Czech EU commissioner-designate grilled in EP

Czech EU commissioner Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK

Vladimir Spidla underwent a trial by fire on Monday at the European Union. The former Czech Prime minister, now set to become the EU's Commissioner for Labour in November, was the first of the new commissioners to be grilled by deputies in the European Parliament. Mr Spidla emerged from the three hour session joking that a law should be passed preventing this from happening more than once in five years. Daniela Lazarova has been following the story. So, Daniela did Mr. Spidla pass the test?

Czech EU commissioner Vladimir Spidla,  photo: CTK
Yes, the general verdict is that he passed although with a marked lack of charisma. I think his main problem - from what he himself said later - was his tendency to speak in general terms and avoid certain issues. That I think is a typical trait in many Czech politicians who are certainly not used to the kind of grilling that EU politicians get not only from their colleagues but from the media as well. So this was really "a first" for the commissioner-designate and although he spoke in his native language throughout - it was clearly quite a strain -as he later admitted to Czech journalists.

What did he actually say of significance? Did he specify his priorities?

He stressed the importance of creating new job opportunities and fighting to keep jobs in the EU, saying it was vital to stop massive movement of jobs elsewhere. And he urged the European Union's old members to open their labour markets to the newcomer states, pointing out that the three states which had done so -Britain, Ireland and Sweden - had not been adversely affected by the move. He also stressed the need to ensure equal opportunities and prevent discrimination of women on the labour market. The only question that roused him to show some passion was when a Romany deputy from Hungary quizzed him about the alleged forced sterilization of Romany women in the Czech Republic. There Mr. Spidla actually raised his voice, emphasizing that the claims were false and anyone who made them "didn't know what they were talking about".

I understand that some of the recently elected Czech Euro-MPs took the opportunity to attack Mr Spidla during the debate?

That's true. Several deputies for the right-wing opposition Civic Democrats criticized Mr. Spidla for allowing the state budget to go deeply into the red, when he was prime minister here in the Czech Republic, and asked whether this would also be his line in the EU, and one of his party colleagues reminded him that not long ago he had likened the Lisbon strategy to make the EU economy competitive - to the Yeti - whom everyone's talking about but is nowhere to be seen.

Czech EU commissioner Vladimir Spidla,  photo: CTK
The Czech commissioner fended those questions quite well and actually raised a laugh saying he was now ready to join the hunt for Yeti himself. In general - you could say that he passed the test quite well -given the fact that many people were probably comparing him to his predecessor Pavel Telicka who spoke fluent English and was much more used to moving about in the corridors of power in Brussels.

The Social Democrats and the Greens in the EP described Mr. Spidla as "forthcoming and flexible", while the conservatives say that, although Mr. Spidla has much to learn in the way of Parliament rhetoric they will not refuse to support his becoming a European Commissioner. So all in all, you could say that it was a reasonable, but not a flying start.