Reflections on Vladimir Spidla's three months as European Commissioner

Vladimir Spidla

It has been three months since the new European Commission was sworn in. Among its 25 members there are also ten commissioners from the new EU countries. The European Commissioner from the Czech Republic - its former Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla - is responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. How has he been doing in his new position? What are his policy priorities?

Vladimir Spidla
Vladimir Spidla did not receive the job by coincidence. He had already been minister of labor and social affairs in a previous Czech government. Now he says, he sees a lot of links to his former work and would like to build on his previous experience.

"European society is very much interconnected. Most of the problems are similar in every country. Both the political as well as professional work is similar, so I can take advantage of my previous experience."

According to Ivo Slosarcik from the Prague European Policy Institute Mr Spidla's previous experience may be a benefit, but on the other hand the social agenda as a resort in the European Commission is not an easy task.

"This agenda is very difficult, because it's linked with great expectations, but the relative modest powers of European Commission. Since in the area of social affairs, in many areas the Commission has only rather soft powers - it can regulate by soft law - it cannot simply order or propose the guiding rules for certain affairs. So it's a very complicated agenda, it's very complicated dossier which Mr. Spidla has received. The second important part of it is the question of European demographic development which is again something that could provoke some controversy at the European and national levels."

Vladimir Spidla, has often been criticized in his home country for his inability to speak English. But Ivo Slosarcik believes that provided Mr Spidla speaks German and French, the criticism of his insufficient English might be slightly exaggerated.

"Of course, as part of the informal negotiations the inability to speak English might be an obstacle, however at the top level of the Commission, German and French are spoken very frequently - with the same frequency as English. So I don't think it is a serious obstacle."

Photo: European Commission
Mr Spidla's priorities are employment, fighting poverty, and equal opportunities, which he also incorporated in the Social Agenda presented by the Commission earlier this month. Mr Spidla also says he will endeavor to reduce the gap in incomes between men and women.

"This problem is closely linked with social traditions, the role of women in society, and characteristics of the labor market. One of my goals is to reduce this difference. I would like to eliminate it completely, though I'm afraid it is not feasible within these five years, but it is feasible to reduce it."

Whether Vladimir Spidla succeeds in his goals will depend not only on his determination to materialize his plans, but also on the cohesion and cooperation of the large 25-member European Commission which has most of its term still ahead.