Prague, July 11 (CTK) – The Czech cabinet’s programme is an incoherent combination of vows made by the populist ANO, the Social Democrats and the Communists, which PM Andrej Babis does not take for binding on him and is ready to adapt it for his own benefit any time, Jan Stetka wrote in Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Wednesday.
He refers to the policy statement with which the new minority cabinet comprised of ANO and the Social Democrats (CSSD) and backed by the Communists (KSCM) seeks parliament’s confidence.
The government lineup alone indicates that its policy statement will play no important role. Above all, the alliance of ANO, the populist movement of billionaire Babis, with the ailing CSSD, supported by the previously isolated KSCM and vengeful President Milos Zeman, serves as “a lift to power.” Its programme is of a secondary importance, Stetka writes.
When forming the cabinet, Babis first promised everything to everybody in order to gain as many supporters as possible. Afterwards, he gave up a part of his right-wing programme in exchange for the CSSD joining his new cabinet. Later, to win the KSCM’s support, he reduced its pro-western orientation and added more anti-clericalism, also permanently bowing to Zeman. This is how the new cabinet’s policy statement came into being, Stetka writes.
The cabinet is starting to divert from the policy statement already now. In the statement, it vows to cooperate with trade unions and employers. However, when union and employers’ leaders recently voiced reservations about the document, Babis swept them away saying that there is no more time to change it.
The government also presents security as its priority, but the policy statement’s security chapter does not mention NATO any single time. True, in a detailed part focusing on defence, the statement says NATO membership is crucial and without an alternative for the Czechs. However, is this sentence sufficient in a situation where the cabinet’s survival depends on the KSCM, which is opposed to Czech membership of NATO? The sentence even seems to hide a latent desire for an alternative.
Similarly unconvincing is the assertion that Prague will actively contribute to NATO, EU and UN foreign missions “if they are in harmony with international law and the defined security and defence interests of the Czech Republic.”
All this, together with the declared will to raise defence spending to 1.4 percent of GDP by 2021 (which already the previous cabinet set as its goal in 2014), irrespective of the Czech previous commitment to reach 2-percent spending, shows that Prague has no strong security ambitions.
Another of the cabinet’s vows, the implementation of a pension system reform, sounds nice but the plan to separate the pension system account from the state budget is unsuitable now that the system threatens to run out of money, which would negatively afflict people.
The cabinet also unbelievably vows to secure a balanced state budget while the first budget it is preparing for 2019 is projected with a 50-billion-crown deficit.
With similar “schizophrenia,” the cabinet promises to change the policies of the EU, but on the other hand, it says it “can see no possibility of adopting” the euro and wants to defend Czech interests more resolutely in the integrating Europe.
The only aim of the above priorities is to calm down the government’s supporters and secure its survival, Stetka writes.
The promise to push through a law to facilitate road and railway construction looks nice, but Transport Minister Dan Tok (for ANO) was given and failed to meet the same task as a member of the previous cabinet several years ago.
Like the populist Vladimir Meciar’s cabinet in Slovakia in the 1990s, Babis’s new cabinet, too, will obviously pick out and try to implement only selected goals from its policy statement.
In this respect, the statement’s chapters can be divided into three categories. The first one includes reforms and events aimed to secure enough fans for Babis’s ANO movement, such as the emphasised rejection of migrant quotas, the introduction of free train fare for students and pensioners, an increase in pensions and teachers’ wages, and a lower VAT on water supplies.
Digitisation of Czechia, on its part, is a prestigious plan securing ANO’s image as a competent manager.
The second category of the government promises corresponds to the combination of the interests of Zeman, Babis and their “joint” Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman, Stetka writes, referring to the policy statement’s chapter thoroughly dealing with the food-processing industry and, according to Stetka, playing into the hands of big agricultural companies.
The third category of promises are the priorities which the CSSD and the KSCM pushed through as part of the government policy statement, such as the CSSD’s demands concerning the systems of parental and sickness benefits and the KSCM’s demands to tax church restitution, raise wages and bar the transfer of natural resources to foreign hands.
All this is a mere theory, however. Babis is a pragmatist, bargainer and a “solo” player who will use any programme to adapt it for his own benefit, Stetka concludes.