(The September 28 story was refiled to correct paragraphs 3, 4 to clarify EFSA’s role)
PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech president’s spokesman likened the European Union to the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler on Thursday while criticising the bloc’s executive over a regulation on food safety.
Jiri Ovcacek made the comment while citing the case of an ingredient in a Czech potato-based alcohol locally known as “rum” that cannot be labelled that way due to an EU ban which says the term must be reserved for cane-based spirits.
The EU’s food watchdog, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), found the ingredient, called rum-ether, posed a potential risk on grounds it contains a material that can damage body cells.
EFSA’s advice is used by EU regulators, who should decide by April 2018 on the future of the ingredient.
Ovcacek shared an article from a Czech news website on his Facebook page on the issue, adding the comment: “The Empire has decided that there will be no ‘tuzemak’ (Czech rum) to drink in the protectorate.”
“Empire” in the Czech context is often understood to refer to Hitler’s Third Reich, while the “protectorate” is what the country was called by the Nazi regime during World War Two.
When asked about the comment, Ovcacek said his words were warranted because such actions by some in the EU damaged its reputation.
“It points to the absolute insensibility of the European Commission,” Ovcacek said.
Ovcacek’s comments have led to controversy before, such as his outbursts against Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and some of his ministers, and even against the Czech media.
Czech President Milos Zeman has portrayed himself as a Europhile and fan of a federal EU. But he has also expressed pro-Russian and anti-immigration views and built up relations with China, in contrast to the pro-Western and human rights-based style of Czech foreign policy established by the late President Vaclav Havel.
Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Hugh Lawson