PRAGUE – As I listened to what some Europeans were saying as my country prepared to take over the presidency of the European Union, I heard dim echoes of Neville Chamberlain’s infamous description of Czechoslovakia as “a faraway country of which we know little.” I suppose that Donald Rumsfeld’s misguided bid a few years ago to incite a divide between “new and old” Europe contributed to the re-emergence of that disdainful attitude.
The reality is that there is no such thing as “old and new” Europe, and there never was. The break with communism and reunification of Europe is now almost two decades old. We Czechs are 100% European, and were even when the Iron Curtain cut us off from democratic Europe. Indeed, our pro-EU sentiments may be all the stronger because our membership in the Union, like our freedom, is so comparatively new.
So no one in Europe needs to fear that the Czech Republic has some nostalgic or idiosyncratic agenda that it wants to impose on the Union. On the contrary, events have imposed an agenda on Europe that we cannot escape and for which solidarity – true union – will be needed.
The primary, and most pressing, of the problems we face is the financial and economic crisis that is enveloping the EU. Unfortunately, conditions across the Union will likely worsen before they begin to improve. The type of social unrest recently witnessed in Greece may spread, because the downturn is likely to take a disproportionate toll on Europe’s young people, who are seeking jobs at a time when hard-pressed European businesses will be able to offer them very few.