Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

A Rebuttal of Laughland's Challenge?

Letter to the European Journal - December 2002

Sir

I cannot allow John Laughland's remarks about the Conservative's support for the EPP/ED's and the European Parliament's position on the Benes Decrees to go unchallenged. Unlike the German socialist Commissioner Günter Verheugen, the Parliament was not prepared to accept at face value the Czech government's claim that none of the Benes Decrees introduced at the end of the War continued to have any 'constitutive effect', and asked for an independent legal opinion on the compatibility between the Decrees and the European Treaties without prejudice to the findings. Nothing more.

In fact, there was a strong prima facie case that subsequent Czech restitution laws which require continous Czech citizenship in order to claim property would conflict with non-dicrimination elements of the Treaties, and have already been criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Committee for violating fundamental human rights.

Regarding Decree 115, John Laughland is, of course, correct to point-out that 'Vergeltung' is a translation of the Czech word 'odplata' and it is also true that the issue has ben raised (unsurprisingly) by German and Austrian colleagues in the EPP/ED group. What he does not dispute is that the word means 'retribution' or 'reprisal' and that the Decree gave immunity to those who committed such 'reprisals' against occupying forces or anyone who could not prove that they had not assisted them until October 1945, long after the war had ended.

The Decree thus legitimised not only expulsion and expropriation, but acts which in any normal society would be considered as 'murder'. The Decree has never been repealed and no-one has ever been prosecuted for the killing of thousands of ethnic Germans - many of them women and children - during 1945 or the mass expulsion of two million Germans even though there is no statute of limitations for war crimes in the Czech Republic. It is difficult to imagine, for example, that if Milosevic had passed a law after the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia saying that anyone who committed 'reprisals' against the 'NATO invader' or the 'rebellious Albanian population' that had supported them would be immune from prosecution, and that some years later Yugoslavia had applied for EU membership with the decree unrepealed, that the EU would regard the application with equanimity. Indeed, the previous European Parliament demanded on 8 April 1999 that the Czech Republic "rescind laws and Decrees from 1945 and 1946 to the extent that they refer to the expulsion of individual ethnic groups in the former Czechoslovakia."

As a matter of record, the independent legal advisors to the Parliament who have just concluded, after much deliberation, that the Decrees should not prevent Czech accession to the EU, have formally suggested that the Czech government should apologise for the Decree.

There is, therefore, no question of our being anti-Czech or pro German, much less identifying with 'the heritage of Neville Chamberlain'. In fact, I and my Conservative colleagues welcome the accession of the Czech Republic and would prefer that we had not had to deal with this issue at all. However, if we are prepared to criticise others in Europe for failure to observe fundamental treaties then it does us no credit to ignore a possible breach of the Treaties simply because it is convenient to do so.

I hope this helps to clarify our position.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Charles Tannock MEP (Conservative Foreign Affairs Spokesman in the European Parliament)