Czech MPs clash over civil service bill

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK

The Czech lower house is debating a bill overhauling the rules for the employment of civil servants. Its approval in a first round of debate is a condition laid down by President Zeman for appointing ANO leader Andrej Babiš minister. But the legislation has met with fierce resistance from the opposition, who warn it will end a long-standing ban preventing former communist secret police collaborators from holding government positions.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
The Czech Parliament first approved a civil service bill in 2002 as a prerequisite for the country’s accession to the European Union. The legislation was aimed at establishing an independent public administration immune to political pressures. But the bill was never implemented, making the Czech Republic the only EU member state without a civil service act in force.

Transparency groups and anti-corruption activists have since pushed for its implementation. In fact, all the parties that won lower house seats in October’s election promised to pass some version of the legislation.

But the latest efforts by the lower house have a more immediate motivation: President Miloš Zeman said he would not appoint a key coalition figure as minister unless the legislation is passed in the first reading.

That figure is Andrej Babiš, leader of the ANO party, who is set to become finance minister in the new government. Mr Babiš faces allegations that in 1980s he collaborated with the former communist secret police, the StB.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The lower house began debating the legislation on Tuesday, with members of the opposition accusing their opponents of pushing the bill through just to satisfy the president. One of the most vocal opponents of the bill is Miroslav Kalousek of TOP 09.

“You are opening a Pandora’s Box, paving the way for those formally defeated in the Velvet Revolution to become the true winners. That’s what they had always wanted to achieve.”

The text of the draft legislation however contains no provision cancelling the ban imposed on StB collaborators. That’s why Mr Babiš and others accused the opposition of trying to derail its approval in order to prevent the formation of the new government. The ANO boss spoke to Czech Radio about the issue on Wednesday.

“This is all but a show put on by Mr Kalousek and the Civic Democrats. I don’t need any clearance. This bill was first debated in 2002, and back then Mr Kalousek voted in favour. But today, they are doing everything they can to prevent me from becoming minister.

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“This bill has nothing to do with the screening law, that’s just brainwashing. These are all lies coming from people who have stolen from the state and are now worried we will come and expose them.”

The opposition argues, meanwhile, that possible additions to the bill in further debates could in fact end the ban preventing former StB collaborators from holding ministerial posts.

But their efforts to prevent the bill from passing will most likely prove futile, with the coalition having a comfortable majority of 111 out of 200 MPs.