Czech EU ambassador Pavel Telicka nominated as country's first commissioner

Pavel Telicka, photo: CTK

The Czech government decided this week that its EU ambassador Pavel Telicka will be the country's first European Commissioner. Mr Telicka would seem to have the right experience - he was the man who led the accession negotiations on behalf of the Czech government. But his nomination follows an embarrassing few days for the Czech Republic: he was only asked to do the job after the government's first choice, former Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart, changed his mind at the last minute. That's being linked to a collapse by Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla during a session of parliament. Radio Prague's Rob Cameron caught up with Pavel Telicka, and asked him if his nomination had come as a surprise.

Pavel Telicka, photo: CTK
"I'd probably not be entirely frank if I said it was a total surprise, as the name was mentioned throughout the process, especially in the last few days, at least by the media. On the other hand, I hadn't really expected to be the candidate nominated."

The manner in which the Czech Republic chose its commissioner was rather unfortunate - the first candidate Mr Kuzvart pulling out at the last moment, the Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla collapsing in shock, Romano Prodi giving Prague an ultimatum to appoint someone else. How much damage will all this have done to the Czech Republic's reputation in Brussels?

"Allow me two corrections. I think the Prime Minister was just really exhausted and that wasn't the only reason..."

...But it was the last straw for him wasn't it.

"I don't know whether it was the last straw or not because I'm not a doctor. And again, it was not an ultimatum from the Commission's President. In fact I think it was good advice, that in order to diminish certain damage that was done to the image of the Czech Republic, the government should act fast. The Prime Minister understood that very well. The whole government understood that. And this is what happened. If you ask me about the damage, I think the Czech Republic is one of the two or three countries that have the best reputation in the European Union. The country will definitely contribute to European integration. And therefore, yes, this is unfortunate, but I'd rather see it as an episode, and with collective efforts also with the relevant political entities. I think we can do away with such partial damage relatively quickly."

You'll most likely be assigned to David Byrne, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. Mr Byrne is a passionate anti-smoker - he's the one trying to get graphic pictures of diseased lungs and other organs on cigarette packets. Do you support such radical measures?

"That's an interesting question. I have thought about it. I should say that I really had a big dilemma when I was responsible for negotiations on taxation, and one of the issues was that we were trying to get a transitional arrangement for lower excise duties on tobacco products and cigarettes. That was a dilemma, because I'm also a less and less tolerant anti-smoker, so I think in this respect we won't be far away. Whether it will materialise in some concrete activities and policy-making, I think that I don't want to be over-ambitious at the moment. I think that I'll have to see what the policies of the commissioner will be. He's the one responsible for the portfolio - I'll be only the one associated to him."

You're a keen rugby player. In rugby terminology, what position would you like to see the Czech Republic play in the European Union?

"I would say a constructive, technical player with good tactics and influence on teamwork. I think we'd be looking at something like a No. 9."