The president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, is visiting the United States, this week. In a speech before the Houston World Affairs Council, Monday, he hailed what he says are the "good relations" between the two countries. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the Czech president also criticized aspects of European integration and called for a more open and free European Union.
President Klaus says his views on European integration are heavily influenced by his experience with communism. He says the Czech Republic emerged from communism in the early 1990's, by opening its society and its markets, privatizing rapidly and by embracing freedoms its citizens had been denied.
However, he says his country's experience with European integration, in the past 15 years has - in some ways -moved it away from progress. He says the formation of the European Union as a loose confederation of states has evolved into something far more structured, which limits the freedom and sovereignty of its member states and impedes the freedom of their citizens.
President Klaus recommends a change of course in Europe.
"I suggest redefining the whole concept of the European Union, not just making cosmetic changes," he said. "I suggest going back to the inter-governmental model of European integration, going back to consistent liberalization and opening up of the markets. I suggest minimizing political intervention in human activities."
The Czech president says the European Union now has its own flag, anthem and currency. He says it has evolved into a state-like entity, in the past 15 years, that has brought more regulation to its members, rather than more freedom.
Regarding the Czech Republic's powerful neighbor, Russia - which, under the old Soviet Union system, dominated eastern Europe - President Klaus says he thinks things there are going better than he had expected. He also defended Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that those who only see him as a former KGB (Russian) secret police agent distort the reality of what is going on in Russia.
"It seems to me a trivialization of reality to trivialize the issue with headlines like 'President Putin, KGB man.' To look at the world with such eyes does not help us," he said.
President Klaus says he has met Mr. Putin and expects to maintain good relations between the two nations.
After leaving Houston, President Klaus travels on to the states of Louisiana and Alabama. At the end of this week, he will be in Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials.