President Miloš Zeman is nothing if not outspoken and on Tuesday, ahead of a confidence vote on the country’s new centre-left coalition, he took the opportunity to address members of the cabinet and lawmakers in the lower house. While some expected barbs targeting the opposition and even the new coalition, this was far from the case. Instead, Mr Zeman suggested the government, in its trials ahead, turn to the Scandinavian model for inspiration.
A month ago, question marks hung in the air over whether the president would name the current government led by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka in its current form, or throw a spanner in the works. For now, any discord between the head-of-state and the new cabinet is a thing of the past. Speaking ahead of the confidence vote Tuesday, Mr Zeman kept his word to stick to friendly advice or remarks – prominent among them was a recommendation that the new Social Democrat-led government search for inspiration in Europe, namely Scandinavia, when it came to laying foundation for the future. President Miloš Zeman:
“The European social state does not exist – that is a journalistic generalisation. In reality, there are several models. But we have to ask ourselves which ones are the most successful... Long-term, hard data suggests that those states which best handled the economic crisis are the Scandinavian states.”
It is not surprising that a former Social Democrat like Miloš Zeman would back the Scandinavian model as inspiration for the new cabinet. He stressed the reasons to look to the Nordic countries were manifold: among them not only success when it came to the economy and areas like ecology, but also in the standard of living and overall quality of life as measured by the human development index. The caveat he pointed out, was of course higher taxes. He quipped that the country’s finance minister, Andrej Babiš, might over the next four months be able to find the required cash from missing billions in the state budget (a task, the president joked, worthy of a Nobel Prize) but otherwise seemed to suggest that higher taxes would eventually be needed. President Zeman:
“Nobody likes paying taxes. But the Scandinavian model I would like you to consider is known not only for high taxes but also for other factors. Number 1: that taxes gathered by the state are not stolen. And Number 2, funds brought in are properly invested to a large degree in human potential, in education and health. This kind of investment has a long-term effect.”
The president touched upon other factors in his speech, namely Czech EU membership, the Eurozone and problems with adopting European currency – but overall he focussed more on a bigger picture than was the case in the past. Whether there will be any real consequences on the new government remains an open question. For now, a one-year moratorium on taxes remains in place as part of the coalition agreement and the issue of how the government will pay for its ambitious plans remains unanswered, critics have been quick to point out. How the coalition will fulfil the promises enshrined in its policy programme is a question that will come to the fore soon enough, the president himself made clear on Tuesday.