Sunday, 19 November 2017

'They told me to stay away from politics'

By Lenka Zlámalová, Tomáš Němeček | Hospodářské noviny |
29 June 2009

Before the interview he had a phone call with Swedish PM Frederk Reinfeldt, who will take over the EU presidency this week. A delegation from Czech airlines, which is being prepared for privatisation.

Politics is clearly something that the temporary PM enjoys; in an interview with Hospodářské noviny, however, he repeats several times that he does not want to remain in politics.

A minister in Topolánek government told us that when he first led a meeting of his EU colleagues, he was so nervous in the morning that he threw up. How did you feel?
He told me about this! I still have the text message he wrote. It wasn't that dramatic, but still: when you go through all the security checks and enter the room, where most of the the prime ministers and presidents are already seated, you feel your knees going weak. It's a moment when you just need to pull yourself together: Good God, I really need to go up there.

What was the most difficult negotiation for you at the summit?
Guarantees for Ireland. The Irish wanted to be able to leave the summit and go into the new referendum with strong guarantees on topics that were important to them. And others – especially the Brits – wanted a way to guarantee that the ratification issue would not be reopened.

Everyone felt that we had to come to an agreement. The French, the Germans, the Swedes, were invited to the negotiations at various stages. That was not an easy feat – to find the people that would help you achieve the goal – and the next day at 11am we were able to announce that an agreement had been reached.

Why do you think Nicolas Sarkozy praised how you handled the summit? During the whole presidency he was competing with the Czechs to dominate and the daily Le Figaro, which is close to the president, mercilessly targeted the Czech presidency.
Sarkozy is a fore of nature. He is charismatic, able to connivence and has great non-verbal communication skills. You either let yourself be smothered by that or you respond head on. I don't have a problem with non-verbal communication. People say about me that if I didn't have any hands, I wouldn't be able to communicate.

But I am pleased Angela Merkel and Swedish Prime Minister Reinfeldt, as well as colleagues from other countries, also gave me positive feedback. It wasn't just Sarkozy and that makes me happy.

So that they can't say that 'Fischer messed it up'
If you are able to negotiate a compromise with 27 countries, why can't you help negotiate an agreement between Paroubek and Topolánek over who will be the next Czech EU commissioner?
That's a good question. It's something that bothers me a lot. Because in the corridors in Brussels, there is already talk about assigning the different portfolios. But how can you negotiate about this without having specific candidates? It's possible but very difficult to do.

The chairmen of both big parties nevertheless want to wait until after the elections to decide. So if we get some unsuitable portfolio at the end of the year...
Then people will say "Fischer messed it up"
Those are your words, but I don't disagree. We will hold negotiations with the politicians during next week, and we do want to give them a reminder: Gentlemen, this is something we need to talk about.

Is it true that Topolánek and Paroubek have already made a deal that the winner will form the next government and that the loser will become the next EU commissioner?
That's a question for the ČSSD and the ODS. No comment from me.

If politicians suggested that the new head of the Czech Statistical office should be the not very well known MP Rafaj, whose qualifications include little more than his ČSSD membership, you would probably say that they are crazy. So why have you accepted his nomination to head the anti/monopoly office?
This nomination came from the ČSSD and is based on certain agreements. I will not discuss his ability to do the job on the pages of this newspaper.

But you stood up against some other nominations. Why are you not standing up now, when the posts are filled by the silent grand coalition and you are just supposed to cover it up?
Let me put it this way: I will not discuss specific nominations, but I will agree with you that it would, of course, be better in a number of cases to fill the posts with experts rather than politicians.

When it comes to the anti-monopoly office, I am prepared to present the nomination to the cabinet next week. There will a discussion and after that things will be clearer.

You asked that the huge commission for the liquidation of ecological damages, which is worth some CZK 115 billion, be investigated. What did you find out?
The investigation is still under way. They did not uncover anything that would require that the commission be halted. But I can say that the final decision will be made by the next government.

Former Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said he is prepared to help you at any time. Have you sought his advice yet?
We have had many long conversations about the budget. I talked with him about this in greater detail than with any other ministers. After all, I understand the budget much better than I do historical preservation, for instance.

Would you say that you are on friendly terms?
Why not? We are very friendly.

What other politicians are you friendly with?
I think I have a very different relationship with everyone. And that's how it should be. My predecessor at the statistical office, Edvard Outrata, who returned from Canada after living in exile for many years, always says. As the director, you will have close dealings with politicians, but stay away from politics.

 

Jan Fischer

  • Born 2 January 1951 in Prague
  • Comes from a family of mathematicians and statisticians
  • In 1974 graduated from the School of Economy in Prague and began working at the Czech statistical office.
  • After 1989 he was deputy head of the statistical office for ten years.
  • He was then dismissed from that position by the new director. He became the director after the previous director's resignation in 2003.
  • He was a member of the Communist Party from 1980 to 1989.
  • He was married twice and has three adult children.