New Czech Government: The Big Ones Go to the Small Ones

Why has new PM Petr Nečas given so many key ministries to junior coalition partners?

The incoming Czech government has finally taken shape and the unveiling of the Cabinet team this week took the domestic media by surprise. Since this will be the government with the strongest support in parliament's lower house in the modern history of the Czech Republic -- and therefore has the highest chance of surviving its whole four-year mandate and undertaking some painful reforms -- English-speakers might find it useful to know why it was greeted with such surprise. So here's a brief guide to the country's future rulers.


The new prime minister is Petr Nečas of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), which became the strongest right-of-center party in May's parliamentary elections. He initially said he would form a reform-minded coalition government, since an overhaul of public finances is his top priority and the most pressing issue facing the country. Because of that, he added, his party would be very reluctant to give up control of the Finance Ministry.


The actual distribution of government portfolios has been somewhat different, however. The finance minister is to be Miroslav Kalousek, deputy chairman of TOP 09, the larger of the ODS's two coalition partners. The social affairs ministry and the healthcare portfolio will also be in TOP 09 hands, meaning that all the most painful reforms -- public expenditure, welfare payments, etc. -- would be overseen by a minor coalition partner.


From an apolitical point of view, it's a logical decision: If you want reform, it's best to carry it out in a cooperative rather than competitive environment. But ODS members and Czech political commentators have begun to ask what kind of message this division of power sends out. Has Nečas given up these strongholds of government because only 3.5 percentage points divided the ODS and TOP 09 shares of the vote, leaving him with little room for negotiation?


Or has the new prime minister decided that as TOP 09 has been promising voters the most austere approach to public expenditure, they should be the ones to face the consequences in October's local and Senate elections, when/if Czechs make their displeasure known at the ballot box? If the latter is the case, what if the reforms go down well with right-wing voters? (Left-wingers would surely vote for the opposition anyway.) In that scenario, it would be TOP 09 rather than the ODS that would reap the rewards, which surely isn't the new ODS leader's ambition. The answers, and the consequences, will only be known in the months to come.


The second surprise was the gains made by the smallest of the three coalition partners, Public Affairs (VV). It's a newcomer to national politics and there's some ambiguity about the party's true intentions, as a result of some unexplained business connections.


Because they've billed themselves the "anti-corruption party," VV announced that they wanted the Interior Ministry, which, they argued, is the best place to start an anti-corruption drive. The ODS, and Petr Nečas personally, were publicly critical of that demand, wary that Vít Bárta, VV's paymaster, is the founder and owner of ABL, one of the biggest security agencies in the Czech Republic, and might have his eye on Interior Ministry tenders.


Yet Public Affairs got the job. Their chairman, former journalist and TV celebrity Radek John, is to be the next minister of the interior. And Bárta will be the next transport minister -- in other words, the man responsible for infrastructure projects involving public tenders and huge sums of money.


Controversy immediately surrounded the announcement of the Interior Ministry appointment. Responding to criticism, Nečas said he had obtained personal reassurances from John that ABL would abstain from every tender placed by his future ministry, that no ABL personnel would be hired as Interior Ministry advisors, and that Bárta had already sold his chunk of the company -- to his brother. That seemed to be enough to calm Nečas. Regarding the transport portfolio, he made no comment.


Is it enough to sell your company to your brother and to abstain from Interior Ministry tenders -- and maybe try your luck elsewhere? That's one point of view. The second is that VV would risk a great deal, perhaps even its very existence, if it became involved in nepotism, conflicts of interest or any other dirty business after defining themselves as a force against corruption. The party could hardly defend its legitimacy if there was any scandal involving its leadership.


While these issues attracted much media attention, there are others that didn't. For example, the fact that most of the ministers come from the private sector. The next economy minister is the chairman of the supervisory board at the energy company ČEZ, a giant of the Czech economy and of the whole Central European region. The new agriculture minister also works with ČEZ, the minister for regional development-in-waiting set up a big pharmaceutical company, the man soon to be responsible for the environment is a manager of the north Moravian company C&D Finance Holding... It's surely not a crime to be a businessman but what about potential conflicts of interest? Will these ministers be asked to give assurances they'll govern independently of their former businesses? Will they be able to offer independence of thought?


