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Europe

EU Trainees Deluxe

Prague hastily announced a new candidate for the EU executive Wednesday, just five days after Milos Kuzvart stepped down. Kuzvart may have saved himself from a well-paid term twiddling his thumbs in Brussels.

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The newcomers may have plenty of time to explore Brussels come May.

The bad news broke while the Czech prime minister was meeting with his parliamentary group. Milos Kuzvart, Prague's nominee to join the European Commission, announced he was withdrawing his candidacy for the Brussels position. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla fainted and was raced to a hospital.

Spidla recovered from the fainting spell, while Czech diplomats were still busy trying to control the damage. European Commission President Romano Prodi gave Prague until Wednesday to name a replacement, and the Czechs announced then that their current envoy to the EU, Pavel Telicka, was the new nominee.

Milos Kuzvart, Tschechien, Umweltminister

Milos Kuzvart stepped down as Prague's nominee for the European Commission

Kuzvart (photo) said he stepped down because he didn't enjoy enough support from the Czech Republic's governing coalition, who had nominated him in a 17-11 cabinet vote. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, in particular, exchanged insults with the former environment minister on more than one occasion, though he said he had backed Kuzvart. But the rumor mill has it that Kuzvart's English skills just weren't up to the job in Brussels, despite earlier claims that he spoke the language fluently. Other observers said Kuzvart was unhappy with being allocated shadow commissioner for consumer affairs.

Shadow commissioners

Kuzvart wasn't the only one who was disgruntled. Several of the 10 candidates from the Eastern and Southern European countries pegged to join the EU on May 1 were too after Prodi announced on February 18 that they would be sent to Brussels just to learn the ropes from current commission members.

Pavel Telicka EU-Kommissar Tschechien

Pavel Telicka

The 10 newcomers are all political or diplomatic heavyweights at home. Some of them, like Czech designate Telicka (photo), already know Brussels well after having negotiated their country's accession to the EU.

Latvian candidate Sandra Kalniete, a career diplomat, put on a brave face after being assigned to the agriculture department. "I have no economic background and I was aspiring to a different area," she told the EUObserver Web site. She said she saw it as a challenge.

Well-paid work experience

Like the other commissioners, old and new, Kalniete will be paid €18,000 ($22,400) monthly, plus generous benefits and a chauffeur-driven limo. Until the current commission completes its term in October and a 25-member commission takes over, each of the newcomers will have their own office and voting rights, but their main task will be to learn how things are done at EU headquarters.

The commission has rejected allegations that the 10 shadow commissioners will be glorified interns who will be paid-generously for six months, interrupted by a long summer vacation, to do little. "Commissioners don't just handle their own portfolios and there will be plenty of PR work for them to do, explaining what Europe is all about in their own countries," one EU official was quoted by Britain's Guardian newspaper. "They are certainly not going to be doing nothing."

Dalia Grybauskaite

Dalia Grybauskaite

But Lithuanian candidate Dalia Grybauskaite, an economist and currently her country's finance minister, complained about being expected to "shadow" the commissioner for education and culture. "I'm coming here to work, not to sit around and have a vacation," she said.

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