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Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg
Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, left, and MP Jaroslav Foldyna, took sides in a heated panel discussion of experts June 18.
April 21, 2010

Schwarzenberg talks election

May poll could avert fiscal catastrophe, TOP 09 leader says

The country is under threat from the twin scourges of corruption and a burgeoning budget deficit, and “the people must be told” just how dire the situation is, TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg said in an interview with The Prague Post.

The national debt is already a crisis, but, if no action is taken, it will get much worse, he warned.

“Someone must tell the truth,” he said. “If we don’t do something, we will have a catastrophe.”

Schwarzenberg’s party, TOP 09, is running its campaign on securing the country’s future free of what it sees as crippling debt and the ever-growing menace of corruption.

Schwarzenberg’s aristocratic heritage makes him an unlikely champion of the common man, yet opinion polls consistently place him top of the list of the country’s most trusted politicians.

He believes a right-wing coalition will emerge from the general election, making him not so much the prince who would be king but much more likely the prince who would be kingmaker.

But just why should anyone vote for TOP 09?

“Yes, it is a tough choice,” he agrees with almost disarming honesty for a politician, before returning to his pet theme that the people must be made aware just how critical this election is.

“We have got to get the finances in hand to save the nation,” he said.

Getting finances in order is likely to take the form of massive cuts to public services, as the TOP 09 election platform proposes. The party styles itself a conservative party “based on the traditions of European Christian-Jewish culture,” according to the party manifesto.

Pensions, insurance and other social protections are high on the list of proposed cuts for a party that says “the only instrument for prosperity and wealth is the free market.”

When pressed on just how the party would tackle corruption, Schwarzenberg was unapologetically direct.

“There are two aspects to fighting corruption,” he said. “One, of course, is punishment; those who have been found guilty of corruption must face the consequences, of course, but more important in the fight against corruption is transparency and accountability. There can be no secrets.

“Take tenders, for instance. When a company tenders for a project, the process must be open and accountable. Also, the company must be able to show that it can do 70 percent of the work. What we have now is companies bidding for tenders, winning them and then farming them out to subcontractors. There is no accountability. It can take years to finish a project. This must end.”

Just like Charles Bridge? Schwarzenberg smiled and nodded in agreement.

With just over a month to go before polling, Schwarzenberg, as any party leader would, said he is satisfied with his campaign and the public’s response.

“What I love about campaigning, especially in Prague, is going to the pubs, where people can talk to you at their own leisure,” he said.

Schwarzenberg made good on that pledge, sipping tequila with a group of potential voters at the Mlynská pub in Kampa Park April 17.

With the election approaching May 29 and 30, he was convinced the political landscape that emerges May 31 will demand a multiparty coalition, adding that weeks or months of gridlock may be the most immediate result.

“Of course, there will be [a coalition]. It will take some time to put together, but there will be a coalition. It may even take a few months to iron out all the details, but a coalition is how it will turn out.”

– Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.

The Schwarzenberg file

Full name: Karl Johannes Nepomuk Josef Norbert Friedrich Antonius Wratislaw Mena von Schwarzenberg

Full title: His Serene Highness the Prince of Schwarzenberg, Count of Sulz, Princely Landgrave in Klettgau, and Duke of Krumlov

Date of birth: Dec. 10, 1937, in Prague

Position: Leads TOP 09, a right-wing party, and is a senator, representing Prague 6. He was foreign affairs minister from 2007 until 2009. He is the current head of the House of Schwarzenberg through his adoption by Heinrich Schwarzenberg, the 11th Prince of Schwarzenberg, and the last male member of the major Schwarzenberg line. Also the eldest son of Prince Karl VI of Schwarzenberg of the minor line and Princess Antonie von Fürstenberg

Style: Favors bowties, reminiscent of another era, as is his soft, almost apologetic, manner of speaking

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