PRAGUE – Czech President Milos Zeman said on Friday he had rejected the nomination of a foreign minister in the incoming cabinet over the candidate’s reservations toward Israel and toward cooperation with other members in a central European alliance.
Zeman said in a statement he was ready to appoint the rest of the cabinet but the rejection sets the stage for a legal battle with the new prime minister, Petr Fiala, leader of the centre-right Civic Democrats.
Fiala has backed the foreign minister nominee, Jan Lipavsky, from the liberal Pirate Party, which is part of Fiala’s coalition that won an election in October.
Zeman, who is not the head of the executive under the constitution but has frequently exerted pressure on cabinets, said Lipavsky lacked qualifications.
Zeman said he was rejecting Lipavsky’s “distanced” stance on Israel and on the central European Visegrad group, whose fellow members Poland and Hungary have been at loggerheads with European partners over the rule of law.
The Czech Republic has had strong ties with Israel and Fiala’s coalition pledged to hold that line.
Lipavsky signed a letter alongside more than 400 other lawmakers from Europe in February in protesting Israel’s expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
He has been against on moving the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is one of Zeman’s goals that would put the Czechs alongside the United States in a decision that drew widespread criticism from the international community. The Czechs have so far opened a diplomatic office in Jerusalem.
The Pirates have criticised Visegrad partner Hungary for what the party’s chief called “authoritarian tendencies”.
They have also criticised Zeman’s affinity with China and Russia, although Zeman did not mention those positions in his statement.
Under the constitution, the president appoints ministers nominated by the prime minister.
Fiala said he would take the matter to court.
“It is necessary that the Constitutional Court once and for all settles the question of authorities in appointing new members of government,” he said on Twitter, adding he would announce his next move on Monday.
Fiala’s cabinet is expected to be appointed before Christmas but it was not clear if the row over Lipavsky could affect the timing.