Former PM Vladimir Spidla to be responsible for employment, social affairs in new EU Commission

Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK

The incoming European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday unveiled the line-up of the new EU executive, which will take office in November. The former Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla will be responsible for the employment, social affairs and equal opportunities portfolio. Pavla Horakova spoke to the head of the Brussels based think tank, the Centre for European Policy studies, Karel Lannoo, to ask how important Mr Spidla's new portfolio will be in the EU administration.

Vladimir Spidla,  photo: CTK
"I think it's a fairly important portfolio and an even more important one to become in the coming years, just because we see that there is a shift in economic policy making in the EU from the broader growth and stability-backed issues to more social policy matters. Because we see that they have an important impact on achieving the Lisbon Agenda.

"And also a large amount of these matters are essentially member states' responsibilities. There is a pressure to try to come to some benchmarks within the EU to see whether we are really achieving for example more productivity with the work force, more flexible labour markets etc. On these matters, I think there will be an important task to do for the Commission in the next five years which are in fact the five years up to 2010 when we should achieve the Lisbon Agenda."

Analysts say that in his former post as Labour and Social Affairs Minister before he became Prime Minister two years ago, Vladimir Spidla was not very successful in fighting unemployment in the Czech Republic - and fighting unemployment Europe-wide that will be one of his tasks now...

"Yes, but as I said the task of fighting unemployment is essentially a task for the member states' governments, less for the Commission. The Commission will have to look for benchmarks to say to this or another member state: 'Look, I think your labour market is insufficiently reformed, you have to do something here and there.' So the task is different than that of the Prime Minister or the Social Affairs Minister.

"But I think what is above all important is that this portfolio has been given to a new member state. Because we now start to see some tensions between the older member states and the newer member states, with claims that the wage costs are far too low in the new member states and that this is undermining the social model of the older member states. I think from that perspective it is very important that somebody from a new member state can try to defend what social policies will mean in the EU 25."

Jose Manuel Barroso,  photo: CTK
Vladimir Spidla was given precisely the post that he'd wanted. Is that a common thing that a new commissioner actually gets the portfolio he or she is interested in?

"Not necessarily, but I think that's one of the things Barroso, as far as I see it, only a few hours after he announced it, has succeeded in - matching the wishes of the different commissioners, of persons, with the portfolios, which is always the best thing because in that sense you manage to make sure that the people will really be motivated for their jobs, rather that giving them something which they didn't like at all."

Vladimir Spidla admits that his knowledge of English, an important working language in EU institutions, is not very good. Does that present a problem for an EU Commissioner?

"We have seen this in the past that some commissioners were not so good at certain languages but normally after a few weeks or a few months this problem was cured. Normally people adapt very rapidly to working languages within a certain context."