly 10% of GDP in Czechia!); it would essentially just play into the hands of the competition such as China and cause car prices to increase primarily for the low- and mid-income segments of the population. As the norm's rapporteur, I'm doing the best I can to ensure that it undergoes significant pruning in cooperation with Minister of Transportation Martin Kupka. And third – the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive is reaching the final stages of negotiations. I am of course in favor of motivating people to build energy-efficient houses and apartments, but the version proposed by the Commission or the one put forth by the EP is once again absurdly radical. Instead of using individual motivation, it plans to ban, and command, and is even attempting to infringe on private ownership. I hope that the member states will change its final form. This is generally the biggest issue overall. While the EU goes with directives and regulations, the US chooses to implement tax subsidies and other motivations. That's the difference between socialism and capitalism. The latter naturally prevails. Ultimately, the EU is being left in the dust in the competition against not only free America but also state-capitalist China.
With former American Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2012
You are a member of the ODS top brass. How satisfied are you with its tenure in the government and the fact that the only party seeming to grow in popularity are the Pirates?
The ODS rules as part of a coalition of five parties. We haven't had such a wide spread since 1990. Stable rule naturally requires compromise. We have the prime minister and are, therefore, the most visibly responsible party. Furthermore, as it has been so many times in the past, it is up to us to rein in the debt that our left-wing predecessors left behind. I truly believe, however, that the fruit of our labor will show in time for the upcoming parliamentary election in two years' time. Things will surely be better. Our predecessors may have used those words as their slogan, but they ran the budget into the ground with the chaos they caused during Covid and their profligate policies. We will fix this and – things will be better. And without any offense to the Pirates – I don't think they're quite breathing down our necks.
We've now seen the second year of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Are we nearing the end and Ukraine's victory? And what does it mean for the European Union?
I wish for the war to end as soon as possible but not at the cost of Ukraine capitulating or the West leaving it to fend for itself. Russian aggression, if not halted, is a danger to us as well. We have our own unfortunate historical experience with that. Putin's Russia must not emerge victorious from this war. That's why we've been rightly providing military, economic, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine from the beginning. It was us together with Poland, the Baltic states, and the UK who helped steer European policy in the early stages of the war. The Germans and the French, even the US, were quite hesitant in the beginning. But when they saw the Ukrainians' willingness to stand up and fight the invasion as well as our support, they joined in. The support of big Western countries is key. We mustn't let fatigue wear us down; the stakes are high. If the world were to change into a jungle, a dog-eat-dog kind of world, we'll be among the first to feel the consequences.
The US seems to be in for a repeat of the Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump clash next year, and it's looking more intense than before. Should we as Europeans be worried about the outcome?
When Donald Trump won the election the first time around, I could understand him somewhat. I did feel that he was more of a businessman than a politician and that if Russia made him a better offer than Europe could, he'd decide to “sell” us, so to speak, but his first presidency ultimately turned out pretty well in terms of foreign policy. He forced the European allies to invest more in NATO defenses and some of his potential escapades could be reined in by other Republicans in Congress and his administration. But he damaged his credit by mismanaging his departure from office, which still haunts him to this day. There is a risk that, if he wins the election, he might be motivated to enact revenge domestically for an allegedly “stolen” election and other “slights” against him. This could pose an issue for Europe combined with a potentially growing level of American isolationism between the Democrats and the Republicans. I don't mean to be a doomsayer, though. Thus far, the US has always dealt with its problems more efficiently than Europe.
The author is a European editor for Deník
ANO WITH ODS?
We have been hearing talks of the possibility of ANO and ODS joining forces after the next parliamentary election. Would Alexandr Vondra be in the ODS leadership if something like that were to happen? "I am able to work with ANO members in the European Parliament when it comes to defending Czech interests. We're not that different in certain areas there," he says. "But in the Czech Parliament, looking at the extreme rhetoric and completely irrational and purely populist proposals of ANO, I consider cooperation impossible under such circumstances. They lack all sense of responsibility. All they do is shout and nothing constructive comes out."
Alexandr Vondra (born August 17, 1961, in Prague) is an MEP and vice-chair of the ODS.
He teaches international relations and security at UJEP in Ústí nad Labem and at CEVRO Institute in Prague. He is also the director of the Center of Transatlantic Relations Council at CEVRO Institute, honorary president of the Czech Euroatlantic Council, and member of the Czech-German Discussion Forum.
He graduated in geography and earned a Doctor in Natural Sciences degree. He later worked as a curator of the Asian collections at the Náprstek Museum.
In 1989, he became the spokesperson of Charter 77 and a co-author of the “A Few Sentences” petition. He was imprisoned for his actions. In November 1989, he was one of the founding members of the Citizen's Forum.
In the years 1990-1992, he worked as an advisor to President Václav Havel. He then spent 5 years as the first deputy minister of foreign affairs and later worked for four years as an ambassador to the USA, starting in 1997.
In 2006, he became minister of foreign affairs for a year. He also spent six years as a senator and two years as minister of defense. He has been an MEP since June 2019.
Vondra is married. He and his wife Martina have three children – Vojtěch (31), Anna (29), and Marie (26).