Czech EU ambassador to be brought home early

Photo: European Commission

There are still more than seventeen months to go before the Czech Republic takes over the helm of the European Union, but feverish preparations are already underway and they could see the country's top EU diplomat coming home five months early. The move has been criticised by the opposition, which accuses the centre-right government of playing politics.

The government says it wants to replace Jan Kohout, Czech ambassador to the EU, before his mandate expires in May, to give his replacement as much time as possible to settle in before the country's six month EU presidency starts on Jan 1st 2009. Mr Kohout will be recalled by the end of the year, reported Lidove Noviny newspaper.

The opposition are unhappy with the move. Senior Social Democrat Michal Hasek said the centre-right government had failed to give credible reasons for bringing home Mr Kohout earlier than planned. Mr Hasek said Jan Kohout was an excellent diplomat with good contacts, and bringing him home five months before his term ended would harm the country. Mr Kohout is a member of the Social Democrats and it was the Social Democrats who appointed him in the first place.

Alexander Vondra,  photo: CTK
The government has denied there is a political dimension to the changeover. Deputy prime minister Alexander Vondra said it was an entirely standard step.

Mr Kohout himself has responded philosophically to the news. "Change is life," he told Lidove Noviny newspaper, adding that the announcement had not come as a surprise. Jan Kohout is one of the country's most experienced diplomats, and was even briefly considered for the post of prime minister, so it's hard to see him encountering too much difficulty finding a new job.

Lidove Noviny speculates that Mr Vondra's deputy Jiri Sedivy, Foreign Ministry official Martin Povejsil and an unnamed former minister are being considered for the post