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Jiří Paroubek: A luxury we simply can’t afford

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ČSSD ready to offer cabinet a helping hand. (ČTK)The ČSSD says it is ready to offer the cabinet a helping hand. (ČTK)

The United States experienced it seven years ago. Anyone opposed to Bush’s warmongering was labelled as unpatriotic. What followed was almost an expulsion from “respectable” society. Today we are seeing something similar taking place in our country. It is not a question of war, of course, but rather of quality of life.

I am talking about the cabinet’s “crisis package”. Like Bush’s model that took advantage of people’s fears, Prime Minister Topolánek is pushing through his measures under the slogan of “national unity in difficult times”. Any kind of discussion is described in advance as almost a sabotage threatening the nation.

This is not a matter of the Social Democrats disagreeing with the cabinet’s proposal. There are not so many steps that could help solve the crisis as not to find agreement with the cabinet. Due to the gravity of the situation, we might as well generously overlook the fact that many things have obviously been copied from the ČSSD crisis programme that was put together at a time when the cabinet blatantly claimed that the crisis would not affect us…

We will definitely agree on the acceleration of tax write-offs, the support of business loans through guarantees and investment in infrastructure. We can also support the acceleration of VAT returns, tax remissions, an amendment of the bankruptcy law and subsidising the insulation of pre-fab houses. The ČSSD has pushing for the last item on the list for a long time, but it took the current crisis for the government to support this investment in energy savings.

So, in a way, we can be satisfied; however, there is one big “but”. With all that in mind, we will never agree with the cabinet’s proposal to lower social security payments. That might lead to the disruption of the pension system and its subsequent privatisation. We would not agree to this even under ordinary circumstances, but we deem it scandalous to push this step through at a time when we are facing several years of crisis.

“We have repeatedly expressed our conviction that all the financial markets, products and their participants have to be subject to suitable supervision or regulation, without any exception and without any regard to the country they operate in,” Reuters quoted from the declaration endorsed in Berlin last Sunday. Who signed it? The highest representatives of Germany, the United Kingdom, France and other countries. Mirek Topolánek also attended the meeting. It seems, however, that he failed to understand what exactly he agreed to in Berlin in a preparation for the G20 summit.

“Tough times like these test our character and values as a nation,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote in The Guardian. “So even in a recession, we have to act now, both to protect people from the downturn and to prepare and equip ourselves for every future challenge. Our future lies in low-carbon, high- technology manufacturing and services. Hence our investment in science, green jobs, skills and the digital backbone on which the rest of the economy depends,” he said.

Topolánek’s cabinet has nothing of the kind in its plan, but it has still not given up the idea of pushing its neo-liberal recipe through the lower house in one package. Thus, it would refuse the constructive suggestions of the opposition, since it is not used to engaging in debate. It would also show who’s the one unwilling to cooperate in difficult times.

Such contempt for opposition ready to offer a helping hand is a “luxury” that we cannot afford in times of a crisis.

The author is the leader of the ČSSD, the opposition party.

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