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Jan Fischer named new Czech prime minister

Published on 10/04/2009

Prague -- Little-known economist Jan Fischer was named Czech prime minister Thursday to shepherd the country through the rest of its troubled presidency of the European Union and to early elections in October.

Fischer, the non-partisan head of the Czech Statistical Office, will replace outgoing premier Mirek Topolanek, whose centre-right coalition cabinet was toppled last month midway through the Czech EU presidency running to June 30.

"I am aware the situation is not easy, but I am convinced you will handle your role well and I’m ready to help you in this," President Vaclav Klaus told Fischer after appointing him at a ceremony.

Under a political deal, Topolanek will remain the head of government until May 8 while Fischer puts together his team.

Fischer will step in on May 9 and lead the government through the rest of the EU presidency and until early elections expected by mid-October.

The 58-year-old said his main task was to put together a functioning team.

"It will not be a cabinet of visions, it will be a cabinet of hard work," he said.

"This cabinet will have to fulfil with honour all tasks stemming from the (EU) presidency. It will also have to minimise the impact of the economic crisis on Czech population," he added.

Fischer also said he had no further political ambitions and that he was going to his job at the statistics office once the mission is over.

The decision to appoint Fischer follows weeks of talks between the three centre-right governing coalition parties and the senior opposition Social Democrats whose no-confidence vote toppled Topolanek’s cabinet on March 24.

Klaus on Thursday appreciated the quick resolution to the political crisis and the deal hammered out by the rival politicians who also agreed the coalition will propose eight cabinet members and the Social Democrats seven.

Under the deal, none of the current cabinet ministers will keep their seats.

Topolanek will still be in charge of the cabinet when Prague hosts an EU Eastern Partnership summit on May 7, but Fischer will be at the helm for the bloc’s next summit with China on May 20, also in the Czech capital.

Despite traditional rifts, the parties sought a quick agreement amid anxiety that the eurosceptic Klaus may lose patience and propose a cabinet of his own.

This would have given Klaus increased power to block the EU’s reforming Lisbon Treaty, which he fervently opposes and which the Czech Republic voted on only last month, the last EU member state to do so.

In February, the lower house of the Czech parliament approved the treaty, which is designed to streamline decision-making in the 27-member bloc, thanks to support from most of the ruling coalition and the Social Democrats.

The text now awaits a vote in the Senate scheduled for May 6 or 7. If approved, it has to be signed by Klaus for the ratification to be completed.