What Spidla Holds
The new Government have got closer to their mandate again with the just elapsed week. Day after day, negotiators of the Coalition and Social Democrats (ČSSD) keep on sitting over the documents and writing the government coalition Programme.
The new Government have got closer to their mandate again with the just elapsed week. Day after day, negotiators of the Coalition and Social Democrats (ČSSD) keep on sitting over the documents and writing the government coalition Programme. The talks lasted even past midnight, that is until half past, on Saturday. On the overall, the Programme has been finalised, except for eleven controversial items.
For the first time since the Civil Democrats (ODS) origination, it looks like ODS will remain separated from the executive power - and therefore concern has began to spread that things will not work without the party and the cabinet may fall apart even before it ever comes into being. So far, everything seems to be suggesting the opposite. Representatives of the Coalition and Social Democrats have been showing signs of responsible politicians.
Peace, patience and self-confidence
The politics has been undergoing a change. While three utterly different political parties have been preparing formation of the Government, they have been also making efforts to come to an agreement. If this is successful, the absence of ODS in the Government will automatically cut away the tentacles of connections and favours such as necessarily develop during a long time of control over the executive. Even this itself is quite a contribution.
The narrow majority of ČSSD and Coalition makes both of the groupings think twice. Nobody can afford being hot-headed, therefore offences and humiliations of other parties' politicians have been slowly ceasing as a result. Even Ivan Pilip, who has been quite bad-mouthed recently, does not deviate from this practice. Scheming has been disappearing from the lobbies, hardness and disputes are reserved for negotiations where they belong. As it seems, the „non-political politics“ that used to be based on the personal advantage and connections has been vacating the scene these days .
Indeed, also this is a task for the future Government. Establish the politics under which government contracts will be granted truly publicly and transparently, under which regulatory bodies, such as media councils, will be controlled not by the party secretariats but by professionals (both of the above items are likely to appear in the joint coalition declaration). The politics under which the Government will communicate with the journalists, or, the public, without offences. The possibility it could come out like that was foreshadowed by the briefing after the first round of talks between the Coalition and ČSSD at Lidový dům (the ČSSD seat) a fortnight ago. Many journalists initially failed to work their way through to the politicians and so could not hear what they said. Afterwards then, the journalists kept on coming up one by one to the representatives of both groupings who were willingly answering the same questions all the time.
Nobody expects a utopia but the above was a robust beginning on which to build a cultured society that will enter the European Union with self-confidence. That, of course, is the most important task of the new Government. To put it most simply, if the Government succeeds in that it will have its place in the history secured. Before that, however, the Government will need to persuade the public that they should want to join the Union. This, however, can only succeed if a simple definition can be found of a Czech in Europe. The campaign for the Beneš Decrees and on would-be „dissolving“ within the EU has cost our citizens a lot of self-confidence. It is therefore a task for the new cabinet to bring back the notion of an educated, tolerant and diligent Czech who will hold out even within the Union.
Twelve per cent from agreement
It seemed on the outset that joint expert committees would finalise the Programme for the upcoming Government on Saturday already. Things went smoothly for agriculture, environment and defence. The Parties agreed, for example, that preserved areas would be expanded and all of us would follow the sustainable development path. An agreement was reached about the professional army, however the Gripen fighters originally required by ČSSD would be left out of the programme. The search of balanced definitions of the exterior policy was harder but three piers were erected in the end: perform our commitments to NATO, accede to the European Union and build the best possible relationships with all neighbour countries. In education, agreement was reached only on the general definition level, such as more money and more higher education opportunities for the secondary school leavers. The sector of culture would also have to abide by an indefinite „more money“ promise.
Finally, the Coalition and ČSSD did not find an agreement on eleven items. The Social Democrats are requiring children allowances, children trustee fund, schedules of assets for the rich, cash registers and registered partnerships for people of the same sex. The last item has been opposed only by the People's Party (KDU-ČSL, a Coalition member) who have been refusing even a compromise: „The Parties acknowledge that ČSSD will make a motion for legalising cohabitation of individuals of the same sex.“ The Coalition wants to push through higher tax deductions for children, deregulation of rents, privatisation of the power engineering sector, a „safety catch“ against a repeal of the Query Law and lower taxes for legal persons (the Coalition has already managed to press their pre-election promise of the joint taxation of married couples).
