Analyst: Ambassadorial dispute tests limits of new president

Karel Schwazenberg, Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek

The first post-election conflict between former competing presidential candidates – foreign minister Karel Schwazenberg and current president Milos Zeman - broke out a few weeks ago, when the two politicians clashed over ambassadorial appointments. Today the two met at Prague Castle in an attempt to defuse the row. Petr Drulák, the director of Prague’s Institute of International Relations spoke to Radio Prague about what is unusual about this dispute.

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek
“The appointment of ambassadors is a shared competence between the government and the president, so it requires cooperation of both bodies. And within the government the foreign ministry is responsible for the proposal of ambassadors. In Czech politics, if there are shared competences between two institutions, you are likely to have quarrels about how they should be shared, who should be the senior and who the junior partner.

“We now have a new president, and he is trying to define the limits of his competences and is trying to test those limits as they were previously set, so it is not an unusual situation. There were tensions concerning ambassador appointments under previous presidents as well – both president Havel and president Klaus.

“What is new in this situation is the media attention, which is the result of the high profiles of the candidates favored by President Zeman – Mr Remek and Mrs Klausová. What is also new is that both of these people supported Mr Zeman in his presidential campaign, so this makes the issue more political.”

Do you give credence to the statement made by some members of President Zeman’s staff that he is the first popularly elected president and he should carry more weight in these kinds of decisions?

Livia Klausová, photo: Petra Sklenářová
“This is a political argument which has no ground in the constitutional order of the Czech Republic. The method of his election did not change his constitutional position. So his constitutional competences are exactly the same as those of the previous presidents. So I understand this statement from people from this cabinet as another tool in the political war between the president and the government.”

If we look more specifically at the position of the ambassador to Slovakia. Mrs Klausová, who is being nominated to this post, has evoked most controversy in the media. Do you feel that it was an appropriate decision on the part of President Zeman to nominate someone without any political or foreign affairs experience?

“What makes this choice controversial is actually that she took an active part in Mr Zeman’s campaign in a way that was seen by many people as, again, quite controversial. In the last week [before the second round] the presidential campaign was very brutal, and she was part of the brutal attacks coming from Mr Zeman aimed at Mr Schwazenberg who is the foreign minister and who would be her boss. So this aspect makes a very controversial and very problematic figure as a possible ambassador to Slovakia.”

You said that this is a normal dispute, but at the same time it was expected that Mr Zeman and Mr Schawrzenberg will clash given their competing presidential campaigns. Is this an indication that they will keep having disputes over foreign affairs in the future?

Karel Schwazenberg, photo: Filip Jandourek
“We cannot discuss what happens too much into the future, because in one year’s time we are likely to have a new government. But there are two important aspects when we are speaking about their cooperation. The first issue is the political orientation of foreign policy. Coordination in this area should actually be easier than it was under President Klaus, because President Zeman is more pro-European, so in this he is closer to Mr Schwarzenberg. But another issue is linked to the fact that President Zeman is very outspoken and very blunt and he is not really a natural diplomat, so this is likely to create a lot of problems and friction with any foreign affairs minister we are going to have.”