Blog | Erik Tabery

Up to the Last Minister

The current week is likely to be the last act of the drama of forming a left-centrist coalition. Looking from the outside, things may seem easy. The coalition Programme has been written and discussions on formation of the Government are being finalised. Yet, the battle emotions are still burning high and the Government profile will be not resolved until Vladimír Špidla introduces the Government to the House of Delegates and until the House approves it.
Both the Programme and the list of probable ministers have been suggesting so far that the Government will be more liberal than its predecessors, will build increasingly on the civil society concept, enhance the citizens' say in the public matters and, most importantly, will endeavour to take the Czech Republic into Europe. This is countered by the risk the Government will ever more increase the country's indebtness and that the influence of various corporations who will again delegate their representatives directly into the Government will increase.

Rusnok the Orphan and People's Party the Good Guys

The coalition declaration and probable names of ministers for ESSD have
resulted in a feeling as if the supreme Social Democrat Vladimír Špidla has not
made up his mind yet whether to favour rather an open pro-European government
or, following the lead of Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman, a government related to
business corporations. There are people on Špidla's team who, until now, have never
pressed for the interests of any business lobby, however, apart from them,
favoured pretenders for the Government chairs include also Jaroslav Palas and
Zdeněk Škromach. The former represents the agrarian and gamekeeper lobby and he
will naturally further their interests as the head of the relevant department.
The latter will promote the social cohesion, not only as a trade union boss,
but also as the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare. All that foreshadows not
much good for the Treasury. The current Minister of Finance Jioí Rusnok, as an
orphan left behind from the Opposition Agreement times, is likely to take the
post of the Minister of Industry. Indeed, this will be not due to his qualities
(otherwise, he would have been reappointed the Minister of Finance) but due to
the fact that he is the most obvious supporter of co-operation between ESSD and
ODS. That is why Špidla wants to keep his eye on him. Somewhere halfway between
a willingness to co-operate with the Coalition and to continue co-operation with
ODS the rehashed Minister of Defence Jaroslav Tvrdík and Minister of Interior
Stanislav Gross are to be found. Gross, however, will additionally become the
Vice-Premier for Security and may be therefore satisfied with his position.
The clearly pro-European and more up-to-date wing of the Social Democrats in
the Government will include the Minister of Education Petra Buzková, Minister
of Finance Bohuslav Sobotka, Minister of Justice Pavel Rychetský, Minister of
Health Marie Soueková and, outside the Government, Lubomír Zaorálek who has
been recommended for the Chairman of the next House of Deputies by the ESSD
Board. Originally a hot candidate for the Minister of Industry, Zaorálek should
now ensure ratification of the Czech Republic accession documents to the EU.
KDU-ESL (Christian Democrats' Union-People's Party) will gain three departments
in the Government. Cyril Svoboda will become the Minister of Exterior and
Vice-Premier. Milan Šimonovský will be the Minister of Transport and Libor
Ambrozek the Minister of Environment. These comparatively significant posts are
a remuneration to the People's Party for their being more accommodating towards
the Social Democrats during the talks than their coalition colleagues from US
(Union of Freedom). Špidla can see strong allies in their ministers and that is
why he has accepted their requirement "either agriculture or
environment", i.e. one of the departments that allocate subsidies to the
rural areas.

