Coalition partners at loggerheads over candidate for European commissioner

Pavel Telička, photo: Filip Jandourek

In the coming months the Czech government will need to choose a new European Commissioner. However, while the cabinet is led by the Social Democrats, coalition partners ANO have a lot of power – and the two parties are already deeply divided over whom to nominate for the prestigious post.

Pavel Telička,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Campaigning is currently in full swing for elections to the European Parliament next weekend, with coalition party ANO ahead in the polls.

ANO are featuring electoral leader Pavel Telička strongly in their material. He is a heavyweight candidate, having been the Czech Republic’s chief negotiator ahead of the country’s EU accession – and briefly its first European Commissioner in 2004.

The current Czech commissioner, for EU enlargement, is Štefan Fuele. He is due to step down in the autumn and ANO are pushing for Mr. Telička to replace him, this time for a full four-year term.

However, coalition leaders the Social Democrats are backing economist and former finance minister Pavel Mertlík. Party chief Bohuslav Sobotka says his bona fides could help the Czechs secure a prestigious portfolio.

Jakub Janda from think tank European Values says the Social Democrats’ strong presence in the Party of European Socialists would benefit Mr. Mertlík’s candidature – but his absence from politics for over a decade would work against him.

Pavel Mertlík,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
“I wouldn’t say that Mr. Mertlík is the right choice, and I honestly wouldn’t say he’s a serious choice.

"It looks like the Social Democrats, let’s say, got caught in the middle when ANO came out with Pavel Telička; the Social Democrats wanted to have some candidate so they came up with Mr. Mertlík.”

The two parties have begun taking the gloves off over the nomination.

Prime Minister Sobotka this week seized on reports that Mr. Telička’s lobbying firm had been paid tens of millions of crowns for services provided to NWR, a coal company owned by magnate Zdeněk Bakala.

He said Mr. Telička was skilled in attaching himself to billionaires, which could also be taken as a reference to ANO boss Andrej Babiš.

Mr. Babiš has reacted with fury to Mr. Sobotka’s words, telling the newspaper Právo that he would give him a whack if he didn’t stop.

Jakub Janda says tensions have become so high that perhaps neither candidate will ever make it to Brussels.

“I think they might come up with a third candidate. One option would be Mr. Fuele, who is, let’s say, perceived as one of the successful commissioners.

Štefan Fuele,  photo: European Commission
"Or there might be another candidate who must be consensual. If the prime minister has already said that Mr. Telička cannot be a commissioner, then I honestly don’t believe there is a chance he would take his words back. So they’d have to find a third candidate.

"I’m so sorry about this, because right now we are pretty late with a candidate. Behind closed doors negotiations are already going on for portfolios. And the Czech Republic has no idea what it wants right now.”