New Czech Government Ministers Lack Working Knowledge of English

According to a report from Hospodarske Noviny, several ministers in the newly appointed cabinet cannot speak English to a working level, posing potential problems for the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union later this year. Photo credit:

Czech Rep, Jan 18 (BD) – An investigation by Czech daily Hospodarske Noviny (HN) has found that several ministers of the new government, led by Petr Fiala (ODS), are unable to speak English to a working level, raising concern about the ministers’ ability to carry out their roles during the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union, beginning in July this year. 

Both coalitions that form the new government emphasised language skills in their electoral programs. “We will prepare professionally and responsibly for the Czech presidency of the EU in the autumn of 2022. We will guarantee that every member of the government will have at least one foreign language that they can speak without problems,” said the Spolu coalition, consisting of ODS, KDU-ČSL and TOP 09. Meanwhile, the PirSTAN campaign said that “we will consistently demand knowledge of world languages ​​from ministers and deputies.” However, according to HN, at least five current ministers cannot in fact work in English. 

Language abilities are considered particularly important for ministers such as Finance Minister Zbyněk Stanjura (ODS), who will be expected to chair regular meetings of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin) of EU Finance Ministers. Stanjura told HN that his English was “more social”, and that he would use an interpreter for his business meetings. Similarly, Defence Minister Jana Černochová (ODS), who is expected to attend Nato summits, told HN that her English was CEFR Level B1, sufficient for everyday conversations but not a working environment. However, both reported at least passive knowledge of Russian and Polish.

Others confirming they would use an interpreter for international meetings included Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Marian Jurecka (KDU-CSL) and Culture Minister Martin Baxa (ODS). Several others failed to respond to HN’s inquiries. Among those who are able to speak English fluently is new Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky (Pirati), who President Zeman previously claimed was unqualified for his job.

According to Dr. Petr Kaniok, from the Department of International Relations and European Studies at Masaryk University, it is imperative for elected officials to be able to speak English, as many important decisions, agreements and discussions are held informally between delegates. “All important negotiations are held in the corridor. And there are no interpreters,” he told HN, adding, “Thirty years after the revolution, this should not be a discussion at all, it should be completely automatic. If someone wants to be in government, they should be able to speak English without any problem.” 

A spokesman for Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who speaks fluent English and German, told HN that, “When composing the government, an effort was made to apply this criterion as much as possible. In some cases, however, other criteria prevailed, such as expertise and experience with the issue”. 

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