President Klaus appoints Jan Fischer prime minister

Jan Fischer, photo: CTK

Czech President Vaclav Klaus on Thursday appointed Jan Fischer the country’s new prime minister, ending a period of uncertainty after the fall of Prime Minister Topolánek’s centre-right government late last month. Mr. Fisher will head a non-partisan caretaker administration which should take office on May 9th and lead the country until early elections in October.

Jan Fischer and Václav Klaus  (right),  photo: CTK
Last week few people would have recognized him on the street. Today the 58- year-old head of the Czech Statistical Office was appointed the country’s new prime minister – and is expected to take over an agenda that includes the Czech EU presidency and dealing with the economic downturn. He will be selecting cabinet members in the coming days and should be ready to take office by May 9th. Ahead of his appointment Mr. Fischer stressed the temporary nature of his position.

“I see this as a public service. My role here will be time-limited and I expect to return to my former position when my work here is done.”

Jan Fischer,  photo: CTK
Many have expressed doubt as to whether a technocrat with a passion for numbers will be able to shoulder the burden, but in actual fact, the Mr. Fischer will have few real decisions to make. In the wake of the government’s collapse last month politicians from the two strongest parties – the Civic and Social Democrats - scrambled to minimize the damage, handpicking a suitable caretaker prime minister and even striking a deal as to who should fill what ministerial posts in the non-partisan cabinet. On the eve of Mr. Fischer’s appointment the outgoing coalition and opposition agreed on an anti-crisis package including faster tax write-offs for companies, cuts in social insurance payments made by employers, amendments to the insolvency law, higher unemployment benefits and financial incentives to scrap old cars. Mr. Fischer’s agenda has been pretty much lined up for him.

Even so, he will be expected to hit the ground running – especially where the country’s EU presidency is concerned. Although the outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek will still be in charge when Prague hosts an EU Eastern Partnership summit on May 7th, Mr. Fisher will be at the helm for the block’s next summit with China on May 20th – and he would naturally be expected to step in and mediate any unforeseen crisis, a big challenge even for seasoned politicians. Although Mr. Fischer reportedly knows the ropes and speaks four languages, the next few months are not going to be easy and he’ll very likely be counting the hours to the day when he’ll have done his public service duty and will be able to return to his lifelong passion: the safe and predictable world of numbers and statistics.