Czech coalition finally agrees on EU commissioner

By bne IntelliNews July 22, 2014

Tim Gosling in Prague -

 

After weeks of disagreement, the Czech coalition announced on July 21 that it has finally agreed on the country's next EU commissioner. Vera Jourova, the Ano party's minister for regional development, has now been nominated for the post following political horse-trading. 

The coalition, led by the Social Democrats (CSSD), made the announcement ahead of a July 21 cabinet meeting, reports Radio Praha. Jourova's nomination received a boost last week after it became apparent that a female nominee to the next commission - to be headed by new president Jean-Claude Juncker - would be preferred. 

For weeks, the coalition parties have been fighting to push their own candidates. The CSSD originally wanted to have former finance minister Pavel Mertlík, while Ano - headed by powerful Finance Minister Andrej Babis - had pushed MEP and former lobbyist Pavel Telicka, before swapping to Jourova.

The Czech opposition has called the process a farce. There were even suggestions in June that Prague may have to ask the new European Commission president to choose for it. There are also complaints that the long standoff between the governing parties means Prague has missed out on the most important portfolios. Not that the coalition can agree on that either. Five have been mentioned: transport, industry and entrepreneurship, research and innovation, the internal market, and energy.

The situation puts into sharper relief the divisions within the coalition, which are only growing as Babis sees his party - founded in 2011 and riding the Europe-wide wave of skepticism towards mainstream politics - continue to dominate the polls. The billionaire has been busy recently increasing his power by placing the country's largest state companies, including utility CEZ, under firmer control of his ministry.

Quoting unnamed government sources, local media claim the break in the standoff came as the centre-left CSSD traded support for Jourova for a hike in the minimum wage and higher spending on social services. 

"I am glad that we have reached agreement," said Babis, according to CTK. "There is a big chance of getting an interesting portfolio." Despite owning Agrofert, an agriculture and food holding that is the largest private employer in the Czech Republic, he added that he agrees with the rise in the minimum wage and social services' funding.

"I consider it a great honour and commitment for me. It is a big challenge," Jourova told reporters. She added that she would prefer her role in Brussels to focus on regional politics or inter-institutional relations. "However, I do not fear transport or industry either," she noted.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the nomination of a woman would increase the Czech Republic's chances of gaining a significant portfolio.

 

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