Here’s his translator.
And here’s the memoir.
I’ll remember this speech:
Ladies and gentlemen:
My advisors have advised me, on this important occasion, to speak in Czech. I don’t know why. Perhaps they wanted you to enjoy the sound of my mother tongue.
The last time they arrested me, on October 27 of last year, I didn’t know whether it was for two days or two years. Exactly one month later, when rock musician Michael Kocab told me that I would probably be proposed as a presidential candidate, I thought it was one of his usual jokes.
On the 10th of December 1989, when my actor friend Jiri Bartoska, in the name of the Civic Forum, nominated me as a candidate for the office of the president of the republic, I thought it was out of the question that the Parliament we had inherited from the previous regime would elect me.
Twelve days later, when I was unanimously elected president of my country, I had no idea that in two months I would be speaking in front of this famous and powerful assembly, and that I would be heard by millions of people who have never heard of me and that hundreds of politicians and political scientists would study every word I say.
When they arrested me on October 27, I was living in a country ruled by the most conservative Communist government in Europe, and our society slumbered beneath the pall of a totalitarian system. Today, less than four months later, I am speaking to you as the representative of a country which has complete freedom of speech, which is preparing for free elections, and which seeks to establish a prosperous market economy and its own foreign policy.
It is all very extraordinary indeed.
But I have not come here to speak about myself or my feelings, or merely to talk about my own country. I have used this small example of something I know well to illustrate something general and important.
We are living in extraordinary times. The human face of the world is changing so rapidly that none of the familiar political speedometers are adequate.
We playwrights, who have to cram a whole human life or an entire historical era into a two-hour play, can scarcely understand this rapidity ourselves. And if it gives us trouble, think of the trouble it must give to political scientists, who spend their whole lives studying the realm of the probable and have even less experience with the realm of the improbable than playwrights.
Anyway. Rest in peace, Mr. President!
So say the Brits.
The Prime Minister first realised that he almost certainly would have to wield the British veto after his meeting with Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy early on Thursday evening.
Sarkozy told Cameron that there could be no compromise on the City of London because, he claimed – absurdly – the euro’s problems were the product of a lack of financial regulation.
When Cameron walked into the room with William Hague, Merkel’s face fell. She seemed to realise that the presence of the Foreign Secretary meant the Prime Minister really was contemplating something that none of his predecessors had ever dared do – using the veto.
After this meeting, Ed Llewellyn, Cameron’s chief of staff, briefly took soundings on whether a treaty change that did not offer any protections for financial services could pass through the Commons without a sustained Tory rebellion.
The answer to that, he quickly concluded, was no. If Sarkozy would not budge, the veto was Cameron’s only option if he wished to avoid a civil war in his own parliamentary party. …
Downing Street is clear who is to blame for Britain being put in this position: the French. One person familiar with the negotiations says: ‘It was effectively the French saying no. It was a showdown between Dave and Sarko, and Dave didn’t blink.’
Even the Liberal Democrats are joining in this French-bashing. An ally of the Deputy Prime Minister tells me: ‘We don’t like the outcome but we don’t blame David Cameron. The real enemy, as usual, is the French.’
Cameron, though, is aware of how difficult the decision to back the veto was for the Liberal Democrats. The Coalition is now looking for a major domestic policy announcement that Clegg’s party can make in the next few days to reassure its MPs and members.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says David Cameron’s veto of EU treaty changes was “bad for Britain” and could leave it “isolated and marginalised”.
But he blamed French and German “intransigence” and pressure from Eurosceptic Conservatives for putting the PM in “a very difficult position”.
Initially Mr Clegg said the coalition was united over the use of the veto.
But he told the BBC he had “made it clear” to Mr Cameron it was “untenable” for him to welcome the move. …
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: “I’m bitterly disappointed by the outcome of last week’s summit, precisely because I think now there is a danger that the UK will be isolated and marginalised within the European Union.
“I don’t think that’s good for jobs, in the City or elsewhere, I don’t think it’s good for growth or for families up and down the country.”
Well, he had to. It’s his party’s principles, and his own. They’re Europhiles.
… there are two claims which are equally significant.
Firstly, the deputy prime minister claimed the outcome would have been different if he had been prime minister at the talks as he would not have to worry about Eurosceptic backbenchers – in other words David Cameron’s veto was not the fault of European politics but the inevitable consequence of Tory politics.
He may be wondering this morning why he agreed to a negotiating position which allowed a Conservative Eurosceptic to say “No”, blame Europe for it and declare that he had Lib Dem support.
