Speculation mounts over next Czech commissioner

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Speculation is growing in the Czech Republic over the identity of the country’s next European commissioner, with incumbent Vladimir Špidla, former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and former Deputy Prime Minister for EU Affairs Alexandr Vondra among the leading candidates. EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.

The Czech Republic has been ruled by a caretaker government since the fall of Mirek Topolánek’s centre-right Civic Democrat-led (ODS) governing coalition in March (see ‘Background’). 

The interim administration’s mandate, originally due to expire this weekend (10-11 October), is likely to be extended until June 2010, with caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer expected to present his programme for the period this week. 

The task of choosing the Czech Republic’s next European commissioner is thus almost certain to fall upon Fischer’s caretaker government. 

The main parties are at odds over who the Czech Republic should send to Brussels. The Social Democratic party (?SSD) has nominated incumbent Vladimir Špidla for a second term, while the ODS have identified former EU Affairs Minister Alexandr Vondra as their candidate. 

Špidla served as employment, social affairs and equal opportunities commissioner in the first Barroso Commission. 

Meanwhile, the Christian Democrats (KDU-?SL) and Greens have nominated their own candidates, Pavel Svoboda and Jan Švejnar respectively, but with no backing from either of the main parties, their selection appears unlikely. 

Czech media are also speculating that former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek fancies the job, a suggestion which he himself denies. 

Last week, ?SSD leader Ji?í Paroubek said he could “imagine” supporting Topolánek provided that the former PM could convince senators from his party to stop “bothering” the Czech constitutional court with complaints about the Lisbon Treaty (EURACTIV 30/09/09). 

Czech media have continuously speculated that the two leaders struck a deal after the last elections that the winner would back the loser for the position of Czech EU commissioner, claims which both have always strenuously denied. 

Meanwhile, a poll published yesterday (5 October) on ceskenoviny.cz showed that Jan Švejnar enjoys the highest level of support among the Czech public, with 32% expressing a wish to see him in the commissioner post. 

Former commissioner Pavel Teli?ka (26%) came second in the poll, with 14% backing former EU Affairs Minister Vondra and 11% preferring incumbent Špidla. 

With the country most likely facing fresh elections in 2010, Fischer’s government will be keen to seek consensus over the next commissioner’s identity to avoid a repeat of the 2004 debacle, which saw the Social Democrats – emerging victorious from elections – replace Teli?ka just a few weeks into his term with their own man, Špidla. 

However, government officials have indicated that Fischer’s administration will go ahead and name its own candidate by 20 October if the main parties cannot come to an agreement before then. 

On 24 March 2009, the Czech Republic's governing coalition, led by Mirek Topolánek's centre-right Civic Democrats, collapsed after losing a vote of confidence in parliament (EURACTIV 25/03/09). 

On 5 April, the leaders of the country’s main political parties agreed to form an interim cabinet to run the country until early elections in the autumn (EURACTIV 06/04/09). 

Jan Fischer, who at the time headed the Czech statistical office, became prime minister in a caretaker cabinet. 

  • 29-30 Oct.: EU summit in Brussels to discuss nominations to next European Commission. 

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