Zahradil rains on the EU parade
Last week saw the consequences of Euroskeptic Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Jan Zahradil’s first actions as the Czech Republic’s representative in negotiations over the European Constitution.
For some Europhiles, they made for a miserable rain that put a damper on the European Union’s 50th birthday party on March 25. After months of discussion, the Berlin Declaration, a document supposed to reiterate the European Union’s ideals and aims and set the bloc’s future path, was released with no explicit reference to the European Constitution. It merely concluded that Europe is “united in the goal of achieving a renewed common foundation for the EU before the European Parliament elections in 2009.”
Zahradil told CBW he and a few other negotiators were responsible for the exclusion of all references to the renewal of negotiations for the constitution. “Our two demands were that there should be no reference to the EU Constitution, and that there should be no explicit deadline set for ratifying it,” Zahradil said. “[In the final text] the constitution is not mentioned, and the deadline set is very general,” he added, saying he considered this a partial victory.
Prior to the declaration deal, he told journalists the Czech Republic had no objection to the “unbinding and declaratory character” of the document. “We won’t wreck the whole thing, but we will interpret it as we see fit,” he said. Following the release of the agreed wording, he said he would write a message to his German counterparts thanking them for their compliance.
An ODS man
Zahradil became an MEP in 2004 following a long career in the Civic Democrats (ODS). “I did not believe very much in [former President Václav] Havel’s theories on politics, and I did not like the Civic Forum’s leaders, [former Czechoslovak Prime Minister Petr] Pithart, [former Czechoslovak Minister of Foreign Affairs Jiří] Dienstbier, and also [current Minister of the Environment and Deputy Prime Minister Martin] Bursík,” he said.
His ODS career began with a 1992 run for the Federal Assembly. In 1995, he acted as foreign affairs adviser to then-prime minister (and current president) Václav Klaus, and three years later he became a deputy in the lower house of Parliament, a role he fulfilled until he became an MEP.
When Klaus decided not to run again for leader of the ODS in 2002, Zahradil ran for the position against current Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and current Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Petr Nečas. Following his first round loss, he backed Topolánek in the second round, and was named Topolánek’s first deputy. Zahradil claims he and Topolánek proceeded to work together extensively and continue to cooperate today.
But cooperation between Topolánek and Zahradil temporarily dissolved in the run-up to the nomination of Topolánek’s second government. Topolánek originally wished to nominate Zahradil as minister of foreign affairs, but Zahradil declined the position. He suggested Alexandr Vondra, the current deputy prime minister for European affairs, for the position, but Topolánek instead named Green Party (SZ) nominee Karel Schwarzenberg, a noted proponent of further European integration.
Zahradil, who opposes the SZ’s pro-Europe stance, made numerous statements to the press criticizing this nomination. He said it was a “game” of Bursík’s aimed at “aggravating the relationship between Topolánek and Klaus … and causing a rift in the ODS.” He also claimed the “post-Havelian establishment” was setting up Schwarzenberg as a 2008 presidential candidate who will “appeal to the truth-and-love entourage.”
Shortly after the new government took office, Zahradil was nominated as the Czech representative for the EU Constitution talks, against a backdrop of protests from the SZ.
Zahradil would further isolate the country in the European community, and didn’t have the government’s support, according to the SZ. “The political views of MEP Zahradil can’t be considered the Czech Republic’s official position,” Bursík said in January in Brussels. “It’s indispensable that [his] mandate be from the entire government,” said Ondřej Liška, a SZ deputy and chairman of the parliamentary committee for European affairs. Both Zahradil and Topolánek responded that Zahradil was the prime minister’s representative, not that of the government.
European integration isn’t the only issue Zahradil has fought the SZ on. In January, he said Czech conservatives would seek the post of chairman of the European Parliament Environment Committee as “a way to keep Mr. Bursík in check.” Highlighting his environmental studies degree, Zahradil said that though he feels Klaus overstates his opposition to environmental causes for publicity, he agrees with Klaus that environmental issues are often used for scoring political points.
Zahradil’s three years as an MEP are filled with examples of him joining committees meant to promote positions he’s fervently against. Besides being a Euroskeptic MEP, an anti-constitution constitutional negotiator, and an environmental student against the use of environmentalism as a political issue, Zahradil also joined a European Parliament committee in 2006 to look into the CIA’s activities in Europe in order to prevent the committee from being used against America, he said.
He describes his approach to the EU as “Euro-realist,” and he primarily advocates a flexible approach to European integration. After his nomination as the constitution negotiator, he and Jiří Šedivý, the second negotiator for the Czech Republic, told their German counterparts the 50th anniversary declaration should mention the future of EU enlargement and its liberal trade order, and advocate the elimination of red tape.
Most of these subjects were barely touched on in the Berlin Declaration, but, due to Zahradil’s advocacy, neither was the European Constitution.
Born: March 30, 1963, Prague
Education: 1987, master’s degree in environmental technology, Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Prague.
Work history: Since 2004, head of Czech national delegation in the European People’s Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED) Group; 2002–04, first deputy chairman, Civic Democrats (ODS); 1999, deputy chairman, committee for European Integration of the Chamber of Deputies; 1998-2004, deputy, Chamber of Deputies; 1992–98, member, Federal Assembly, foreign policy adviser to the prime minister; 1988–92, research fellow, Institute of Chemical Technology, Prague.