Secondly, Nick Clegg said that those who worried that this deal might damage rather than protect the City of London “might be right”. In other words the veto may not even have achieved its goal. …
So, now we have a government split between a party which wants to see this veto as the first step to a totally new looser relationship with the EU and a party led by a man who’s pledging to “fight, fight and fight again” to stop that happening.
Can a coalition split so spectacularly on Europe be sustained for three and a half years? Will either side want it to be?
I think the Coalition is not long for this world…
Well, bring on the election! Let’s have a strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government!
A lot of people are hauling out Churchill’s speech from Zurich in 1946, in which he called for the creation of a United States of Europe.
It’s a good speech, and it helped inspire the European project.
But he did not intend that Britain should be a part of it. On the contrary:
Yet all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted, would as if by a miracle transform the whole scene, and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and as happy as Switzerland is today.
What is this sovereign remedy?
It is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.
We must build a kind of United States of Europe.
In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.
The process is simple.
All that is needed is the resolve of hundreds of millions of men and women to do right instead of wrong, and gain as their reward, blessing instead of cursing.
Much work has been done upon this task by the exertions of the Pan-European Union which owes so much to Count Coudenhove-Kalergi and which commanded the services of the famous French patriot and statesman, Aristide Briand. …
The salvation of the common people of every race and of every land from war or servitude must be established on solid foundations and must be guarded by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than submit to tyranny.
In all this urgent work, France and Germany must take the lead together.
Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America, and I trust Soviet Russia – for then indeed all would be well – must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine.
We’ll see whether the European project has a future — the Euro may not. We’ll see. But it shouldn’t include Britain in anything other than a trade capacity.
Cameron looks good.
Update: What is Britain’s future in Europe?
Update again: The Euroskeptic reaction is great.
The Express also says “Britain Stands Alone”, and declares, “Cameron says no to EU treaty as others buckle”.
Today I salute Mr Cameron. He is to be congratulated on standing up for this country’s interests in refusing to agree to a treaty that would have violated both our economic prosperity and our democratic principles.
The challenge now for the Prime Minister is that he must hold his nerve as never before. In Europe, he is in a minority of one. The threats from fellow EU leaders about what might happen if we don’t join in their vision of a new EU are deeply menacing. …
If Mr Cameron’s resolute stand were to bring down the Coalition, it is hard to imagine anything better for him than to have to fight an election on the platform of sparing Britain from further damage by an increasingly federal, and anti-democratic, Europe. The current opinion polls on Europe show the contest would be his to lose.
Crucially, it was clear last night to all but our most one-eyed and dedicated enemies — and to the BBC, whose biased reporting has once again been a disgrace — that the British prime minister had behaved with propriety. And that is because he set out to Brussels 48 hours ago bent on conciliation not confrontation.
Nobody could have behaved more reasonably. He was all charm with his fellow European leaders, while flatly rejecting ill-tempered demands from the Tory back benches that he should seize the opportunity created by the euro crisis to demand a massive repatriation of powers to Britain. …
How did he pull off this amazing feat? I do not believe that the Prime Minister cunningly plotted the outcome. I can discern no Mandelsonian dark arts, and no cunning strategy. Cameron did not travel to Brussels thinking how he could outmanoeuvre the Tory right, while keeping the Lib Dems sweet.
He won out because he played it straight. He wanted to do the right thing by Europe and by Britain. The evidence suggests that he was motivated by nothing more sophisticated than a determination to conduct himself with integrity and to act in the national interest. …
So Cameron faces a long and desperately hard battle in the months ahead as he fights for British interests in a darkening economic climate. But thanks to his honourable conduct over the last two days, he engages in that struggle from the moral high ground.
The PM has time on his side. Polls are certain to show massive support. Europe now looms as the decisive issue at the next election.
He is suddenly the Lucky General, blessed with a red hot issue — and an unelectable opponent.
Ed Miliband has shown himself to be on totally the wrong side of every argument — the public sector strikes, the economy and now Europe.
He is nailed to the floor by union paymasters who are utterly wedded to Europe as the source of industrial power. …
As for Nick Clegg, the party’s over. The Lib-Dem high command — Ming Campbell, Charlie Kennedy, Paddy Ashdown and Clegg himself — are out of step with ordinary members who have become disenchanted with Brussels.
Britain is the most eurosceptic country in the EU. A majority of those who express an opinion want us out.
Bring on the election.
The thesis of this article is that Cameron failed.
