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Ambassadors without diplomatic passport - Pavel Telička

I first met Pavel Telička at the Faculty of Social Sciences, when he came to a discussion with the students, in which he also mentioned a diplomatic career being one of the opportunities for them. I also remember him from his time at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where I worked at that time as well. When working in the government, it is quite difficult to motivate people and create attractive working conditions for them, yet the negotiating Brussels team of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that he directed was indeed the “crème de la creme”.

  Pavel Telička graduated from the Law Faculty of the Charles University and, in 1989, joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the beginning, he devoted himself to international public law, followed by private international law and then to issues related to the problems of European Communities. From 1991, he handled the Permanent Mission of Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic in Brussels and, in 1995, became director of the department of the European Communities. Since 1998 he has been the chief negotiator with the European Union and, a year later, he became first Deputy Minister and State Secretary for European Affairs. 

In 2004, he became the first Czech EU Commissioner and, together with David Byrne, was in charge of health and consumer policy. After the government crisis in 2004 he terminated his work for the European Commission, because the government canceled the originally approved mandate for the Barroso Commission. Near the end of 2004 he helped establish the BXL Consulting company, which specializes in strategic consulting in European affairs.

In 2003, Telička was awarded a commemorative medal by Vaclav Havel for his contribution to the integration of the Czech Republic into the European Union and, in the same year, also received the commemorative medal of King George for the propagation of peace, security and development of mutual understanding between European nations.

He described his experiences in the negotiation process and preparations for the EU accession of Czech Republic in a book entitled “How we entered”, issued by the journalist Karel Bartak.

Pavel Telička participated in a charity project called “Signed by heart”, which can be classified among the prestigious projects at a European level due to its range. Among the donors are European personages from politics, artists and prominent figures.  

First question – how do you perceive the current European Union?

This is a difficult question to begin with, as just the answer to it could be issued in an extensive separate publication. If I have to be brief, I would say that I perceive the present European Union with mixed feelings. It still remains to me a successful integration grouping, which still has a huge disproportion – if I am to use a cliché – between the benefits on the one hand and the disadvantages and costs, claims or problems on the other.

For me, this regards the disproportion that is unequivocally prevailing in favor of the positive aspects. This grouping brought us huge advantages – we naturally perceive peace as a matter of course, although history and the current situations elsewhere indicate that peace is not so natural after all. Other benefits are customs union, internal markets, economic and monetary union, policies that blur the differences between various regions, policies that provide personal and corporate freedom and consumer rights. Many countries would like to follow this set of achievements. In Europe, the integration steps mentioned are perceived as something natural. We would like the European Union to respond to current challenges, set real priorities and objectives, settle the issues around us – arising, for example, as a result of economic recession or inadequate solutions to “immature” problems. We would like to see how it is able to evolve, what is its strategy and what would be offered to EU citizens, whether it is able to fulfill the future visions, how it anticipates problems and how they are then settled. At this point my feelings bedin to muddle. If I was to compare the EU to a machine, although I think that it is not just a machine, because it has more than parts and mechanics, it would be a machine that reduced speed, hesitates and cannot endure in all weather conditions. From the EU citizens’ perspective, who expects a lot from the EU, his ambitions remain yet unfulfilled.

What kind of reputation does the Czech Republic currently have in the European Union?

I do not like to repeat myself, but again the answer has to do with somewhat of a mixed reputation. I personally devoted twenty years of my life to the EU, therefore I am truly sorry to see that the potential of Czech Republic in the EU not yet met. This is partly due to our long-term and often ideologically tinged attitude towards the EU, which was based on the perception that there is no alternative yo membership and thus this attitude turned towar superficiality and ignorance. Such a position could not predispose us to gain knowledge about the Union or grow closer to its citizens, as we were not even ambitious enough to be more active and influential.

According to the statements of leading representatives in the EU, we were supposed to dissolve like a sugar cube in a cup of coffee and, if it did not come to this proverbial dissolution, it was generally assumed that after all, we would not have much of an impact.  Many of our politicians did not feel comfortable in the EU and, perhaps, we all suspect why. This approach fundamentally affected our preparations for membership, as well as our ability to anticipate further development and the potential efforts to bring our own ideas into discussion.

