The Czech government on Wednesday approved its policy programme for the coming four years, outlining a vision on the basis of which it will seek a vote of confidence in the lower house next Tuesday. The center-left coalition promises to support economic growth, create new jobs, make public administration more efficient and foster social cohesion.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s three-party coalition government of Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democratic Party was appointed to office just two weeks ago and it lost no time in getting down to business. Within 48 hours of taking over it had swept a number of bills proposed by the former interim administration off the table and set a new course. Flanked by his two coalition partners at a press briefing in Prague, the prime minister appeared upbeat and self-confident as he outlined the government’s vision:
“In this policy programme we have pledged to support economic growth, we will improve conditions for enterprise, support Czech exporters, create new jobs, and stop the squandering of public funds. Our goal is to improve the functioning of public administration, create a viable pension system, foster social cohesion and put more money into education, science and technology.”
In the 17-page document the government emphasizes the need to find new markets for the export-dependent economy which now relies heavily on EU member states, looking to Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa for new trade and investment opportunities. As regards foreign policy the government has pledged to return the country to the EU mainstream, take a more active part in shaping the future of EU integration and try to erase the country’s image of a troublemaker in the 27-member alliance.
Although the government has pledged to prepare the country for euro-adoption and hopes to have a clear time-frame on the table in the coming years Finance Minister Andrej Babiš was cautious when it came to making promises.
“The road to the euro-zone is long and we have agreed to start with the fiscal pact. But I do not think it is realistic for the Czech Republic to enter the euro-zone in this government’s election term.”
The finance minister made it clear that his main concern at this point is to get the country’s finances in order. The self-made multi-billionaire food tycoon said he planned to administer state coffers much as he had run his company – focus on cash flow, improve tax collection and prevent the squandering of funds in public administration which he called ”atrocious”. The plan is also to improve the drawing of EU funds which Regional Affairs Minister Věra Jourová said was in a dismal state, noting that the Czech Republic was the EU’s worst performer when it came to pumping EU funds. She is being relied on to provide know-how and improve transparency in this quarter.
Some of the government’s promises for improved social welfare - such as raising pensions and the minimum wage, as well as getting rid of direct health care fees, will be easier to fulfill if the finance minister is able to deliver on his promises. Otherwise the cabinet might have to revise the question of raising corporate taxes in 2015 which the finance minister –as a self-made businessman - would very much like to avoid. In fact he is credited with the fact that taxes have not been raised in the government’s first year in office.
While the government’s 111-seat majority in the lower house means it will easily secure a vote of confidence next week –the new administration has already come under fire from critics. Some argue that the Sobotka government will simply not have the money to deliver on its promises, while others claim its promises are of the kind that any cabinet could make.
So the real test for the Sobotka administration will not be during next week’s vote of confidence but when the cabinet gets down to business, individual ministers start fighting for funds to effect the promised changes and the cohesion of the diverse three-party coalition comes under pressure.