Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Brussels watching Zeman-Drahoš battle for Czech president

ČTK |
26 January 2018

Brussels, Jan 25 (CTK correspondent) - EU diplomats, analysts and MEPs show interest in the Czech presidential election runoff and often view it as a battle between the pro-Russian and anti-European President Milos Zeman and his pro-Western rival, academic Jiri Drahos, it ensues from their comments for CTK.

However, the election of Czech head of state, the second round of which will be held on Friday and Saturday, draws lower attention in Brussels than the lengthy talks on the formation of a new German government, for instance.

The presidential election result is also expected to be decisive for the Czech Republic's stance on the key issues the EU is dealing with now.

The "political Brussels" is trying to understand the course the Czech Republic will follow in Europe in the spring, Jurek Kuczkiewicz, journalist of Belgian Le Soir and a long-time observer of the political events in Brussels, told CTK.

Kuczkiewicz also pointed to the connection of the presidential election with the appointment of ANO chairman Andrej Babis, prosecuted on suspicion of an EU subsidy fraud, as prime minister.

Babis is perceived as a populist, but also as a liberal and a pro-European populist supporting business, which is quite hard to understand, Kuczkiewicz said.

Analyst Pieter Cleppe, from the Open Europe centre seated in Brussels, says it is no secret that representatives of the Brussels institutions and of many EU member states keep their fingers crossed for Drahos.

However, Zeman may not be so fully anti-European and the world will not end with someone critical of the EU assuming power, Cleppe said, pointing to very critical politicians in other EU countries as well.

The EU leadership views the rise of similar politicians as a symptom of a deeper problem in the EU that must be solved, he added.

Yet it was exactly Zeman who, along with then EC president Jose Manuel Barroso, hoisted the EU flag at Prague Castle, the presidential seat, when he became head of state five years ago, replacing the Eurosceptical Vaclav Klaus, Cleppe said.

He said he was an optimist and though he cannot agree with Zeman and other Eurosceptics on particular solutions, they would agree on the necessity of reforms. Citizens should be more satisfied with the European project, he said.

Foreign MEPs are also interested in the upcoming presidential runoff in the Czech Republic, Czech MEP Martina Dlabajova confirmed (for ANO). "They ask me about it quite often," she told CTK, making it clear that she would not vote for Zeman.

She added that her colleagues in the EP are quite well informed about the stances and opinions of both candidates. "Our current president may not have made a very good impression," she added.

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