Last but not least, there's not a single woman in the government. Along with Hungary, the Czech government is the only one of the European Union's 27 member states to have no female ministers. That's not a crime either but is it something to be proud of?


And yes -- the new Czech foreign policy. That's quite a question. The chief diplomat will be Karel Schwarzenberg, a man with an undeniably impressive background and reputation abroad who's already served as foreign minister previously. But with his open, coherent and pro-European stance, he seems isolated among this group of ministers. He has already lost one battle: the other two coalition partners want a referendum to be held in the Czech Republic on any new European Union treaty. The incoming foreign minister opposes this and wants MEPs to make this decision, as they do now.


Again, we'll only know how things develop at some point in the future. For now, the government will get its chance.

Video on YouTube

Related articles

  • 'Movie Barf Monday' - a weekly English friendly film night by Ryan Keating

    Movie Barf and Edison Filmhub are thrilled to present 'Movie Barf Monday' - a weekly English friendly film night dedicated to screening a diverse variety of award-winning contemporary and classic films in the new Edison Filmhub cinema and bar located in Prague's old town.

  • The Prague Orgy - a new Czech film in English in Czech cinemas by Michal Kráčmer

    LESS LIBERTY, BETTER FUCKS

  • Festival 4+4 Days in Motion by Eliška Míkovcová (4+4 Festival)

    Festival 4+4 Days in Motion to start in Desfours Palace, this year’s slogan is Nobody Has Anything

  • Lunchmeat Festival 2019—Dark Stars on the Horizon by Tony Ozuna - (Photo Lunchmeat Festival)

    Lunchmeat Festival returns to Prague at the end of September as the leading arena for cutting-edge electronic music and with more audio-visual punch than ever before. Their new motto is a challenge to the mainstream: “obsessed with audio-visual mindf**cks— & those who question the status quo.”

  • The Best European Locations For Hen & Stag Do's by Lucy Stevens

    Alpha Travel Insurance have ranked Europe's top Stag and Hen do destinations and indexed them based on factors including the cost of flights and hotel, the cost of a pint and the number of bars and activities available to find out which city comes out on top.



  • Circus and Theatre Festival Letní Letná Kicks off Next Week by Paul Lysek

    The "Leave the Crowd Speachless" Summer Circus Festival is back for its 16th Season at Letna.

  • Events for the week of August 19 - 23 by Narmin Ismiyeva

    We've highlighted five events for this week including The Great Beauty, Latino Anděl and Festival of Illustration.

  • Events for the weekend 17 - 18 August by Narmin Ismiyeva

    Are you making plans for the weekend? We've highlighted six events including the 1981 Secondhand Festival, beer tasting in the Botanical Garden, Etnopicnic and a lesson of Argentine tango atop Lucerna. 

  • Events for the weekend 3 - 4 August by Narmin Ismiyeva

    Are you making plans for the weekend? We've selected six events including the Czech version of the famous South Asian festival of love and colors that will take place on Střelecký Island on Saturday.

  • Events for the week 29 July - 2 August by Narmin Ismiyeva

    Are you in Prague this week looking for things to do? We have one event for each day, including yoga in Stromovka and screening of Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel in Karlín.

Facebook comments

KUKBURG - Farm to table

Our meat and products straight to your table

The James Joyce Irish Pub

Best Irish Pub in Prague

Pražské Benátky

Enjoy Prague from a different view

Norbert’s donuts

Superb Donuts in the heart of Prague

Charles Bridge Museum

Discover the history of Prague’s famous Charles Bridge

Trabant Museum Prague

Trabant Museum @ STK Motol

Army Museum Žižkov

Armádní muzeum Žižkov

National Memorial to the...

Národní památník hrdinů heydrichiády


PragueMonitor.com

Prague’s # 1 source for Czech news in English…


PragueConnect.cz

Expat and Czech Business Professional Network


Tschech.News

German Language Info Service