Forget economics. This was a political moment, and it will be remembered as the time the politicians failed. …
But most of all, David Cameron failed. The British Prime Minister will be applauded by his more isolationist backbenchers for his decision to pull out of Friday’s euro-rescue treaty, making Britain probably alone among the 27 European Union countries in refusing to participate in the pooling of resources and common sacrifice necessary to put the continent’s finances back on track.
His withdrawal is a serious blow to Europe, the world’s largest single economy – making a collapse of investor confidence in the continent far more likely, and forcing the bloc into an imposed Franco-German solution rather than the sort of larger arrangement that Britain could have helped organize, if it had been constructive instead of destructive. …
So it’s almost certainly a disaster for Britain. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where, in the wake of a 26-country agreement to create a fiscal and financial regulatory union with one dissenter, Britain doesn’t end up more isolated from Europe.
While Mr. Cameron’s Euro-skeptic MPs argue that Britain should withdraw into a trade-only relationship with Europe along the lines of Norway or Switzerland, they don’t understand: Britain’s trade ties with the continent are built on six decades of common laws, standards and regulations, all of which are now jeopardized. The British exemption could only result in less trade, not more.
The stakes are huge. This is a country, remember, whose annual trade with its 26 EU neighbours is between £140-billion and £185-billion, somewhere between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of all imports and exports. By comparison, it does £33.5-billion in business with the United States (15 per cent), £5.1-billion with China (2.3 per cent) and £3.6-billion with Canada (1.6 per cent). …
“I think I did the right thing for Britain,” Mr. Cameron told the BBC on Friday, claiming that Britain could take or leave pieces of the EU – a cafeteria common market. No serious observer believed him. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, certainly didn’t: “Any Euro-skeptic who might be rubbing their hands in glee about the outcome of the summit should be careful for what they wish for.”
What’s saved the Western economies from total collapse in the past three years has been the heroic levels of international co-operation. There’s always been the threat of 1930s-style isolationism. We just never thought it would come from an intelligent free trader such as Mr. Cameron.
I’m going to push back: no, David Cameron didn’t fail.
On the contrary: for once in his life, he stood for something.
See the Mail:
Headline: “Day PM put Britain first: Defiant Cameron stands up to Euro bullies… but French plot revenge for historic veto“
David Cameron stood defiantly behind his historic veto of a new EU power grab last night as France plotted to push Britain towards the EU exit door.
In the most momentous decision of his premiership, Mr Cameron resolutely defended British interests by rejecting demands for treaty change across the EU as part of a rescue plan for the single currency.
Angry Eurocrats said the extraordinary and unexpected move – the first time a British prime minister has said ‘no’ to a new European treaty – marked a ‘great divorce’ and threw Britain’s future in the EU into serious doubt.
‘This is going to cost the UK dearly. They have antagonised everyone,’ said one senior EU official. ‘I don’t believe David Cameron was ever with us at the table,’ complained Germany’s Angela Merkel.
France’s Le Monde newspaper pronounced ‘The Europe of 27 is finished’, while Germany’s Der Spiegel declared ‘Bye Bye Britain’.
Under renewed pressure from his own party to call a referendum on a looser relationship with the EU as other member states form a powerful new bloc, Mr Cameron insisted Britain would not leave the union as long as it remained in our interests to stay in. …
Mr Sarkozy was said to have had to be physically restrained during ten-hour talks that went on through the night, and afterwards ‘blanked’ the Prime Minister by dodging his handshake in the manner of a sulking teenager.
He told Mr Cameron that while others were trying to save the Eurozone he was issuing ‘irrelevant’ demands to make London an ‘offshore centre’ taking cash away from Europe.
To the delight of Eurosceptics at home, Mr Cameron responded by telling shocked EU leaders that in that case, they would have to go it alone. …
Mr Cameron said the new treaty would mean countries having ‘their budgets written in Brussels’. …
‘You’ve never seen Britain actually say “no” to a European treaty before: that’s what has changed. What I’ve done is made sure that Britain’s interests were protected. [The treaty] didn’t have sufficient safeguards for Britain, so I wasn’t prepared to support it.
‘The point is that we remain in the single market . . . we maintain that position and those institutions and that market is protected for Britain. I said to the people of Britain that if I couldn’t get a treaty that was good for Britain, I wouldn’t sign up to it, and I was good to my word.’ …
After an unnamed French official said Mr Cameron had behaved ‘like a man at a wife-swapping party who refuses to bring his own wife’, the Prime Minister said: ‘I have not and have no plans to attend any wife-swapping parties.’
Here’s the thing: fundamentally, the Euro cannot survive without a massive transfer of power away from the national governments, to Brussels.
That’s what the new deal is — all the national governments in the currency will have to have their budgets vetted and approved by unelected, unaccountable Eurocrats.
Granted, the Eurocrats will be vetting them for good purposes — making sure that they don’t run deficits, and put the Euro in the position it now is in. But they won’t have direct accountability for their actions, and for their rulings.
I support austerity; I just support liberal democracy more.
The Economist goes all C.S. Lewis on us:
Europe’s great divorce
WE JOURNALISTS are probably too bleary-eyed after a sleepless night to understand the full significance of what has just happened in Brussels. What is clear is that after a long, hard and rancorous negotiation, at about 5am this morning the European Union split in a fundamental way. …
So two decades to the day after the Maastricht Treaty was concluded, launching the process towards the single European currency, the EU’s tectonic plates have slipped momentously along same the fault line that has always divided it—the English Channel.
Confronted by the financial crisis, the euro zone is having to integrate more deeply, with a consequent loss of national sovereignty to the EU (or some other central co-ordinating body); Britain, which had secured a formal opt-out from the euro, has decided to let them go their way.
BRITAIN did not walk out of the EU last night. But let there be no doubt about it: we have started falling out.
David Cameron finally did what British prime ministers have threatened in Europe so many times, and used his veto last night in Brussels, my BBC radio told me at dawn this morning. This is an astonishingly dramatic moment, the BBC added: the British prime minister has refused to sign up to a new EU treaty involving all 27 members, because the rest, led by France and Germany, would not grant him the safeguards he sought giving Britain powers to block unwelcome regulation of the City of London. …
That stuff about drama and rows is clearly right. But I fear I do not see where Mr Cameron used his veto.
In my version of the English language, when one member of a club uses his veto, he blocks something from happening. Mr Cameron did not stop France, Germany and the other 15 members of the euro zone from going ahead with what they are proposing. He asked for safeguards for financial services and—as had been well trailed in advance—France and Germany said no. That’s not wielding a veto, that’s called losing. …
Nor do I think we would be granted the sort of Swiss deal that British Tories yearn for. Switzerland is allowed access to the single market for relatively low cost because it is small. Because Switzerland is small, its absence from the single market table does not fundamentally alter the nature of that market. A walk-out by Britain, the largest free-market minded power in Europe, would change the nature of the single market fundamentally.
Well, that’s how it goes.
There are some fundamental disagreements. Either one goes along with the supra-national arrangements that are necessary to save the Euro, or one stays out.
Britain must stay out.
As for the members of the Eurozone, well, they have a choice to make. For many of them, staying in makes sense. For all? Well, we’ll see.
Update: The Guardian has a listing of headline reactions. I like the Sun’s.
Head over to ConservativeHome to see the Euroskeptic reaction…
Also, does this doom the Coalition?
Update again: Wednesday’s PMQs, before this all went down.
This is … amazing. Revolutionary.
1) New rules. Each country has to rewrite its constitution to say that it will have balanced budgets. Balanced budgets aren’t already required in national constitutions because some countries want a little flexibility— the term of art is counter-cyclical stimulus—- when there’s a recession. That means they want the ability to overspend when times are hard, and then, theoretically, cut back and shore up when times are good. The new deal says that’s no longer an option for anybody. Everyone’s budget needs to be balanced every year.
2) Check your work. Countries need to submit their national budgets for vetting by the other member countries. So before the budget goes before a national parliament, it’s sent to Brussels, where a bunch of technocrats check it out. If they like it, it gets sent back to the country from whence it came and is voted on (and is, presumably, passed).
3) Punishment by percentages. If a country has more than a 3 percent deficit (and a lot of them do) as a percentage of GDP, automatic sanctions will be triggered. Unless 85 percent of the euro-area countries vote to undo the sanctions. But the votes are weighted — the country with the biggest economy gets the most votes. That would be Germany, lover of rules and sanctions and accountability. So it’s gonna be hard to get out of getting sanctioned.
At this point, you might ask— can this deal get through all 17 parliaments?* But that’s not the most urgent question. The question is, does the European Central Bank like this deal? Does it like it so much that it will vastly step up lending and drive down borrowing costs of the struggling countries? European Central Bank Chairman Mario Draghi immediately said, ‘Yes, I like this.’ He did not say that means the ECB will start lending those countries vast amounts of money.
Only problem I see? It’s wholly undemocratic.
But policy-wise — it’s wonderful. It’s better than even what the Tea Party could achieve, Stateside.