Our ignorance, our shallowness and especially our attitude towards the EU as something hardly wanted, or as seen through the lens of our politicians, as something unwanted, led to the fact that we gave up our efforts to be influential, because we a priori assumed that we cannot. From this attitude is rooted the cause of unfulfilled potential and, therefore, this is the reason the Czech Republic provokes mixed feelings in the EU. We fail to come up with interesting ideas, we don’t have the ambition to seek solutions, we are less knowledgeable about various issues and much more passive than other countries.

This is why nobody relies on the Czech Republic and this is why the country does not belong to the core countries that influence events in the EU. The Czech presidency in the European council had the opportunity to prove that we have certain abilities and mastered certain mechanisms in order to function. An opportunity to create positions arose, positions from which we would have benefited later. Instead of taking advantage of this unique opportunity, our country overthrew the government…

In addition, a lot of criticism was addressed towards the EU by the Czech Republic, without any further constructive attitude. It would be ideal if we had the ability to anticipate future developments, and thus constructively influence events. We constantly criticize the bureaucracy in Brussels but, unlike European institutions, do little to reduce the administrative burden for businesses. Key issues in our domestic policy are being reduced to a debate about whether, on an EU level, we would solve more problems or whether the Commission would have more competencies. We don’t think about whether this is the only or most effective way to reach a solution.

Activity and proactivity are the keys I see here. Problems on an EU level exist and more will come, but it depends on whether the Czech Republic will be at the helm or not. We ourselves are responsible for the mixed perception the EU has about the Czech Republic, because we often marginalize, deviate and are not part of the core.

With some exceptions, we have no representation in key positions of EU institutions, we are not being invited to key meetings, such as the inner circle of ambassadors in the COREPER, where there is a group of ambassadors who meet frequently, but a Czech ambassador is never present. Just to explain – in COREPER we are of course being represented, nonetheless not in the narrower circles.

Our politicians do not consider how to target our policy toward the use of the European funds properly, but only how to fill the party’s coffers and their own pockets. The opposite would be rather an exception.

The effect of the lobbyists is shrouded in mystery. The Brussels concept of lobbying is completely different from the Czech one, though. This practice is based on the strict regulation of lobbyists in Brussels and the fact that, in Brussels, lobbyists are relied on as a legitimate part of the legislative process. Could you describe your work specifically?

To begin with, I will defend the lobbyist designation. The first reason is the fact that, in practice, we are focused primarily on strategic consulting. The second reason is the fact that we want to be associated with only the Czech environment, because we do not identify with the Czech concept of lobbying. We operate on the European market, but did not operate at all in the Czech Republic for a long time because, there, lobbying was a synonym of the application of various client bindings. We declined several orders in the Czech Republic. Finally, we began working for our long-term established clients here, but it is still only in a small percentage of cases.

How does strategic consulting look in practice?

Seventy percent of our focus is on the territory of the European Union, but we are beginning to focus on territories outside the EU as well. We present our services as a complex product. For some clients with whom we have a long-term cooperation, for example in the field of energy, we process an overall agenda of the EU energy policy. In our work, we focus on how existing EU policy effects a particular company, as well as also anticipate the development of a particular EU policy and its direction, in order to analyze the possible future impact on the company. We are looking for ways to maximize benefits and reduce potential threats.

Part of our job is to influence specific aspects of policy at a certain stage of development and find arguments for understanding the interests of our clients by the EU. It certainly is not in the interest of the EU itself to approve a policy that will be excessive, in the sense that it will bring a small advantage or will even restrict the operation of individual subjects. In addition to working in the sphere of counseling, I am a member of the Stoiber Group for reducing administrative burdens and I see that, in some cases, administrative burden itself can be a considerable issue. Each standard is inevitably accompanied by an administrative burden, some are necessary, but in some cases it is superfluous and needs to be faced. The fact that I have an insight into the emerging legislation, allows our company to better perceive the direction the new standards will take.

On the other hand, we have clients who are not interested in such a complex product, but they are concerned with resolving specific cases – for example, in the field of competition. Another area is represented by grants from various programs. Normally, do not deal with grants, but a strategic partner expressed an interest to draw from one of the funds, and asked half the amount that could have been achieved. The argument arose from concerns from the fact that the project also involved other applicants. Thanks to the quality of the project, success was achieved and a maximum amount was attained.