Union of Freedom: one more chance

The Union of Freedom has a poorer position compared to the People's Party. Only
less important sectors of culture, local development and informatics have been
left to them. To make it worse, the very reasons in favour of a continued
existence of each of the above sectors are unclear. The Coalition itself were
considering a possibility to merge the departments of culture and education,
and to dissolve the Ministry for Local Development as it was originally set up
only for the period until new territorial units, i.e. regions, were established
in the Czech Republic. The role of the informatics department may also be well
All the same, the Unionists may see their chance in the above departments. Petr
Mareš is to become the Minister of Culture and at the same the Vice-Premier for
Science and Human Resources and hence can inspire the necessary educational
reform. Vladimír Mlynáo has got in the Government thanks to the Social
Democrats wish and, in his informatics post, he can provide support to dynamic
industrial sectors. The Ministry for Local Development will be allocating the
EU regional subsidies. The importance of the position is suggested by the fact
that Špidla has turned down Senator Robert Koláo who has been nominated by the
Union and wants to hear another name instead.
To make things even more tangled for the Unionists, Hana Marvanová, the party's
Chairwoman. resigned from the post on Thursday. As an explanation, she offered
her anxiety that the Government would enable a continued growth of the public
debt. Apparently, that was an impetuous move as the Chairwoman could have well
waited until the discussion over the first budget. Also, it is not clear in
advance if the Špidla's Government will be as irresponsible as its predecessors
under Premiers Klaus and Zeman who used to arrogantly overlook the increasing
public debt. The point is that the following wording is contained in the
Coalition Agreement: "The Parties agree that the Government approve a
medium-term fiscal forecast by the end of 2002 that shall lay down binding
general expense limits of the state budget chapters for the whole term of
office of the new Government."
Marvanová's resignation has however helped as it has highlighted a serious
problem. In two years, the public budget deficit should amount to almost 15 %
of GDP (approximately two hundred billion korunas), while the five per cent
rate announced by the Coalition Agreement for 2006 is but a promise. A
development like this poses a serious threat to the whole economy, while, at
the moment, it remains unclear how much the Czech National Bank, another big
player on the national economy scene, will be willing to permit this to happen.

For Europe and Civil Society

The Coalition Agreement confirms the design of the Government, described by the
names of the ministers-to-be. It is focusing specifically on integration into
the European Union. The declaration includes also a sentence that "both
Parties have committed themselves to a joint task of winning the public for
attendance of the referendum and for consenting to the European Union
accession". The current Government have underestimated these issues. The
left-centrist coalition document further sets out that "the goal is to
improve the overall standing of women in our society". Another positive
news is the possibility for women on a maternity leave to earn more than the
current limit. The health section suproisingly contains a modern formulation
promising to improve the status of patients "by increasing their
information and supporting free choice of the health care". An important
element of the anti-bribery fight is the plan for "a transition to the
direct credit system", "introduction of schedules of assets for
public officers" and "acceleration of records of incorporation in the
Commercial Registry". According to the Coalition Agreement, immunity or
privilege of the constitutional representatives should be limited. The Parties
undertake to create "a space for an equal assertion of the non-profit
sector in providing public-serving services, specifically in sectors of social
welfare, health, environment and culture". The chapter on the exterior and
defence policy continues to include the promise of constituting a professional
army. In relation to the international terrorism, the Government will financially
support "the third-world countries and advocate protection of human
The Coalition Agreement deserves criticism for a vague coverage of education
and culture. A commitment under which the Parties "shall make efforts to
further increase expenses for education in the future state budgets" does
not provide much hope, indeed. The same goes about the sentence according to
which the Government will "create conditions for materially expanding the
range of options of study at the higher education level". Actually, what
does it mean at all? The blanket children allowances are not as a serious lapse
but they would be certainly better accepted if their introduction were
accompanied with dismissals of the administrative staff who, until currently,
have been responsible for attending to the allowances applications. The meaning
of the sentence about "removal of surviving deformations of the housing
market" is unclear. Further, the chapter on transport includes nothing on
prioritising the public transport over individual transport.

Names as guarantees

The Programme and names of the future ministers are suggesting an identical
direction, which is a proof that the upcoming Premier is in control of the
situation. Unfortunately, the Coalition Agreement is quite superficial and
vague and does not guarantee e.g. performance of even a single significant
reform, whether in the education, public health and pension systems. Therefore,
it will very much depend on the ministers what ideas they will themselves bring
and assert in their office. Some of the names sound promising. These hopes
specifically apply to Petra Buzková, Libor Ambrozek, Petr Mareš a Vladimír
Mlynáo, while one cannot rule out in advance that Bohuslav Sobotka, Marie
Soueková, Cyril Svoboda a Milan Šimonovský may be successful as well. Stanislav
Gross, Pavel Rychetský and Jaroslav Tvrdík have been in service for some longer
time, while Tvrdík has got the worst reputation due to his lobbyist performance
promoting the purchase of the unnecessary air fighters. Jaroslav Palas, Jiří
Rusnok and Zdenik Škromach will hopefully learn to pursue the public good apart
from the interests of their own lobbies. There is one disagreeable thing about
the new Government even now, though. It has got only two female members.