The most acute problem is represented by the Coalition requirement that a promise be made that the public finance deficit will be only up to 3 per cent of GDP, as required by the European Monetary Union. The Social Democrats have been trying to persuade the Coalition that the deficit simply cannot be reduced as quickly as that, given the huge expenses to cover recapitalisation of the bankrupt IPB bank. ČSSD has been expecting a loss of some CZK 150 billion in the following year and some CZK 200 billion in the subsequent year (i.e. about 15 % GDP).
Politicians are reserved in their forecasts on when and how the talks will close. In the meantime, Špidla's words of Saturday half past midnight may be trusted: „The Czech Republic needs its Government comparatively soon, and it needs the pro-European Government, clearly democratic by its style, that will attempt to apply something I would describe as an extended democracy principle, meaning not a narrowly grasped democracy that would be reduced to a procedure focused on the Parliament and the few chosen.“
Masaryk, a bugbear
The Social Democracts and Coalition claim in unison that Vladimír Špidla is the guarantee of the talks quality. He has been keeping a tight rein on his party-men and their departmental ambitions. His colleagues claim that Špidla perceives the Government formation exercise as the mission of his life, following the bequest of Tomáš G. Masaryk who wished, as early as in the beginning of the last century, that the social issue be addressed through everybody's pursuit of learning. „Let's not ask what our home country will give to us but what we can do for our country,“ was he preaching patriotically at the Říp Mountain rally already this April. Unlike Zeman and Klaus, Špidla does not wish to be the focus of attention. Rather, he resembles another Czech politician of the pre-WWII Czechoslovakia, Antonín Švehla, who stated in the congress of his Agrarian Party in 1932: „You have showered me with abundant praise and flattered me so generously that it seems to get close to a personality cult. A mortal man is prone to easily succumb to flattering… Yet, each extreme brings about a reaction and then the other extreme comes - dispraise, disgrace and derision. I would not like to live to meet such a fate.“
What is surprising in Špidla is his sense of unclinching the negotiations with a relaxed remark at the right moment. Last Tuesday, when representatives of the Coalition and ČSSD were continuing discussions in Lidový dům, the social democratic leader remarked at one stage that an agreement had to be reached, never mind the morganatic relationship. The rest of those present were caught somewhat off-guard with the learned word and Špidla did not hesitate to deliver a short lecture in history, explaining that the word was coming from the medieval times and denoted an unequal marriage between two persons of rather disparate social ranks. The situation relaxed and talks went on.
At the same time, Vladimír Špidla is used also as a bugbear whom the right-wing politicians somehow cannot outwit. They still seem to believe that the left and Špidla specifically have been born to suppress the core freedoms. It is not so. Špidla is a true socialist, who believes in regulation and reallocation but is opposed to any limitations on freedom of choice. We rather witnessed more of that during the times of untransparent decision making by ODS and former Prime Minister Zeman's men. And, what is more, the role of the Coalition within the Government may in fact curb regulation. The fear of Špidla has been making some of the Unionists (Union of Freedom, the other member of the Coalition) still hesitate whether or not they should board Špidla's Government at all.
The Czech Republic has been entering a significant stage during which it will clearly show how it will manage the new rise of the Communists and find its place in Europe. And frankly, no one can rebuke the Coalition for joining the Government with ČSSD. Obviously, there is no other option. The Czech year 1998 which was offering multiple options of forming a majority government has not been repeated. Another difference is that ODS signed the famed „Opposition Agreement“ at that time, under which it exchanged positions of power for an obligation to tolerate such an enormous increase in the country's debt that can hardly be any worse. Any other option than „The 101 Government“ (denoting the ČSSD and Coalition majority in the Parliament) would particularly suit the Communists who would then got in the game one way or another. And no democrat may wish anything like that.
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