What is the reputation of Czech firms in Brussels? Can they effectively assert their interests?

Some of them. Generally, Czech companies are not well known and this fact itself is a disadvantage. If a dispute occurs between a major company that the EU already knows, which has its representation in Brussels and the EU already dealt with it (whether it is the German Siemens or American Microsoft on the one hand or a newly formed type of energy holding subject on the other), then the obscurity itself can be a disadvantage. Czech firms start their concern with the agenda of the EU in cases of already occurring problems, when it comes to adopting new legislation or when they are in a dispute with a particular company. But it is too late.

The bigger players should work more conceptually with the EU. I would give CEZ as an example, which has offices in Brussels and, if necessary, hires outside advisors. It is important to be present in Brussels, get to know the European institutions better, understand their laws and future direction and become known. Another poor representation of Czech companies is the fact that they often reflect the behavior of our politicians. It is a pompous and egocentric behavior – their leaders probably do not realize that there are thousands of companies of similar type in the EU. The general rule for the Central and Eastern European companies is that it is necessary that they act with humility, but at the same time they must be able to “treat” their own interests. I will use this example: if you see a wave coming, it would be foolish to try to destroy it with a breakwater, instead, you should learn how to surf and ride the wave. It should be noted that many companies have built up a good reputation and these companies are then the proof that it is worth investing in reputation building.

 You lived in Brussels for a very long time. Do you consider yourself a Czech or a European?

I feel like a Czech, although as a negotiator, State Secretary for the EU or EU commissioner, many people expect something else. I still think that a person has a certain identity. I perceive the European interests, the European identity, I am a European, but I also see in myself the Czech, that will remain there forever. If the EU was to build a football or rugby team, I would wear a Czech jersey and I would be cheering the Czechs. In each of my positions, I was stressing the fact that I am wearing a Czech jersey (except when I was a Commissioner, where we had to show independence). I feel a certain compatibility between Czechness and Europeanism; they are not two worlds going against each other.

You were known as a tough negotiator. However, during our conversations I realized that the supposed toughness was caused by your precise preparation. How would you characterize yourself as a negotiator?

I did not know that I have this reputation, especially because some politicians argued that at times Poles, at times Hungarians negotiated harder and more. I think that the toughness of the negotiator is only one feature or tool and, if used incorrectly, it can be a considerable disadvantage. There are situations when you face a stronger opponent and the EU was stronger, more experienced, with a huge machinery, ready to expand, but did not crave for it, we were the ones who wanted in.

The tactics was thus to become tougher, but proceed with caution, tactically not to sacrifice important things for marginal, be able to set priorities and arguments in order to succeed. It is important to have a quality analysis, know the facts and numbers and be aware of the counterparty’s weaknesses. When negotiating with someone stronger, toughness may not always pay off. Rather, balance and intelligence are more useful.

With the YES movement you return to the world of politics. What are your feelings and expectations regarding your return?

This can be said very concisely. People are rarely satisfied with the situation in our country, but also hardly strive for any change. I would like to contribute to that change and not reproach myself with the fact that I held back and that I preferred a calmer more comfortable life. I feel that I owe at least one attempt. Not to mention that I would like to contribute to the supervision of candidates in European elections, so that Czech Republic becomes a more relevant player on the European scene and Czech subjects will be more emancipated in the EU.


Previous article in this series:
Ambassadors without diplomatic passport - Jana Adamcová
Ambassadors without diplomatic passport - Vladimíra Glatzová


Linda Štucbartová graduated from the Institute of International Territorial Studies. After a one year scholarship at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, she obtained a Diplome d’études supérieures from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. Between the years 2002 and 2006, she worked in senior positions at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since 2006 she has functioned in the private sphere, and lectures at the Anglo-American University, where she was named the Chair of the Department of Diplomacy. In addition to training in negotiation and communication of clients from the private, public and non-profit sector, she regularly collaborates with NGOs in the projects of the International Global Young Leaders Conference and the Women and Leadership Programme. Linda Štucbartová is a member of the Rotary Club Prague International. She currently works for ŠKODA AUTO a.s. as a Learning and Development Specialist. Articles are extracts from her book Velvyslanci i bez diplomatického pasu (Eng. “Ambassadors without a Diplomatic Passport”).

Source: Leaders Magazine - www.leadersmagazine.cz