In the run-up to the 2019 European elections, we’ll be profiling the candidates for EU Commission President. The first in our series is Jan Zahradil, a Member of the European Parliament and the candidate for the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE).
ACRE tends towards a sort of “soft euroscepticism”, in that its members want to see a reformed EU with less centralised control and more powers handed to Member States. ACRE promotes individual liberty, free markets and, generally speaking, its constituent parties support conservative values.
In the 2014 European Parliament elections, ACRE refused to field a candidate for Commission President. Party strategists believe that may have been a misstep, as it denied ACRE a platform to promote itself during the election campaign. This year, ACRE is almost guaranteed to lose its biggest national contingent of MEPs (the British Conservative Party) because of Brexit. So, despite disagreeing in principle with the Spitzenkandidaten process, ACRE has put forward its President, Jan Zahradil, as their candidate.
Jan Zahradil was born in Prague, Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia), on 20 March, 1963. After a career as a scientific researcher specialising in water management, he joined politics during the Velvet Revolution (the non-violent transition of power from Communism to democracy) in the early 1990s.
In 1992, he was elected to the Czechoslovakian Federal Parliament for the liberal-conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS). In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Jan Zahradil became foreign and political adviser to the first Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus.
As a Czech politician, he has specialised in the question of European integration, serving as co-chairman of the Czech Joint Parliamentary EU-Czech Republic Committee, representing the Czech Republic in the 2002 Convention on the Future of the European Union, and acting as the Czech Prime Minister’s sherpa during the Lisbon Treaty negotiations. In 2004 he was elected to the European Parliament as an MEP, and he has led ACRE since 2009.
Zahradil has been described as a climate sceptic (a description he denies). He does, however, stand against what he calls a “green ideology” that he believes will hurt Europe economically without having a positive impact on the environment. Ideologically, Jan Zahradil supports free trade and individual liberty, and has been described by British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan as “a free-marketeer, a Eurosceptic, a libertarian, a flinty Czech patriot who is also a committed Anglophile and Atlanticist.”
Finally, Jan Zahradil is apparently a bit of a metalhead. He is a big fan of classic rock such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath, as well as the new wave of British heavy metal, including Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Motörhead. He’s been playing up this side of himself by calling on voters to “retune the EU“, with an aim to creating a Europe that is “scaled back, flexible, prosperous, cost-effective, and respectful of national governments”.