Czech PM names nominee for European commissioner, makes bid for more ambitious EC portfolio

Věra Jourová, photo: Šárka Ševčíková / Czech Radio

After weeks of speculation regarding the Czech Republic’s nominee for European commissioner, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš arrived for talks with European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen with a single name in his briefcase: Věra Jourová, the current commissioner for justice, consumer protection and gender equality. The prime minister is hoping that her experience could help the country acquire a more ambitious portfolio.

Věra Jourová,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková / Czech Radio
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš came out of his first meeting with the incoming president of the European Commission in an upbeat mood, saying the hour-long debate had covered a broad range of issues including the European budget, migration, climate change, Brexit and foreign policy issues. The main purpose of the meeting however was for the Czech Republic to produce its nominee for European commissioner and make an informal bid for a given portfolio. The prime minister, who has been eyeing a business portfolio that would give the country greater influence, put his money on Věra Jourová, the current commissioner for justice, consumer protection and gender equality who has already won respect in European circles.

“I think there are a lot of arguments in her favour. She has made a success of her present portfolio, which was a difficult one. She is an experienced politician and the fact that she is a woman would also help fulfil the gender equality criteria. Ms. von der Leyen listened to my arguments and noted which portfolios we are interested in, as she does with other countries’ leaders. So we shall have to wait and see.”

The Czech prime minister expressed an interest in the trade or internal market portfolios but also in the digital agenda. He said the Czech Republic had much to offer in both areas.

“As regards the internal market portfolio, our strength lies in that we are an export-dependent economy. 85 percent of our exports go to EU member states, we know the workings of the internal market inside out, what hurdles exporters and transport companies still face and what barriers need to be removed. As regards digitalization, we have some 500 top experts in the field of artificial intelligence and are hoping to see a European Center for Artificial Intelligence based in Prague. So we have what it takes to handle these portfolios well.”

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Petr Kupec
While Věra Jourová says she is ready to tackle whatever portfolio she is assigned, she herself would prefer to handle the digital agenda. Her nomination has yet to be approved by the government but given the fact that the coalition Social Democrats approve of the choice that is likely to go smoothly.

Opposition parties also seem happy with the proposed nominee, although they argue that her position in Brussels and her chance of getting an ambitious portfolio will be weakened by the Czech prime minister’s suspected conflict of interest. Challenged on this point, Ms. Jourová herself said that while the issue could come up during the traditional “grilling” in the European Parliament, she felt she had proved her impartiality in the past.

“Of course, such questions may appear, but I hope that MEPs will be more focused on my previous experience in the field I am assigned and my ability to handle the given agenda.”