Czech PM happy to have side-lined Spitzen candidates at EU summit, Czech MEPs say region lost out

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK / Jakub Dospiva

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has hailed the EU compromise on nominations for the bloc’s top jobs as a big success for the Visegrad Four grouping which fiercely opposed the system of Spitzen candidates and particularly the candidacy of Frans Timmermans for EC president. But, while the prime minister is cheering, there have been mixed reactions from Czech MEPs, some of whom have criticized the fact that the deal reached does not reflect the outcome of elections to the European Parliament.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK / Jakub Dospiva
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and the other leaders of the Visegrad Four went to the EU summit determined to overturn the “Osaka deal” on EU top jobs and, after three days of tortuous negotiations in which they received significant support from Italy, they achieved their goal. Prime Minister Babiš, who postponed a top-level meeting to resolve a serious domestic crisis at home in order to await the outcome of the protracted EU summit, said it was an important victory.

“For me it is crucial that the Visegrad Four together with Italy prevented the nomination of Spitzenkandidat Franz Timmermans, we have criticized the system of Spitzen candidates from the outset. It is not part of any agreement and we do not want to accept it. In the end we were successful in side-lining it.”

Ursula von der Layen,  photo: ČTK / AP Photo / Markus Schreiber
While many found the rejection of the main front-runners hard to accept, the Czech prime minister expressed satisfaction with the compromise agreement reached, in particular with the nomination of Germany's Ursula von der Leyen for European Commission president.

“Ursula von der Leyen is an experienced politician. She knows the Czech Republic well and she is acquainted with the Central European region. For us it is a much better choice than if the EU had nominated Franz Timmermans.”

The prime minister said he hoped her nomination would be confirmed by the European Parliament and that Czech MEPs would support her.

That is far from certain however, since the reactions from Czech MEPs have been mixed.

Jan Zahradil,  photo: ČTK / AP Photo / Jean-Francois Badias
While Michaela Šojdrová from the Christian Democrats hailed the choice of von der Leyen as “a strongwoman and politician”, Marketa Gregorová from the Pirate Party said that the nominations failed to reflect the outcome of the European elections and it would take further talks to see if and under what conditions the European Parliament would ratify her nomination.

Some also criticized the fact that four of the main jobs have gone to Western Europeans, with no nominations from Central and Eastern Europe. Ludek Niedermayer from the Mayors and Independents wrote “The top jobs were divided among the big players. Our region came out of the talks short-changed.”

Jan Zahradil from the Civic Democrats tweeted “The good news is Timmermans will not be EC president. Otherwise its business as usual with Germany and France calling the shots.”

Radka Maxova from the prime minister’s ANO party said that while she welcomed the gender balance in the nominations, it was essential to consider geographical balance as well –which did not fare so well.