The Czech lower house - four years in hindsight


Although Czechs chose their new MPs on Friday and Saturday, the term of the outgoing lower house of the Czech parliament ends this Thursday, on June 20. Last Thursday, the Chamber of Deputies sat for the last time. Besides some serious partying and watching the World Cup on TV the MPs managed to reject an important bill at the last moment. Only a few days before the lower house finally dissolves, Pavla Horakova looks at the last four years in the Chamber.

A commentator from the daily Mlada fronta Dnes likened the atmosphere at the last session of the lower house to that in a school just before breaking up. The baroque palace in Prague's historic Mala Strana district resembled a classroom full of rebellious adolescents, complete with a professor behind the pulpit. By the way, "Professor" is the most frequent nickname of Vaclav Klaus who has been the chairman of the lower house for the past four years.

The chamber discussed hundreds of bills, most of them submitted by the government. The most important task of the outgoing parliament was to harmonise Czech legislation with the EU's Acquis Communautaire. The European Union praised it for passing a new civil service law. However, the European Commission was dissatisfied with the asylum law, which has been in force since January 2000, and also criticised the law on public tenders whose amended version is now on its way to the Senate. The lower house has started reform of the state administration, the most prominent result being the creation of new regions and the election of local governments.

In February this year the lower house passed a law allowing for almost complete public access to the files of the Communist era secret police, the StB. Overriding the president's veto it decided to maintain laws barring former agents of the secret police from senior posts in the civil service and prescribing screening certificates for these positions. Last December, the MPs approved a controversial bill on churches which is now being scrutinised by the Constitutional Court. A bill on referenda approved by the lower house will now be discussed by the Senate.

A number of bills did not make it through the chamber, such as the one on property declarations, a law introducing tuition fees at universities and registered same-sex partnerships, to mention just a few. At its last session on Thursday the lower house failed to override the Senate's rejection of a bill on the purchase of modern fighter jets for the Czech Air Force, postponing the decision on the biggest arms deal in Czech history until months after the elections.

After Thursday's vote, the MPs went on to celebrate their last day of being together and coffee soon gave way to stronger farewell drinks. But many won't have to wait long before they meet again soon at the first session of the newly elected lower house.