Czech government forced to find new EU commissioner by end of February after Kuzvart steps down

23-02-2004

Last Friday was an extremely dramatic day in Czech politics: first it was announced that Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla had collapsed, and had been rushed to hospital. Then the man who was to be country's first ever European commissioner, Social Democrat MP Milos Kuzvart, stunned many by announcing he was no longer interested in the post. To add to the day's drama, it emerged that Mr Spidla had collapsed during a heated discussion about Mr Kuzvart's "resignation". Mr Kuzvart said he had not had the support of the foreign minister or the Czech embassy to the EU, though some say the real reason was that he realised he was not up to the job. Wherever the truth lies, such a turn of events so close to EU accession is being seen as an embarrassment to the Czech Republic, and a personal failure for Mr Spidla, who now has to choose a new commissioner by the end of the week. Pavla Horakova spoke earlier to political commentator Vaclav Zak and first asked him what he thought was behind Mr Kuzvart's resignation.

Milos Kuzvart. photo: CTKMilos Kuzvart. photo: CTK "Well, I think the second reason is a better explanation. Mr Kuzvart was really offered help from various sources. He was offered help from the Foreign Ministry, he was offered help from the European Commission as well. He refused it, he tried to design his own team without thinking about what the real position of his team would be in Brussels. So when he was confronted by journalists at a press conference, I think he realised there would be a problem and he got nervous about it. Maybe he did not want to resign at first but his speech at the Social Democrat MPs' meeting disturbed the MPs and the Prime Minister so much that he was at last forced to resign, in fact."

The nomination of Milos Kuzvart was controversial from the start. The other two coalition parties were not too happy about the choice and many doubted Mr Kuzvart's capabilities. Obviously, it was a political choice. Why did Prime Minister Spidla insist on Milos Kuzvart as the Czech Republic's commissioner?

VLadimir Spidla, photo: CTKVLadimir Spidla, photo: CTK "Well, I wasn't sceptical from the very beginning, I must confess. Mr Kuzvart showed that he is not a corrupt man during his ministerial position. He was fighting for the Jeseniky Mountains against strong pressure groups. He was able to speak English in a decent way so I think that if he weren't so proud and obstinate, maybe he would be a comparatively good commissioner in the European Union. So I don't think it was a failure from the very beginning."

Some other accession countries nominated their former negotiators with the EU. The Czech Republic's former negotiator Pavel Telicka would have seemed one of the obvious choices. But he was not nominated. Why and what are his chances now, do you think?

"Well, there were some obstacles to the nomination of Mr Telicka because he didn't have very good relations with the present government. I don't know anything about the current selection because it's very hasty and there is no leakage of information. I think he is being considered but I wouldn't be surprised if he weren't nominated."

Do you think the scandal will have some implications for the Social Democrats or Prime Minister Spidla himself and his position within the party or the government?

"Well, in fact there is a scandal in this country every week, so I don't think that it will last very long."

A new name has to be put forward within a week. It should be a person who is respected by all coalition parties and, ideally, by the opposition as well because the Czech Republic cannot afford another blunder. Who are the likely choices, do you think?

"Well, I would bet on Jan Kohout, the deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. I think he has the best chance to be nominated."

23-02-2004