EU elections 2019: Who is Jan Zahradil? What's his vision for the bloc?

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EU elections 2019: Who is Jan Zahradil? What's his vision for the bloc?
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Czech MEP Jan Zahradil, from the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE), is hoping his pledge to "retune the EU" will bag him the bloc's top job after the upcoming European elections.

Euronews will be quizzing him about his vision for Europe at 21h CEST on May 14 as part of our series of interviews with the leading candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President.

We have already spoken to Guy Verhofstadt, Ska Keller, Frans Timmermans and Violeta Tomic.

What does Jan Zahradil stand for?

An eager rock fan, Zahradil, 56, says the bloc has a "broken record" and has made "let's retune the EU" the cornerstone of his election campaign.

To do so, he is calling for more flexible integration and for an end to the bloc's "one size fits all" approach, warning that "forced unity will break the EU, not mend it."

His programme emphasises that "we do not need a common European solution to every problem that exists" and that the EU should work to reinforce Europe's place in the world, not replace national governments.

As such, he wants oversight from national parliaments to be strengthened by allowing a third of national parliaments to have a draft EU legislation withdrawn and the bloc's remit to be limited to areas where there is common value, including research, the single market and trade agreements.

He also wants to launch a "Great Review" of EU laws and agencies to determine whether they are still cost-effective and efficient to tackle the challenges currently facing the bloc and whether there might be other ways to fund them.

He has come out in favour of better-coordinated efforts in defence and military procurement, as well as in energy security, highlighting the Nordstream II project championed by Germany and France which he says harms "the strategic and economic stability of fellow member states".

He has declared himself against harmonised taxation and the automatic adoption of the euro for future member states.

Who is Jan Zahradil?

Born in Prague in 1963, Zahradil initially pursued a career in water management but entered politics in 1992 as the country was still a burgeoning democracy following the 1989 Velvet Revolution which deposed the communist regime. After Czechoslovakia was dissolved into two separate countries in 1993, he became a foreign policy adviser for the then-prime minister.

He reentered his country's parliament in 1998 and served as the co-chairman of the Joint Parliamentary EU-Czech Republic Committee, which supervised the eastern European nation's accession to the bloc.

He was elected to the EU's parliament in 2004, the same year the Czech Republic officially became an EU member state, and took over as ACRE leader just five years later. The group is now the third largest in the EU parliament.

What do the critics say?

Rejecting the eurosceptic label, Zahradil instead calls himself a "euro-realist" and says Brexit is proof EU citizens want a more decentralised bloc.

Among the criticism lobbed his way is his group's reliance on Polish MEPs, including 15 from the country's ruling far-right Law and Justice Party (PiS). This reliance will be exacerbated by the UK's exit from the EU, as British MEPs currently are the largest national delegation in the group, just slightly ahead of Poland.

To counter the loss of British conservative lawmakers, Zahradil has also been courting other far-right parties from central and Eastern Europe and was criticised for failing to condemn member states sanctioned by the EU for undermining rule of law, including Poland and Hungary.

Additionally, he's been labelled a climate sceptic and did not, for instance, support the EU's zero emissions target.