New government under threat from rebel Social Democrats over foreign policy

Prime minister Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK

The crisis in the Czech government appeared finally to be over earlier this week, when Jiri Paroubek replaced Stanislav Gross as prime minister. But Mr Paroubek's coalition government - with a majority of just one in parliament - is now facing a threat from within his own Social Democrats. Up to five of the party's MPs say they won't support the government in a confidence vote, unless their man - Hynek Kmonicek - is made second in command at the Foreign Ministry; they want to curtail the influence of Christian Democrat foreign minister Cyril Svoboda, who they say is too pro-American. I discussed the situation with one of the rebel Social Democrats, Jan Kavan, himself a former foreign minister.

Prime minister Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
"We have never said that crisis equals the position of first deputy foreign minister. What's important for us is to ensure that the Czech Social Democratic Party, as the largest party in the government, will have sufficient influence on the formation, formulation and implementation of foreign policy. The post of first deputy is one of several aspects, clearly not the only one."

The new-old government has a majority of just one in Parliament, and it has to undergo a vote of confidence in a few weeks. How will you and your colleagues vote if your demands are not met?

"Obviously, to talk about demands and ultimatums is an exaggeration. We are negotiating, and obviously the whole art of politics is to find a compromise, a consensus, and we are open to that.

"On the other hand if there will be no compromise, no consensus, if all our arguments are simply rejected or ignored, and the status quo - whereby the Ministry of Foreign Affairs implements policies contrary to the government programme and to the programme of the Social Democratic Party - then I would find it very difficult to vote for such a government."

Czech voters are no doubt sick and tired of this crisis; it's gone on for a long time now. Aren't you afraid that some voters will blame you if it drags on for even longer?

Jan Kavan | Photo: Zdeněk Vališ,  Czech Radio
"Yes, I think that there's a real danger that this will happen. I'm aware of it but that's a risk I have to take in order to square my political behaviour with my conscience."

Stanislav Gross resigned as prime minister at the beginning of this week, but he's still the chairman of your party. He's lost a lot of support now - do you think he can lead the Social Democrats into elections next year? Or has he become a liability?

"It's up to the party leadership to make such a decision before the election campaign starts, if this government survives till the proper date of the election, next June. I assume that a decision on who will be the party leader will be taken some time during the autumn."