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26th Feb 2024

New Czech government unveiled ahead of Lisbon vote

The Czech Republic on Tuesday (5 May) named the new team of men and women set to run the EU presidency until the end of June. The announcement came on the eve of the Czech senate's vote on the Lisbon treaty on Wednesday.

Incoming prime minister and professional statistician Jan Fischer has nominated 48-year old deputy foreign minister Jan Kohout to take over as foreign minister. The ex-Communist Party member is a former Czech ambassador to the EU and UN, who also took part in drafting the now defunct EU constitution.

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  • The Czech senate will have its 15 minutes of EU fame on Wednesday (Photo: Wikipedia)

The current Czech ambassador to Nato, 46-year old Stefan Fuele, is to be Mr Kohout's wing man as EU affairs minister.

Technocrat Eduard Janota was named as finance minister. The 57-year old has worked in the state budget department since 1978 and is seen as a safe pair of hands at a time of soaring budget deficit.

The head of the country's Judicial Academy, 45-year old Daniela Kovarova, is to become justice and home affairs minister. The 47-year old chief of the national electricity distributor, CEPS, is to take the industry and energy portfolio.

In other appointments, 42-year old deputy defence minister and former doctor Martin Bartak is to become defence minister. Fifty-eight year old civil servant Miroslava Kopicova, in charge of employment issues, is to be education minister. And the director of the Czech philharmonic orchestra, Vaclav Riedlbauch, is to be put in charge of culture.

The only member of the current 18-person cabinet to stay in place will be human rights and minorities minister Michael Kocab.

The reshuffle comes after a vote of no confidence in March toppled centre-right Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's government mid-way through its six month mandate at the head of the EU.

The new team, a compromise between the socialist, centre-right and green parties, is expected to be formally approved by President Vaclav Klaus on Friday and to meet with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Prague next Tuesday.

Mr Topolanek is to chair his last EU summit, on energy diversification, in Prague at the end of this week.

The messy situation has already seen Mr Klaus chair an EU-Japan summit on Monday. The meeting, which dealt with preparations for the Copenhagen climate change conference in December, saw him reiterate some of his eccentric views. "I am convinced there's ...no man-made global warming," he said, DPA reports.

The Russophile Mr Klaus is also to chair an EU-Russia summit, an EU-South Korea summit and an EU-China summit. But it is unclear if the eurosceptic politician will handle an EU summit in June dealing with the future of the Lisbon treaty.

Czech senators in the limelight

The announcement of the new cabinet came one day before the Czech upper house on Wednesday votes on ratifying Lisbon. The treaty needs the support of three-fifths of all senators present on the day in the 81-seat chamber to pass. The lower house ratified it in February.

The upper house is expected to approve the text. But a splinter group in the centre-right ODS party has threatened to file a new challenge at the constitutional court if it gets through. President Klaus has in the past also indicated he will not sign the treaty unless Ireland votes yes in a new referendum.

French green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit on Tuesday voiced fears that Mr Klaus has bribed senators to cause an upset in Wednesday's vote.

"All of a sudden you notice that someone in a political group votes another way, and you notice a few years later that he has a nice house," he said, AFP reports. "These things happen in the Czech Republic."

Analysis

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With four months until the European Parliament elections, there are already some 20 names in the hat for the ensuing reshuffle of EU top jobs.

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The deal to restore Northern Ireland's government — after nearly two years — is being spun as a major triumph. But not much has changed. This is an exercise in fine-tuning and political window-dressing.

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