Officially, members of the cabinet began a two week summer vacation but behind the scenes no one is kicking back yet. On Monday, Finance Minister Andrej Babiš launched negotiations with the heads of the individual ministries on next year’s state budget, some of which will not be easy.
In Czech, the phrase often connected with the divvying up of funds from the state budget is ‘porcovat medvěda’ (or, the dividing up the bear) and negotiations for pieces of next year’s ‘bear’ have already begun, although ministers in the Sobotka cabinet are officially off for two weeks. No time is being lost on trying to secure funds for individual ministries next year, and ministers have begun meeting on Monday with the head of the country’s finances, Andrej Babiš, to that end.
Among those who met with the finance minister was the Social Democrat minister for industry and trade, Jan Mládek, looking for a ministry budget in the hundreds of millions to cover not only employee salaries but also investment in scientific research & development. There, negotiations have to, for example, be streamlined with the aims of Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobrádek, who oversees the science sector and who is currently meeting with representatives of the Academy of Sciences, Industry & Trade Minister Jan Mládek made clear:
One who came away pleased already on Monday is the Culture Minister Daniel Herman, who – Czech TV reported – has already been promised a budget increase of two billion crowns, guaranteeing a rise in employee wages of 3.5 percent; according to Czech TV, for employees of some state institutions (the broadcaster cited wages at the National Technical Museum) will see a monthly rise of 500 crowns, not insignificant). Other ministries, such as Labour & Social Affairs, (which covers unemployment insurance and other social payments) has asked and been promised an extra 3.3 billion, with the majority of the funds covering operational costs, 750 million covering wages and the remainder towards child protection services.
Not surprisingly, not all requests or demands by ministers will be approved, and negotiations will only reach their peak in September. Finance Minister Andrej Babiš on Czech TV repeated that negotiations in some areas would be grueling, and he joked that the interior minister, Milan Chovanec, would have large demands. He was also asked where all the funds would come from, if the government wanted to guarantee a deficit next year of no more than 100 billion crowns.
“The basic strategy was to lower operational costs, to eliminate outsourcing and to free up funds for investment. We have been successful and the main thing is not to increase the deficit.”
As it stands, negotiations in government will continue in the coming days and weeks before the draft budget will be finalised and then will be set to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies.