Event Highlights: The EU Inside Out – A Panel Discussion with Petr Gandalovič, Czech Ambassador to the US, and Peter Kmec, Slovak Ambassador to the US
On Wednesday, October 23, 2013, we had the honor of hosting Petr Gandalovič, Czech Ambassador to the US, and Peter Kmec, Slovak Ambassador to the US, for the third event in our “EU Inside Out” series of conversations with European Ambassadors. The panel discussion, which was attended by over 100 people, marked 24 years since the “Velvet Revolution” that put an end communist rule in Czechoslovakia and 20 years since the “Velvet Divorce,” or the break up of Czechoslovakia into two independent states. The event was accompanied by a poster exhibit, courtesy of the Czech and Slavic Association of Boston.
The Eurozone crisis formed the back drop of the conversation, which was moderated by Alan Berger, Retired editorial writer for international affairs at the Boston Globe. The conversation was a friendly one, with both ambassadors expressing generally favorable views of the European Union, acknowledging the benefits of membership, supporting EU expansion into the western Balkans and Turkey. Neither blamed the EU for the economic crisis, which Ambassador Gandalovič asserted was rather the result of unsound policies on the part of individual member states. He pointed to Slovakia, which has experienced growth over 2% since joining the Euro in 2009, and which has weathered the crisis better than his own country, as an example.
Ambassador Kmec agreed that the Euro currency has indeed helped Slovakia to stabilize its economy in macroeconomic terms, putting it on the same footing as its western European partners. Both pointed to the need for structural reforms within the EU, though Ambassador Gandalovič was quick to point out that achieving fiscal and political union in Europe is something easier said than done and that the nation state will continue to be the arena of democratic politics in the foreseeable future. Finally, the Ambassadors expressed their support of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), not only as a way to boost bilateral trade and to overcome unnecessary regulation in Europe but as a way out of the crisis for both continents.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the discussion was the efficacy of austerity vs. growth policies, in particular, in the Czech Republic, which under its center right government has been trying to squeeze its deficit under 3% of GDP with painful consequences including a significant drop in domestic demand. To be fair, as Ambassador Gandalovič stated, this is question for the future as policies can have adverse effects in the short-term while laying grounds for future growth. He pointed to Latvia as an example of a country where austerity policies appear to have paid off after a significant drop in demand.
The “EU Inside Out: Conversations with European Ambassadors” series is funded in part by a grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington DC and co-sponsored by the Center for Finance, Law & Policy at Boston University. The series addresses, broadly, the theme of democratic politics under conditions of globalization from an “inside” point of view. Centering the conversations around global challenges, which by their nature do not yield to nation state solutions (whether economic crisis, transnational terrorism, or global warming), highlights the value of the European Union as a model for transnational cooperation, regional integration, and cultural coexistence.