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Vaclav Klaus, Czech president turned 'European dissident'

Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus.
by Staff Writers
Prague (AFP) Dec 30, 2008
Eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus has left an imprint on the international scene with his crusade against environmentalists and most things European after a steep rise to political stardom at home.

The 67-year-old liberal, who has slammed the European Union for its "democratic deficit", excessive red tape and supranational regulation, is stubbornly refusing to fly the EU flag at his office during the Czech presidency of the 27-nation bloc that begins Thursday.

However it is the Czech Republic's prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, who is formally in the EU driver's seat.

In the past months, Klaus, the co-founder of the governing right-wing Civic Democrat Party (ODS), has exerted immense efforts in his struggle against the EU's reforming Lisbon Treaty, which he described as threatening Czech sovereignty.

During a recent trip to Ireland, Klaus sparked uproar by describing himself as a "European dissident" prior to meeting a leading Irish eurosceptic on the fringes of the official visit.

The ardent follower of Milton Friedman's liberal monetarist theories and a devout admirer of Margaret Thatcher, whom he often quotes, has always fervently defended "individual freedoms".

Klaus has recently published a book called "Blue Planet In Green Shackles", contesting global warming and denouncing the "hysteria" of environmentalists who, in his words, encroach on freedom the way communists once did.

Klaus played a major role in his country's transition to a market economy after the 1989 coup that overthrew the communist rule in then-Czechoslovakia.

He was the minister of finance in 1989-1992 before becoming prime minister in 1992-1997. After his government fell in the wake of a financial scandal in the ODS, he became the parliament speaker (1998-2002).

Klaus's political career reached its peak in 2003, when he replaced Vaclav Havel as the country's president. His five-year mandate was renewed last February.

The president's popularity, unshakeable for a long time, has recently started to decline, also because one in two Czechs sees his statements as a threat to the country's image, according to a recent poll by the STEM agency.

Klaus, a keen tennis and basketball player and downhill skier, is married to Slovak economist Livia Klausova. They have two sons.

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