Parties break stalemate over EU Commissioner as Füle chosen for job

Štefan Füle, photo: CTK

The tortuous process of choosing a new European Commissioner is over – the government announced on Tuesday that Europe Minister Štefan Füle would be nominated to the five-year post. The breakthrough came after the two major political parties – who control much of the decision-making in the caretaker cabinet – finally agreed on an acceptable candidate.

After weeks of speculation the Czech Republic has finally chosen a representative for the new European Commission; he is 47-year-old Štefan Füle, a seasoned diplomat who’s served as deputy foreign minister for European affairs since May. He replaces the current Czech commissioner Vladimír Špidla.

Štefan Füle, photo: CTK
Agreement was reached after weeks of deadlock between the two main parties; the Social Democrats were vetoing the Civic Democrats’ candidate, and vice versa. Interim prime minister Jan Fischer even came up with his own candidate – central bank governor Zdeněk Tůma – but Mr Tůma received just one vote in a cabinet show of hands. Prime minister Fischer angrily rejected claims the parties had taught him a lesson by shooting down his candidate.

“First of all no-one is ‘teaching Fischer a lesson’. Fischer is old enough and educated enough to learn his own lessons. I don’t like these phrases and I would ask you not to use them. It is quite obviously not my fault that the name of my candidate - whom I still regard as an extremely good candidate - was leaked to the media. From that point on, it became impossible to negotiate. That is all I have to say on the matter. The government made a democratic decision. That is all I have to say.”

The major parties seem satisfied with a candidate they can all live with. However some believe that for a small country with a eurosceptic reputation, sending a little-known diplomat instead of a well-known political figure is a lost opportunity. Lukáš Macek is the head of the European Programme at France’s prestigious Science Po university and stood in this year’s European Parliament elections:

Jan Fischer, photo: CTK
“In the case of the Czech Republic, after an EU presidency that finished in a very strange and sad way, after all the issues with the Lisbon Treaty, and with this very strong international image of the Czech president as being the most prominent eurosceptic, we needed a strong signal that in the Czech Republic, at the political level, Václav Klaus is not the only person to have some ideas about the European Union and that not everybody agrees with him on European issues. And I’m not sure Mr Füle’s nomination is strong enough as a political signal.”

Strong signal or not, Štefan Füle’s CV is not without controversy. He spent five years in the early 80s studying at Moscow’s prestigious State Institute of International Relations and is a former member of the Communist Party. However he says he made no attempt to rise through the party’s ranks, and neither the KGB nor the Czech secret police had any interest in cultivating him as an agent.