Three and a half months after the official forming of Andrej Babiš’s cabinet, the Czech foreign ministry has received a full-time leader. Until now, Jan Hamáček, who is minister of the interior, had been in temporary charge. In a move that is widely understood as a political compromise, the new man in charge is Tomáš Petříček, the previous candidate’s assistant.
On Tuesday, at around lunchtime, nearly a hundred days after the current Czech government passed the Parliament’s vote of confidence, President Miloš Zeman named Tomáš Petříček as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The lack of an official head of foreign affairs was caused by the President refusing to confirm the first proposal of the government to place Social Democrat MEP Miroslav Poche into the position. The official reason given by the Castle was his initially positive stance to EU migration quotas.
An alternative, in the form of Poche’s former assistant and party colleague Petříček, was proposed in September. Despite criticism from the opposition regarding Petříček’s inexperience, it was announced at the beginning of October that he had been accepted by the Castle and Petříček assumed the office after an official ceremony on Tuesday morning.
However, the president has insisted that, as a price for naming Petříček into office, the former candidate Poche quits his role as political secretary at the Foreign Ministry. While Petříček has agreed to cancel the position, he did not rule out naming Poche as one of his advisors.
Petříček outlined the targets he will strive to achieve as foreign minister in an interview with Czech Radio on Tuesday morning.
“I would like to clearly delineate our country’s position in the European Union and the wider transatlantic area. Our core priorities are that our foreign policy has continuity, that it is consensual and that it is coherent.”
The statement was likely in relation to the varying standpoints on Czech foreign policy that have been visible between the Castle and governments over the past years. He has vowed to discuss foreign policy questions with the president and the wider sphere of state representatives in order to maintain consensus.
On a key point of Czech foreign policy in the past years – dealing with the migration crisis – Petříček agrees with Prime Minister Babiš that, instead of taking refugees into Europe, support should be focused externally.
“We can do more in countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to help refugees and improve their living conditions in refugee camps. Our target should be to stabilise the countries they are fleeing in order to ensure they can stay in their home countries.”
Vít Dostál, who is research director at foreign policy think-tank AMO (Association for International Affairs), believes that Petříček’s hardest challenge will also involve reaching consensus within his own party.
“Not only are there divisions between the Castle and a part of the Czech political spectrum when it comes to foreign policy, but the Social Democrats themselves are very much divided on a couple of foreign policy questions, so that will certainly be the hardest task for the new minister.”