Addressing the lower house on Tuesday President Miloš Zeman made it clear he has no intention of allowing a new civil service bill which is near winning approval, to come into law. Mr Zeman is dissatisfied with compromises made by the government, saying that in its present form the bill would fail in its main goal to depoliticize the civil service.
The president’s condition for naming the current government was tied to the passing of a new civil service law; more than half a year later, the bill is close to being passed after a compromise was reached by the coalition and the centre-right opposition parties TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats. But the final draft has not won approval from President Zeman. Not only is the president unhappy from the get-go with the scratching of plans for a new bureau and an independent top bureaucrat to oversee the service, he is also unsatisfied with two deputies per minister being so-called political appointees alongside two as experts, which he argues will not depoliticize the service at all. The president has signaled he will veto the legislation if it is approved by Parliament and speaking in the lower house on Tuesday he took matters further, promising that if the veto was overridden, he would file a complaint with the Constitutional Court.
The reaction? Members of both the ruling Social Democrats and members of the centre-right opposition seemed fairly resolute that a balanced compromise had been reached and that the president’s opposition was no reason to start renegotiating the agreement, either by section or as a whole. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka indicated weeks ago he would not throw out an agreement just because the president had reservations. However, Wednesday morning brought an apparent reversal: a shift by the head of coalition member ANO, Finance Minister Andrej Babiš. He told Czech TV that he was ready to recommend that the section on political-appointees (in other words, deputies brought in by government members) be scratched.
It is possible that Mr Babiš sees the matter somewhat more pragmatically than some: in reality, the government cannot afford to be caught in a long drawn-out battle with the president over the bill, risking delays a veto and eventually a constitutional complaint could bring. Hundreds of millions in EU funding depend on the bill’s passage into law by 2015. Whether others, such as prime minister or members of the centre-right opposition will change tack, is not yet known. Time for negotiations is, however, running out: the lower house is set to debate the bill again next week.